Jeffrey Fox, of Ardgowan School, asks :-

What was the first computer like?

Garry Tee, a mathematician at the University of Auckland who tracked down the parts of Babbage's original calculator brought to New Zealand by Babbage's descendants, responded.

The inventor of the computer was Charles Babbage, who was born at London in 1791, became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge (1828-1839), and died at London in 1871. By 1836, a year before Victoria became Queen of England, he had invented all of the basic ideas about computers, and many more advanced ideas about them.

He designed his computers as mechanical devices with scores of thousands of cogwheels, rods and levers, reading data supplied on punched cards, and punching output onto cards. Those output cards could be read by other machines to print tables of numbers, or to draw curves; and they also served as an unlimited store, since those output cards could then be read by the computer itself.

The entire engine was driven by a heavy weight on a rope, which would be wound up by a steam engine. Although Babbage failed to complete any of his engines, his attempts to construct them greatly advanced engineering design and contruction techniques. The "mill" for performing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division was finally constructed by his son in 1910.

The first computer to operate was COLOSSUS 1, in December 1943. It used electronic valves as switches, was the size of a room, and was developed for breaking codes during World War Two.