The Computer History Museum, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, today announced that it is opening an exhibit on May 10, 2008 to showcase Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2, one of the earliest designs for an automatic computing engine. Constructed over the past three and a half years in London, weighing five tons, with 8,000 parts, the Engine was commissioned by Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures and former CTO of Microsoft. It will be on display for the first time in North America for one year. Visitors to the Museum will have the unprecedented opportunity to see and hear the mechanical Engine working – a stunning display of Victorian mechanics.
“Babbage himself failed to build a complete calculating Engine and through it, to convey to his world a vision of automatic computation. He died embittered and unacknowledged,” said Doron D. Swade, a renowned Charles Babbage expert. “This Engine memorializes the first computer pioneer, and closes an anguished chapter in the history of computing.” Swade is Director of the Babbage Project and curated the Computer History Museum’s Babbage Engine Exhibit.
Charles Babbage (1791-1871) is known as the visionary innovator whose designs for vast mechanical calculating engines rank as one of the startling achievements of the 19th century. His designs, however, remained on the drawing board for another 150 years due to his failed attempts at constructing the engines. This modern construction of Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2 is the second of its kind, the first being the Engine housed at the Science Museum, London, completed in 2002. In both constructions a dedicated team of engineers, led by Swade, was responsible for the intense labor required to complete the working Engine as Babbage intended. Babbage’s engines are monumental in logical conception, physical size, and intricacy. Difference Engine No. 2 consists of 8,000 parts of bronze, cast iron, and steel. It weighs some five tons and measures 11 feet long and 7 feet high. The Engine, cranked by hand, automatically calculates and prints tables of polynomial functions to 31 decimal places.
“This Difference Engine has taken many years of passionate hard work to create,” said Len Shustek, Chairman of the Computer History Museum’s Board of Trustees. “This is an exciting milestone for all those involved with the Museum. We’re thrilled to be the institution bringing this historically significant exhibit to the American public with the help of Nathan and our other generous donors.”
Myhrvold’s generosity has enabled the Computer History Museum to exhibit the Engine for a year before it is transported to his private collection. “The Computer History Museum has done an outstanding job of showcasing Babbage, his Difference Engine and his overall contribution to computing history,” stated Myhrvold. The Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2 Exhibit is also made possible through the generosity of the following donors: Andreas Bechtolsheim, Bell Family Trust, Donna Dubinsky & Len Shustek, Judy Estrin, Fry’s Electronics - Kathryn Kolder, Dorrit & F. Grant Saviers, Marva & John Warnock, and with special thanks to Science Museum, London.
The Computer History Museum’s Babbage Engine Exhibit will launch with an Open House on May 10, 2008. This Victorian-themed event will feature live demonstrations of the Engine; a presentation by Swade to provide an overview on Babbage; screenings of “To Dream Tomorrow,” a film about Ada Lovelace, a key figure during Babbage’s time; and complimentary refreshments. The Open House is from 12 noon until 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Additionally, an Online Babbage Engine Exhibit will launch on May 10 covering more details about Charles Babbage, the Engine, and key people from Babbage’s era. See www.computerhistory.org/babbage.
Beginning May 10, the Museum open hours are extended: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday from 12 noon to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Live demonstrations of the Engine will take place at 2 p.m. on weekdays; at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information on the Babbage Engine Exhibit and the Open House, please visit: www.computerhistory.org
The Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, Calif., is a nonprofit organization with a 25-year history as part of The Computer Museum in Boston, Mass. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computing history, and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs and moving images.
CHM brings computing history to life through an acclaimed speaker series, dynamic website, onsite tours, as well as physical and online exhibits. Current exhibits include “Mastering the Game: A History of Computer Chess,” “Innovation in the Valley” – a look at Silicon Valley startups – and the unique “Visible Storage Gallery,” featuring over 600 key objects from the collection.
A signature “Timeline of Computing History” exhibit will open in the fall of 2009. For more information, please visit www.computerhistory.org or call 650.810.1010.