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Rare piece of computing history to go on display in Manchester

A rare piece of computing history created by computing pioneer Charles Babbage is to go on display at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester this summer, as part of Manchester International Festival 2019.

Henry Babbage's Analytical Engine Mill, 1910 Science Museum Group Collection Image source
Henry Babbage's Analytical Engine Mill, 1910

A section of Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine—generally considered to be the first-ever computer—constructed by his youngest son Henry, will be displayed in the museum's 1830 Warehouse from 6–21 July. The exhibit will complement Atmospheric Memory, an interactive art experience created by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer as part of Manchester International Festival, which will take place in a custom-built chamber next to the warehouse.

Babbage's 19th century calculating engines are among the most celebrated icons in the prehistory of computing. His Difference Engine No. 1 was the first successful automatic calculator and remains one of the finest examples of precision engineering of the time. 

The Analytical Engine was designed to perform any calculation set before it and to have even higher powers of analysis than the original Difference Engine. The structure of the Analytical Engine led to the design that has informed the way computers have been built ever since. 

Babbage himself was a true polymath, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Atmospheric Memory is inspired by his proposal that the air is a 'vast library' holding every word ever spoken, and asks: was Babbage right? Can we rewind the air to recreate long-lost voices? And if so, whose would we want to hear? To explore these questions, Lozano-Hemmer has created an array of 'Atmospheric Machines' that mine the air for turbulence caused by speech, then transform it into trails of vapor, ripples on water and epic 360-degree projections. 

The Analytical Engine will be on display as part of Atmospheric Memory from Saturday 6 July to Sunday 21 July. Admission to the 1830 Warehouse to view the Analytical Engine is free. Tickets to enter the Atmospheric Memory chamber cost £8/£5 concessions. 

Atmospheric Memory is commissioned by Manchester International Festival, Science and Industry Museum, FutureEverything, ELEKTRA/Arsenal Contemporary Art Montreal and Carolina Performing Arts – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is produced by Manchester International Festival and curated with FutureEverything and Science and Industry Museum and supported by Wellcome.

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact Kat Harrison-Dibbits, Interim Head of PR at the Science and Industry Museum, on 0161 606 0176 or email kat.harrison-dibbits@scienceandindustrymuseum.org.uk

About the Science and Industry Museum

The Science and Industry Museum tells the story of where science met industry and the modern world began. Manchester was one of the first global industrial cities, and its epic rise, decline and resurrection has been echoed in countless other cities around the world. From textiles to computers, the objects and documents on display in the museum tell stories of everyday life over the last 200 years, from light bulbs to locomotives.  The museum's mission is to inspire all its visitors, including future scientists and inventors, with the story of how ideas can change the world, from the industrial revolution to today and beyond. 

The Science and Industry Museum is part of the Science Museum Group, a family of museums which also includes the Science Museum in London; the National Railway Museum in York and Shildon; and the Science and Media Museum in Bradford. The Science Museum Group is devoted to the history and contemporary practice of science, medicine, technology, industry and media. With five million visitors each year and an unrivalled collection, it is the most significant group of museums of science and innovation worldwide.