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The Difference Engine is a machine designed by Charles Babbage in the early 1800s. It was designed to calculate values in polynomial equations, which it did by combining several mechanical adding machines together.
The Difference Engine was a large, heavy mechanical construction operated by a hand crank. Gears moved numerical counters in order to supply complex results. The Difference Engine essentially did the work of scribes who would otherwise sit and compute polynomial tables for mathematics, chemistry or other purposes.
After the Difference Engine, Babbage went to work on the Analytical Engine, which had more complexity, and is often thought of as one of the earliest primitive computers. Items like the Difference Engine, the Analytical Engine and the Jacquard Loom, an automated loom of the same era, represent early attempts to start utilizing the principles of computing — memory, input/output and complex operations.
Although the first Difference Engine only evolved into a prototype, plans for a second Difference Engine by Babbage were used to build a complete machine between 1989 and 1991, which is now on display at the London Science Museum.