June 22, 2004


Picture of Charles Babbage

The most intriguing figure in 19th century cryptanalysis is Charles Babbage, the eccentric British Genius best known for developing the blueprint for the modern computer. He was born in 1791, the son of Benjamin Babbage, a wealthy London banker. When Charles married without his father's permission, he no longer had access to the Babbage fortune, but he still had enough money to be financially secure, and he pursued the life of a roving scholar, applying his mind to whatever problem tickled his fancy. His inventions include the speedometer and the cowcatcher, a device that could be fixed to the front of steam locomotives to clear cattle from railway tracks. In terms of scientific breakthroughs, he was the first to realize that the width of a tree ring depended on that year's weather, and he deduced that it was possible to determine past climates by studying ancient trees. He was also intrigued by statistics, and as a diversion he drew up a set of mortality tables, a basic tool for today's insurance industry.


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