The Steam-Punk Dream Computer: Watch the Babbage Difference Engine in Action

After All Things Digital finished up a recent tour of the not-yet-reopened Computer History Museum, conducted by Apple co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak, one of the curators offered a special treat for a few of the geekiest reporters in attendance.

That meant the cult-legendary Babbage Difference Engine, a Hummer-size calculator originally designed by Charles Babbage in 1847 and later built from the original plans by the Science Museum in London in 2008.

Every part, and there are over 8,000, was finished by hand, using only techniques available in Victorian England.

The bronze, cast-iron and steel engine uses a dizzying series of gears, cams and catches to calculate and print tables of numbers that you might be familiar with if you’ve used one of those little brown pocket reference books.

Plus, it’s the only computer that requires an oil pan.

When “turned on,” which means turning the hand crank, the whole thing clatters to life in a decidedly organized symphony of metallic motion.

There are only two Babbage Engines in existence, and the maintenance alone means they’re almost never brought to life.

But, just for our nerdtastic audience, here is a short video of the whole thing in action in Silicon Valley–something you’ll probably not see again if you wait a lifetime.

Geek on:

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