Difference Engine unboxed at Silicon Valley Computer Museum

Wired's got a fantastic photoset of the unboxing of a freshly built Difference Engine, constructed to Charles Babbage's 1822 blueprints for a mechanical calculator of then-unheard-of sophistication:

But Babbage never completed it. It took engineers and curators at London's Science Museum almost six years of work to bring Babbage's 20 pages of blueprints to life in 1991.

Now, thanks to Microsoft multimillionaire Nathan Myhrvold, a second Difference Engine has been built and delivered to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where trained docents will turn its brass handle to crank out the calculations Babbage dreamed of automating.

Link (via JWZ)


  1. Has anyone ever attempted to make the analytical engine? Were enough notes left for us even to know whether it would have worked?

  2. Babbage made a few bits of the Analytical Engine but it remained even more unfinished than the Difference Engine.

    There are (Java) emulators available from Fourmilab’s excellent pages so that you can get an idea (minus the steam engine) of what it would be like to use.

  3. Hmmm … the label on the London Museum one needs a bit more info – I don’t recall them mentioning it being a reconstruction. (It’s in an appropriate place, though, right next to Stephenson’s Rocket.

  4. The one in London is actually the first one ever built, so it’s not a reconstruction, it’s the original. Of course, it did take 150 years to get the thing built.

  5. I’ve seen the one in London, but this is even more incentive to go visit the Computer History Museum. They came and picked up my old VAX 6000-510 last year (I was tired of moving it with me and didn’t have the 3-phase power to run it) and I’m curious if they’ve put it on display yet.

  6. I’d really love to see someone make an Analytical Engine, instead of building Difference Engines. I mean, sure, the Difference Engine was revolutionary, but not nearly as much as the Analytical Engine. Is it just too impractical and hard to build? I really hope not.

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