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96/203/1 Calculating engine, specimen piece, with instructions and engraving, 'Difference Engine No1', bronze / steel / wood / paper, designed by Charles Babbage, parts made by Joseph Clements, assembled by Henry Provost Babbage, England, 1822-1879. Click to enlarge.

Babbage Difference Engine No 1 calculating engine

Designed by Babbage, Charles in England

More than 150 years ago, the English mathematician, inventor, philosopher and reformer Charles Babbage designed a general-purpose mechanical calculating machine that anticipated the principles and structure of the modern computer. In 1823 Babbage started working on his Difference Engine No1, a fully automatic machine that calculated and printed the tables used in the burgeoning fields of science, navigation and business. His aim was to relieve people of 'routine mental labour' and eliminate hum...


Object No.


Object Statement

Calculating engine, specimen piece, with instructions and engraving, 'Difference Engine No1', bronze / steel / wood / paper, designed by Charles Babbage, parts made by Joseph Clements, assembled by Henry Provost Babbage, England, 1822-1879

Physical Description

A calculating engine consisting of six ferrous metal shafts supporting various bronze wheels with engraved numbers, cogs and cams all mounted on a mahogany base.

Two pages of hand written instructions for calculating engine.



300 mm


380 mm



Clement, Joseph England 1822-1833


The Difference Engine No1 was designed by Charles Babbage between 1822 and 1833 after which the project was abandoned. The mechanism demonstrated in the specimen was probably designed in the early stages. He designed the engine to automatically calculate and print mathematical tables, used at the time for complex calculations relating to navigation, surveying, astronomy, annuities etc.

The engine used the Method of Finite Differences to generate successive values of a polynomial function.

In order to construct the parts new tools and manufacturing techniques had also to be developed. Most of the parts were eventually made but the machine was never assembled.
While he was working on the Difference Engine he started to think about a machine that could be more versatile. When the Difference engine project was abandoned he went on to design most of the Analytical Engine which was in effect a programmable mechanical computer with the same architecture as a modern electronic computer. Certain innovations he developed for the Analytical Engine were late incorporated into a more efficient difference engine, Difference Engine No2.

The parts for the Difference Engine were made by Joseph Clement who was a highly skilled toolmaker and tradesman.

The unassembled parts of the Difference Engine were inherited by Henry Provost Babbage after the death of his father in 1871. In 1879 he assembled 5, 6 or 7 specimen pieces (accounts in the writings of Henry differ). These pieces were to demonstrate the addition and carry mechanism of the engine. One he gave to the Whipple Musuem, Cambridge; one to University College, London (now at the Science Museum); one to Harvard College in America; and one to Charles Whitmore Babbage, Henry's nephew who took it to New Zealand. Others are unaccounted for.



None of Babbages machines was ever completed. But in 1832 he assembled a working portion to demonstate its function to the British Parliment in what was was probably a last attempt to gain continued funding. This portion now at the Science museum was capable of generating, but not printing tables for 2nd degree polynomials. Babbage did generate tables for some functions.

The descendants offered the Engine and related material for auction through Christie's of London on 4 October 1995.


Credit Line

Purchased 1996

Acquisition Date

6 June 1996

Cite this Object


Babbage Difference Engine No 1 calculating engine 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 20 February 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Babbage Difference Engine No 1 calculating engine |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=20 February 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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