Percy Ludgate

2022 marks the 100th anniversary since the passing of Irish inventor and accountant, Percy Ludgate, who designed the world’s second computer in 1909.

Percy Edwin Ludgate was born on the 2nd of August 1883 in Skibbereen, County Cork, from where he later moved with his parents to Dublin. There, Ludgate came to study accountancy at Rathmines College of Commerce, and started work at the firm Kevans and Son. After office hours, he pursued his interest and hobby of designing calculating machines. This activity would eventually lead him to publish his paper On a proposed analytical machine’ (1909), in which he presents the second oldest known computer in the world.  

The first computer, or ‘analytical engine’, was described in 1837 by English mathematician Charles Babbage, which he continued to develop until his death in 1871. Although, Ludgate refers his readers to Babbage, as well as first known programmer, Ada Lovelace, to learn more about the ‘principles of the analytical machine’, he writes that he remained unaware of Babbage’s engine until the very last stages of designing his own machine. According to Professor Brian Randell, on ‘Ludgate's analytical machine of 1909’ (1971), this claim rings true since the Ludgate machine’s mechanism shows “considerable ingenuity and originality” that separates it from any other machine design known at the time.  

Like Charles Babbage, Ludgate never completed his engine, but nevertheless it stands out today as a milestone in computational innovation, displaying the use of multiplication as its base mechanism – instead of addition - and was also the first machine with a ‘multiplier-accumulator’ to perform division. This new design makes it the second known type of analytical engines, which predates the electromechanical computer of later decades.  

On the 19th of October 1922, Ludgate died aged only 39 from pneumonia, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin. For his contributions to the field of Computer Science, the ‘Ludgate Prize’ has since been instituted in his honour for the best final-year project in the Moderatorship in computer science at Trinity College, Dublin, and in 2016 a Ludgate Hub e-business incubation centre was opened in Skibbereen.  

A plaque was unveiled in Dublin on the 15th of October 2022 to commemorate Ludgate and his contribution to mathematics and modern computing. The ceremony was hosted by Professor Gregory O’Hare, Head of School at the Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College. The event also included a dissertation by Professor Brian Randell.  

Read more about Percy Ludgate here. 

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