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History of Manufacturing and the Impact of Charles Babbage

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Engineering
Wordcount: 1041 words Published: 11th Dec 2020

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Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

Modern manufacturing involves the processes that are necessary to produce a product and its components. Before the Industrial Revolution manufacturing involved making products or goods by hand. The Industrial Revolution triggered major changes and gave us inventions that we still use today, like the light bulb and sewing machine. It laid the foundation for the manufacturing industry we know today.

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Charles Babbage wan an English mathematician and inventor who is credited with conceiving the first automatic digital computer. Born in Walworth, Surrey, he was one of four children to a banker Benjamin Babbage. He attended Trinity, Cambridge in 1810 where he studied mathematics, he graduated with an honour in 1814 from Peterhouse and received an MA in 1817. “While in college he and two fellow students formed the Analytical Society with the purpose of advancing English mathematics…” (Skulrattanakulchai 2017)

Charles Babbage is best known for his invention of the first automatic computing machine the Difference Engine and is often referred to as the “father of the computer”. The reasoning behind Babbage’s strive to create a machine capable of effectively generating tables of logarithms. “Babbage was central to the alteration of our conception of the workforce, the workplace and the economics of industrial production in Britain increasingly concerned with the automation of labour.” (Schaffer 1994)

In the middle of the 19th century a surge in engineering ambition took over with inventors exploiting new materials and processes to develop engineering, transport, communications, architecture, and manufacture where there seemed to be no end to invention and innovation. Steam power began to replace animals and the electric telegraph began to revolutionize communications. Flourishing technologies held limitless promise to science and engineering.

With the tediousness of manually checking calculations and finding error after error Babbage pondered at the thought of a steam powered engine that could calculate tables and reduce human error. In order to create such a complex machine Babbage would incorporate processes and ideas already used in manufacturing to create his Difference Engine. The Infallibility of the machine would eliminate the risk of error from calculation. Automatic typesetting would prevent the risk of error when setting results. Stereotyping which was automatically impressing results on a on soft material, would eliminate errors in repeated printing.

As stated above although Babbage had the original concept of a computational machine that could perform calculations, he planned to use concepts and processes already in use in the manufacturing industry. The concept of typesetting was originally developed in the Linotype machine invented in 1884 by Ottoman Mergenthaler. Babbage also planned to use a process that releases the type for re-composition invented by a Scottish goldsmith called William Ged in 1725. Here we can see how early invention in the throughout the history of manufacturing helped Babbage with his concept of the first computer.

Although Babbage never produced his Analytical Engine as the British Government cut funding to his project in theory the mechanical engine would have worked as Babbage had intended. His idea leads the way for others to build machines like Babbage’s design and add different levels of complexity to them so they could do more with better efficiency. At the beginning of the 1900s the word “computer” began changing its meaning from a person to a machine, “computers were actually being built, increasingly more complex, more ambitious in scope, more powerful, faster and physically larger than the punch card machine originally developed by Charles Babbage.” (Dasgupta 2014)

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Charles Babbage was a pioneer for the manufacturing industry and from his own personal accounts describes the manufacturing process and how to create a product that people and industry’s want to purchase. When manufacturing a component to sell to industry the product needs “to produce it in perfect form; but in order to secure to himself the greatest and most permanent profit, he must endeavour by any means in his power the new luxury or want which he has created, cheap to those who consume it.” (Babbage 1832)

Babbage also envisaged a workplace without the toil of repeated manual work of an employee. His inventions aimed to cease the receptiveness of mindless counting, he invented a time clock for automatically clocking into work, an inking roller for printing and even a device which recorded the direction of shocks in earthquake prone areas.

Babbage’s works and design of the Analytical engine formed the basis of the computers that we use in todays society. Although his design was to be a mechanical device capable of completing calculations, his mind went far beyond the calculation aspect as it would store the data it produced and reuse the information to add more. Babbage described the process as “the engine eating its own tail”. Babbage was very dedicated to producing his invention and was well ahead of contemporary thoughts. “He had not only to elaborate the designs but to develop the concepts, the engineering, and even the tools to make the parts. He…. stands alone: the great ancestral figure of computing. (Hyman 1982)


  • Babbage, C. (2010) “Contents,” in On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Library Collection - History of Printing, Publishing and Libraries), pp. viii-xvi.
  • Dasgupta, Subrata. 2014. It Began with Babbage: The Genesis of Computer Science. Oxford University Press.
  • Hyman, A. (1982) Charles Babbage: pioneer of the computer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Schaffer, S. 1994. ‘‘Babbage’s Intelligence: Calculating Engines and the Factory System.’’ Critical Inquiry 21(1): 203–27
  • Skulrattanakulchai, Ampaiporn. (2017). Charles Babbage, A Man before His Time.


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