Georg and Edvard Scheutz and the Construction of Difference Engines
Johann H. Mueller, (1746-1830) began making calculating devices in the 1780s, and it was he who conceived of the idea of calculating and then printing mathematical tables. Evidence now suggests that Charles Babbage, who started thinking about calculating machines in the 1820s, was influenced by Mueller. However, neither Mueller nor Babbage were able to construct a successful machine.
Babbage described his Difference Engine No. 1 in his publication A Letter to Sir Humphry Davy... on the Application of Machinery to the Purpose of Calculating and Printing Mathematical Tables.
While the Difference Engine was intended to calculate mathematical tables and print the results, the far more ambitious Analytical Engine was designed to execute any mathematical operation by following a program on punched cards3.
This machine was tested by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences under the watchful gaze of the famous chemist J.J. Berzelius, who testified favourably on its construction and function. With this endorsement, the Scheutzes attempted to obtain orders from several European countries, but in vain. The British Treasury declined on the grounds that they had already expended a huge amount of government money on Babbage’s designs6 and could not invest in a foreign invention. In the end, the Swedish government gave the Scheutzes a grant for further development. J.W. Bergström’s engineering workshop in
This was a far more complex machine. Whereas the first difference engine used five decimal places and three differences, this new model used fifteen places and four differences. The Scheutzes applied successfully for a patent for this second machine at the London Patent Office in 1854. This calculator won a gold medal at the Universal Exposition in
A third machine, built by Bryan Donkin’s mechanical workshop in
1 The last four copies of this work to have sold at auction are (all prices hammer):
Christie's New York, Feb 23, 2005, lot 16, $32,000; Sotheby's, Mar 20, 2003, lot 385, £7,000; Swann, Apr 19, 2001, lot 165, $8,000; Bloomsbury, Oct 28, 1999, lot 15, £5,500.
3 This was first reported by Luigi Federico Menabrea, which was in turn translated by Ada Lovelace and published in
4 Dionysius Lardner, “Babbage’s Calculating Engine” in Edinburgh Review, 59 (April-July) 1834, pp.263-327.
5 This machine was rediscovered in 1979 after it had been lost for 100 years. Michael Lindgren, while completing a study of the Scheutzes noted that in the inventory of the estate of Edvard, it had been deposited in the Nordiska Museet. Lindgren found it in the storehouse of that same museum still in its original mahogany box.
6 Babbage received some £17,000 for the development of his designs; a steam locomotive in the 1840s cost roughly £800 to build.
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