Ken’s Korner: The first computer was steam-powered.
News & Views From the World of Antiques & Collectibles
By Ken Hall
Quite possibly the earliest computer concept – a brass and iron, steam-powered machine the size of a small steam locomotive – was the vision of Charles Babbage, an English inventor and mathematician who died in 1872. His Analytical Engine was a general purpose computer with just 1 kilobyte of memory (500,000 times less than the memory of an iPhone 4 and 13,000 times slower than the earliest home computer introduced in 1981). Sadly, Babbage’s idea never got past the planning stage and a prototype was never built.
Until now. John Graham-Cumming, a computer programmer and director of something called Plan 28 – said he will try to raise the necessary funds through private donations to build an Analytical Engine exactly as Babbage imagined it. He estimates the project will take ten years and $8 million to complete. Babbage had other big ideas, too, such as the Difference Engine No. 1, a calculating device. The British government expressed early interest but cut off funding in 1842. None of Babbage’s inventions were ever fully built.