Friday, June 14, 2013

The Inventive Mr. Babbage

Babbage was an inveterate inventor and delighted in instruments, contrivances and mechanical novelties of all kinds.

While at school, in about 1807, he devised shoes for walking on water and nearly drowned in the course of testing them.

He designed cow-catchers to be mounted in the front of locomotives to clear the line of obstacles, ‘black box’ recorders as ‘the incorruptible witnesses of the immediate antecedents of any catastrophe’, failsafe quick release couplings for railway carriages, a pen with a rotatable disk for drawing broken lines on maps, a chart recorder for logging the condition of railway tracks, theatre lighting using coloured filters (quashed by theatre management on the grounds of health and safety because of supposed fire hazard from the oxy-hydrogen blowlamps), a tugboat for winching vessels upstream,  diving bells, a submarine for propelled by compressed air, an altimeter, a seismograph, a flatbottomed boat that would aquaplane (‘hydrofoil’), an astronomical micrometer, a ‘coronograph’ for producing artificial eclipses, a life-buoy with a self-igniting mechanism wound automatically by bobbing motion in the sea, an arcade game, an aerial funicular system for mail delivery, and occulted lights for a signalling system for communicating with ships at sea with pre-programmed messages coded onto disks.

All this of course, aside from his invention of automatic computing machines for which he is best known.

With mechanical contrivances, devices and contraptions, the obsession of the age, he was clearly a man of his time. But the range and number of his inventions, proposed and/or constructed, is prolific even by the generous standards of his day.


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