Charles Babbage was the inventor of Analytical Engine and Difference Engine.
Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and computer programmer.

The Guardian says :

Often described as the world's first computer programmer, Lovelace showed a keen interest in mathematical studies from an early age [...]

Wikipedia reports some controversy over the claims :

Though Lovelace is referred to as the first computer programmer, some biographers and historians of computing claim the contrary.

It quotes Allan G. Bromley (emphasis added to highlight the notable claim) :

All but one of the programs cited in her notes had been prepared by Babbage from three to seven years earlier.

It goes on to quote Eugene Eric Kim and Betty Alexandra Toole (emphasis added) :

Many people, for instance, incorrectly claim that Ada was the first computer programmer. (Babbage, not Ada, wrote the first programs for his Analytical Engine, although most were never published.)

Did Babbage write programs for the Analytical Engine prior to Lovelace?

  • 9
    Don't have time to look up references so I'll write this as a comment for now. If I recall, Lovelace's first publication on the Analytical Engine is an improvement (and a bug fix?) to Babbage's example program. So historically she wasn't the first to write a program for the AE. But Babbage's program was using the AE in its rawest form: to crunch numbers. The "program" was merely to control this crunching of numbers and did not really implement any algorithm. Lovelace was credited to be the first to propose the idea that the numbers can be symbols for other things like music or text.
    – slebetman
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 5:36
  • @slebetman , thanks for the interesting input !! I will wait for your full answer , but I will also look up this specific point.
    – Prem
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 7:53
  • ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/CBC-Ch-02.pdf
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 16:29
  • pettersson-fanpage.de/Lovelace/Lovelace.html
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 16:33
  • athena.union.edu/~hemmendd/Courses/cs80/an-engine.pdf
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


According to the 1970 article Von Neumann's First Computer Program:

it is not the earliest instance of a computer program. We have Lady Lovelace's description of a program for calculating Bernoulli numbers that Babbage wrote for his Analytical Engine [1, Note G]

Where reference 1 is:

AUGUSTA, ADA, COUNTESS OF LOVELACE. Annotated transl, of Menabrea, L. F., Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage. In Charles Babbage and his Calculating Engines (Philip Morrison and Emily Morrison, Eds.), Dover, New York, 1961, pp. 225- 297; see also p. 68.

See Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage

particularly note G

  • 3
    @Prem "In the notes, Ada showed how to use the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. For this reason, she has earned the reputation of being the 'first computer programmer', although Babbage and others, including his assistant and his sons, had previously written 'programs' for the never-completed machine." uncamarvy.com/OtherNeatStuff/Essays/AdaByron.html
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 12:00
  • 1
    @Perm She also would have been the first person to develop programs that wasn't directly affiliated with the original hardware development as well.
    – rjzii
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 13:19
  • 4
    @DavePhD , that Web Essay also says "While she's sometimes credited as being the first programmer, she wasn't." , all which makes me think that it is individual personal preference ( or currently fashionable political views on Diversity ) which wants Lovelace to be the First Programmer.
    – Prem
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 14:41
  • 1
    @Prem - That was kind of my point. She was the first person not affiliated with the development of the difference engine to write programs for it.
    – rjzii
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 15:08
  • 4
    @rjzii , Earlier , I had a comment to my question ( which was unfortunately deleted by somebody ) that Babbage was the first "hardware-software" person , while Lovelace was the first "software-only" person , which gives an interpretation to "Lovelace was the First Programmer".
    – Prem
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 15:16

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