Glory and failure : The difference engines of Johann Müller, Charles Babbage and Georg and Edvard Scheutz

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköpings universitet

Abstract: This book presents a social and technical analysis of the first attempts to mechanize the production of numerical tablets. It deals with an age when the word "computer" denoted a human being and not a machine.The Difference engine was the first mechanical solution to the old problem of errors in tables, a machine that could calculate and print all kinds of tables - logarithmical, nautical, astronomical etc., for ultimate use in various areas of human endeavour.How was it possible for the teenager Edvard Scheutz to make a complete difference engine at a negligible cost and with the cimplest tools in 1843, while Charles Babbage with the assistance of a skilled engineer, several workmen and an extremely well-equipped workshop and with a budget of more than 17.000 pounds, failed? How did the various sections of society react to the difference engine? Was incomprehension crucial when the inventors came to apply for governmental support? Why was the Scheutz engine not a commercial success?This is the story of the difference engine, an invention which was to bring its creators not only honour and fame, but which also presented them with many difficulties and left them without financial compensation. It is a tragic story of glory and failure.

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