Babbage’s Difference Engine
(Image by dannyman)
My mother-in-law made me privy to a story that aired on NPR about a group of people who built a copy of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine using only materials available from the Victorian age, which is a feat which alluded the mathematician during his lifetime. This machine is the second of two that has been built, and is on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. through the end of 2010. Concerning the physical dimensions of the machine:
“The Difference Engine fills half a gallery and stands taller than most men. It’s 5 tons of cast iron, steel and bronze woven together from 8,000 distinct parts. Though it looks like it could be a sculpture, the machine is essentially a giant calculator.”
In other words, it’s gigantic. And it works. It was the best computer that money could buy in 1840, which is probably why it was never actually built. Way too complex and way too much money. It’s worth checking out the NPR story just to see the photos of this monstrous machine. There’s also a video of the machine in action on the Computer History Museum webpage for the Babbage Engine exhibit here.