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Landmark Work on Manufactures Inscribed by Babbage to the Man Who Killed the Difference Engine

BABBAGE, CHARLES. On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures

London: R. Clay for Charles Knight, 1832

Engraved title page by J. Bate. (Title leaf and A1 slightly foxed.) Contemporary half sheep binding, marbled sides, morocco lettering piece (spine worn, faded and chipped, joints starting).

First edition. LARGE-PAPER COPY, presentation copy inscribed by Babbage to Sir Robert Peel, a founder of the Conservative party and one of the leading British politicians of the day. Peel (1788-1850) was British Home Secretary 1822-27 and 1828-30, Prime Minister 1834-35 and 1841-46. Peel exercised great political influence throughout the 1830s, and Babbage must have presented this copy of On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures in an effort to win him over.

Sir Robert Peel, as Home Secretary in 1822, had dismissed Babbage’s proposal for a difference engine, and some twenty years later, when he was prime minister, he cut off government funding for the project. In 1842 he wrote to his friend geologist William Buckland, “What shall we do to get rid of Mr. Babbage and his calculating machine? … Surely if completed it would be worthless as far as science is concerned?”

Charles Babbage was one of the visionary geniuses of the Industrial Revolution. “Babbage undertook the analysis of machinery and manufacturing processes to discover ideas and techniques that could be applied to the construction of his Difference Engine no. 1, which he knew would stretch the available mechanical technology to its limits. Primary themes of the book were the division of labor and the division of mental labor, to which Babbage devoted chapters 19 and 20. His chapter on the division of mental labor was an analysis of the methods used by de Prony in the production of his celebrated mathematical tables. Babbage had seen de Prony’s manuscript table in 1819, and around 1820 began planning the Difference Engine no. 1 based on the principles of division of labor. With this goal, Babbage visited factories throughout England, inspecting every machine and every industrial process. Rather than a study limited to engineering and manufacturing techniques, his book turned out to be an analysis of manufacturing processes within their economic context. Written when manufacturing was undergoing rapid development and radical change, the book represents an original contribution to British economics.” (Origins of Cyberspace).

“On the economy of machinery and manufacturers was also the first book on operations research, discussing topics like the regulation of power, control of raw materials, division of labor, times studies, the advantage of size in manufacturing, inventory control, and duration and replacement of machinery. On pages 166 and 167 Babbage analyzed the production of his book as an example of the cost of each step in a particular production process. The work was Babbage’s most complete and professional piece of writing, and the only one of his books that went through four editions in his lifetime” (OOC).