c. Babbage's Analytical Engine (1833).
(1) In 1833, Babbage went on to develop ideas for an even more ambitious
machine. The Analytical Engine, unlike its predecessor, was designed not just to solve
one type of math problem but to carry out a wide range of calculating tasks according to
instructions supplied by its operator. It was to be "a machine of the most general
nature," nothing less than the first general-purpose programmable computer. Babbage
was at least 100 years ahead of his time in designing his Analytical Engine: a general-
purpose, programmable, automatic mechanical digital computer. It was Babbage's
great glory and lifelong frustration to have conceived the fundamental principles of the
modern computer a century before the technology existed to build one. He spent many
decades, much government money, and a good deal of his private fortune in the
(2) The Analytical Engine was to have a "mill" and a "store," both composed
of cogs and wheels. The store would hold up to 100 forty-digit numbers at a time.
Numbers would be kept in the store until their turn to be operated on in the mill. Results
would then be moved back into the store to await further use or to be printed out.
Instructions would be fed into the machine by means of punch cards.
(3) Lord Byron's daughter, Lady Ada Lovelace, assisted Babbage in the
development of the Analytical Engine and actually designed and refined some of its
internal characteristics. A brilliant mathematician in her own right, she helped to
document some of Babbage's efforts. One of the few who actually comprehended the
machine's methods and its vast potential for application, she wrote: "We may say most
aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom
weaves flowers and leaves." Regarding the Analytical Engine, Babbage declared that
Lovelace "seemed to understand it better than I do." What she understood was the
machine's radical conception. It was indeed a mathematical Jacquard's loom,
essentially empty, but capable of executing any pattern or program that could be
translated on punch cards. The Analytical Engine was never built. All that exists are
plans and drawings of a small portion of the mill and printer built by Babbage's son. But
Babbage's ideas set the stage for later developments.
d. Post-Babbage Stagnation. Between 1850 and 1937, little progress was
made in automated digital computers. The advent of steam power and the great
engineering feats of the period, leading to the development of railroads, steamships,
textile mills, and bridges, created a strong need for machines that could perform many
repetitive calculations quickly.