News from 1843: Swedish teenager succeeds where British engineering fails

English: Drawing of the mechanical calculating...

English: Drawing of the mechanical calculating machine designed by Pehr Georg Scheutz in 1843 and completed in 1853. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1823, Charles Babbage began construction of his difference engine (an early calculating machine) with a grant from the British government. Twenty years later, it was still unbuilt.

In 1833, Georg Scheutz, a Swedish lawyer and translator, was so inspired by Babbage’s difference engine that he decided to build his own. In 1837, his teenage son, Edvard, age 15, offered to help his father turn his designs into reality.

“By the summer of 1843 he (Edvard) had succeeded in building a working machine.

Babbage had demanded the highest precision in the manufacture of parts for his Engine, and British technology, which was the most advanced anywhere, was stretched to its limits and beyond. Edvard’s machine has a rough wooden frame and was made using a simple lathe and hand tools by a young man with craft skills. A Swedish teenager had succeeded where the best of British failed.”

from The Cogwheel Brain, by Doron Swade, 2000 (p. 197)


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