Charles Babbage Collection
1815-1981 (bulk 1815-1863). Finding Aid.
Charles Babbage Institute
2 boxes (0.7
addresses given by Babbage at and printed in the Royal Society journal,
Philosophical Transactions, photocopies of the manuscript for
Passages from the Life of a Philosopher from the
Wanganui Museum in New Zealand and notes on the manuscript by Garry J. Tee of
the Wanganui Museum. Also included in the collection is a volume of the North
British Review containing a favorable review of Babbage's book, the
Exposition of 1851; Or, Views of the Industry, the
Science, and Government of England , and photocopies of correspondence
and addresses by Henry Prevost Babbage on his father's invention of occulting
lights for lighthouses and signaling.
Minnesota Libraries. Charles Babbage Institute.
Access and Use
The records have a varied provenance. Some are original excerpts from
Philosophical Transactions, donated by International Computers, Ltd., in March
1983. Most were given to the Charles Babbage Institute by Garry J. Tee of the
University of Auckland in March, 1981. Charles Babbage Stamps were given to the
Charles Babbage Institute by Erwin Tomash in 1991.
Access to the collection is unrestricted.
The Charles Babbage Institute holds the copyright to all materials in
the collection, except for items covered by a prior copyright (such as
published materials). Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair
use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).
Charles Babbage Collection (CBI 54), Charles Babbage Institute,
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Charles Babbage is often called the "father of computing", though
there is no evidence that modern electronic computers are direct descendants of
his work. He acquired this title mainly because his Difference Engine (1821),
which printed tables of polynomials, and his Analytical Engine (1856), which
was intended as a general symbol manipulator, were inventions far more complex
than the work of any of his contemporaries.
Unfortunately, little remains of Babbage’s prototype computing
machines. One reason is that critical tolerances required by Babbage’s machines
exceeded the level of technology available at the time. Also, though formal
recognition of his work was tendered by respected institutions such as the
Astronomical Society of London, the British government suspended funding for
his Difference Engine in 1832, and after an agonizing waiting period, finally
killed the project in 1842. Thus, there remain only fragments of Babbage’s
prototype Difference Engine, and though he devoted most of his time and large
fortune towards construction of his Analytical Engine after 1856, he never
succeeded in completing any of his several designs for it. George Scheutz, a
Swedish printer, successfully constructed a machine based on the designs for
Babbage’s Difference Engine in 1854. This machine printed mathematical,
astronomical and actuarial tables with unprecedented accuracy, and was used by
the British and American governments. Though Babbage’s work was continued by
his son, Henry Prevost Babbage, after his death in 1871, the Analytical Engine
was never successfully completed, and ran only a few “programs” with
embarrassingly obvious errors.
Babbage’s contributions to science also include his work as a
mathematician and his reform of the teaching of mathematics in British
universities. He also attempted to reform the scientific organizations of the
period while calling upon government and society to give more money and
prestige to scientific endeavor.
Collection Scope and Content Note
CBI's Charles Babbage Collection consists mainly of photocopies of
papers located at the Wanganui Museum in New Zealand, as well as addresses
consisting of pages torn from volumes.
The manuscript of Passages from the Life of a
Philosopher was written on some hundreds of large sheets, folded once to
form four pages. Some were folded, sealed, addressed, stamped and posted
(without envelope) to the printers W. Clowes & Sons; these postmarks give
dates in 1862 and 1863. The handwriting is legible, but the text is extensively
crossed and altered, and many sheets contain amendments or additions for parts
already set in type. The photocopies have been reduced slightly to fit on legal
sized paper, and the donor has ordered them as closely as possible to
correspond with the published version, penciling corresponding page numbers on
the blank sides. Scholars may find Babbage's earlier drafts of his diatribes
against British government interesting, especially in light of his use of the
full names of officials, which were more prudently given as initials in the
published work. More notes by Garry Tee on the scope of the manuscript can be
found with the preface. These are photocopied pages of the original manuscript
of Babbage's book (1864. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green),
which were found by Garry J. Tee at the Wanganui Museum, New Zealand. The
manuscript was apparently donated to the museum after the death of Babbage's
grandson, Charles Whitmore Babbage, in Wanganui.
Materials related to Henry Prevost Babbage were located, with the
manuscript of Passages, by Garry J. Tee at the Wanganui Museum, and are also
photocopies. Of special interest are an advertisement from The Times (March 3,
1835) advertising Difference Engines for sale at 40 pounds each, maps and notes
of places named for Babbage, and Henry Prevost Babbage's correspondence and
addresses on his father's invention of occulting lights for lighthouses and for
Also included in the collection are Charles Babbage Stamps from the
Royal Mail Mint, including uncancelled stamps and first day of issue
cancellations and commemorative collectors booklet on the Scientific
Achievements series of which the Babbage stamp was a part.
- This collection is indexed under the following headings in the catalog
of the University of Minnesota Libraries. Researchers desiring materials about
related topics, persons or places should search the catalog using these
- Babbage, Charles, 1791-1871
- Babbage, Henry Prevost
- Tee, Garry J.
- Royal Society
- Inventions--Great Britain
- Inventors--Great Britain
- Philosophers--Great Britain
- Great Britain
-- History -- 19th century
- Exposition of 1851; or Views of the industry, the science, and
government of England.
from the life of a philosopher
Box and Folder List
The North British Review ,
November 1851 - February 1852 Box 1
Note Volume XVI, American Edition, volume XI. New York, Leonard Scott
& Co., 79 Fulton St., 1852. This volume includes (pp. 273-292) a favorable
review of Babbage's book, The Exposition of 1851, or Views of the Industry ,
the Science and the Government of England. The provenance of the volume is
"An Essay Towards the Calculus of Functions:" Part I and
Part II, June 15, 1815 and March 15,
1816 Box 2, Folder 1-2
Note This is a two part address delivered by Babbage. The text is pages
torn from the Royal Society Journal, Philosophical
Transactions . These pages are not bound, but have glued backing.
"Observations of the Analogy Which Subsists Between the
Calculus of Functions and Other Branches of Analysis," April 17, 1817 Box 2, Folder 3
Note This is another address by Babbage from Philosophical Transactions .
Passages From the Life of a
Philosopher Box 2, Folder 4-7
Invitation cards and tickets, Charter of the Borough of
Totnes, England, correspondence and addresses of Henry Provost Babbage.
Box 2, Folder 8
Charles Babbage Stamps, 1991 Box 2, Folder 9
Note Royal Mail Mint Stamps (cancelled and uncancelled stamps including
first day of issue cancellations) and commemorative collectors booklet on the
Scientific Achievements series of which the Babbage stamp was a part.
Victoria and Albert Museum. Babbage's Calculating Machine;
or Difference Engine. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1872; rpt., 1907 Box 2, Folder 10
Note Brochure that gives information on the origin of the idea of the
Difference Engine and describes its method of operation.