What Happened on December 26th
Charles Babbage is born in London. The son of a wealthy banker, he became a prominent figure in London’s social and scientific circles. In 1821, he designed the Difference Engine to calculate mathematical tables—replacing the unreliable human "computers" doing the calculations at the time. Politics and funding issues, however, brought the project to an end. Undeterred, in 1834, Babbage began working on an even more ambitious invention, his "Analytical Engine." This invention was to be a general-purpose programmable computing machine. Ultimately, neither Engine was completed in Babbage’s lifetime.
More than 150 years later, however, the London Science Museum, under the direction of Dr. Doron Swade, constructed two identical Difference Engines, faithful to Babbage’s original drawings. Remarkably, they operate precisely as Babbage envisioned.
One of the two Difference Engines is on display at the Computer History Museum, where it is demonstrated daily.
Time magazine's editors selected the Personal Computer for "Machine of the Year," in lieu of their well-known "Man of the Year" award. The computer beat out US President Ronald Reagan, UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin. The planet Earth became the second non-human recipient for the award in 1988. The awards have been given since 1927. The magazine's essay reported that in 1982, 80% of Americans expected that "in the fairly near future, home computers will be as commonplace as television sets or dishwashers." In 1980, 724,000 personal computers were sold in the United States, according to Time. The following year, that number doubled to 1.4 million.