It is well known that Charles Babbage's analytical machine had an architecture strongly ressembling the modern Von Neumann architecture.

Also, it's notable that the tables for representing a program for Babbage's analytical machine ( http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/figures/menat3.png ) and von Neumann's work (such as http://library.ias.edu/files/pdfs/ecp/planningcodingof0103inst.pdf ) are quite analogous.

Now I'm wondering if there's any indication to what extent von Neumann knew of the work done by Babbage, and if he used it as an inspiration for his own work.

  • $\begingroup$ the relation between turing & babbage also would be interesting to know. generally babbage seems not to have been given much or any credit by early computing pioneers. dont know whether that was intentional or due to lack of awareness. on the other hand babbage is given much credit in modern histories of computing & arguably his work has undergone a "resurgence" due to some recent real constructions of his machine. also ada lovelace who worked with babbage is even given credit by some as "first computer programmer".... $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Mar 23, 2012 at 18:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you have a higher chance of getting an answer if you post the question to the FOM mailing list. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Mar 24, 2012 at 4:59

2 Answers 2


It seems likely that Von Neumann knew about Babbage since Aiken did and was pretty open about it as far back as 1937. See this. Also, Flowers, of Colossus fame did as well. Von Nuemann's famous paper appeared in 1945 (see here and here), and does mention Aiken's work.

But I can't find any direct evidence. Good question, and a bit of fun to briefly research it.


In their 2003 paper Lovelace & Babbage and the Creation of the 1843 ‘Notes', John Fuegi and Jo Francis quote H.J. Gray’s Digital Computer Engineering, Prentice-Hall, 1963, in the annoted bibliography given by B. Randell, ed., The Origins of Digital Computers: Selected Papers, Springer Verlag, 1973, p. 420, as saying:

“John von Neumann urged that all the machine units be connected ... so that the machine could be used as a computer of the Babbage type ... This was done and ENIAC was operated in this fashion until it retired.”


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