When you think of a computer genius, who comes to mind?
Bill Gates? Steve Jobs?
Long before we had Microsoft and Apple—a century before, in fact—we had the Analytical Engine. First proposed in the early 1800s by Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, it was the first ever general-purpose computer. Ada Lovelace published the first algorithm to be used by the machine.
But the Countess of Lovelace was no one-hit wonder. A lot went down throughout her short life.
Here are 8 fascinating facts about Ada Lovelace.
Ada Lovelace: 8 Facts About The Gentlewoman Genius of Computer Science
1. Lord Byron was her father.
When she was born in December 1815, she should have been celebrated as the English poet’s first, and only, legitimate child. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for young Augusta Ada Byron. Records show that Lord Byron’s first words to his daughter were, “What an implement of torture have I acquired in you!”
Less than a month after Ada’s birth, Byron told his wife he was leaving her to continue an affair with his stage actress lover—one of many he would acquire over his lifetime. When he told Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron to leave the family home, he added that the “child will of course accompany you.”
In April of 1816, amid huge debts and the fallout of his many affairs and failed marriage, Byron left England for Lake Geneva. There he had another child with the sister of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley. He died in 1824, in modern day Greece. Ada was 8 years old.
You could think that Lord Byron being her fact was very fortunate for her. However, Lord Byron being her father turned out to be a very unfortunate fact about Ada Lovelace.
2. When she was 12, she illustrated a flying machine.
In a letter written to her mother, Ada described her concept. “I have got a scheme,” she wrote, “to make a thing in the form of a horse with a steam engine (on the) inside.” She went on to explain that it would have an “immense pair of wings, fixed on the outside of the back” in order to make the structure airborne while carrying a person on its back.
The young Lovelace had always loved machines. She would study new inventions for hours, and was known to read periodical journals. She studied the anatomy of birds to learn how they were able to fly, and worked diligently to create a design for her flying machine. She understood that the wings needed to be proportionate, and that she would require a steam engine to provide power to her machine.
15 years later, in 1842, William Henson and John Stringfellow patented the design for the steam carriage.
3. Her mentor was Charles Babbage.
At the tender age of 17, Ada met renowned mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage. She watched a demonstration of his calculating machine, an enormous device that saw him dubbed the Father of the Computer.
While studying under Babbage, Lovelace came across an article about his theoretical analytical engine written by military engineer Luigi Menabrea. She translated it from Italian to English, and amended it with her own notes. The finished article was three times longer than the original, and was published in an English research journal in 1843. Lovelace used only her initials (A.A.L.), and described how the machine could be used to calculate Bernoulli numbers.
This article is popularly considered to be the first ever machine algorithm, an interesting fact about Ada Lovelace.
4. She married well.
In July 1835, a 20 year old Ada Byron married William King-Noel, the 8th Baron King. This was a fine match for Ada, as he was a scholar. He was also wealthy, with three large estates. Their main home, East Horsley Towers, was rebuilt to suit the latest fashions by the architect who designed the London Houses of Parliament.
The couple had 3 children together—Byron, Anne Isabella, and Ralph.
If you’re wondering how Ada Byron married King-Noel to become Ada Lovelace, it’s a long story. The shortest version is this:
Baron Lovelace was an extinct title. Ada was a descendant of it, but she was also a woman. While she could not directly hold any title, her husband could, and by being married to him—she revitalized the Lovelace name, a fascinating fact about Ada Lovelace.
5. Her moral instructor failed.
In 1843, Lovelace hired a moral instructor to coach her and her children. The instructor, William Carpenter, was married. Ada had frustrations in her marriage, as do all couples, and she confided these to Carpenter. He encouraged her to have an affair with him, and posited that because he was married it wouldn’t be considered morally or socially ‘unbecoming.’ Lovelace refused, and Carpenter’s tenure was ended.
6. Ada liked to gamble.
While the Countess of Lovelace was ethically strong when it came to her marriage, she did have vices. A vice so hard to quit that it led to her pawning family jewels, and losing more than £3,000 on horse betting. In today’s money, £3,000 is the equivalent of £288,000. Some reputable sources suggest that a book shared by Lovelace and Babbage in the 1840s was their personal formula for predicting horse racing results.
7. Charles Dickens read to her on her deathbed.
Not much is known of Dickens’ relationship with Lovelace, although she did attend dinners at the famed writers home. When she became sick, he visited her to read from his recent hit novel. “Dombey and Son”, which was published in 1848, was a favorite of the Countess.
She passed away in November 1852. The fact that Charles Dickens read to her while she was dying is an interesting fact about Ada Lovelace.
8. She wanted to be buried beside her father.
It was well reported at the time that while Lovelace never saw Lord Byron again after he left her as a baby, she was intrigued with his written works. She asked to be buried in the Byron family vault in Hucknall, England. Her request was honored, and her coffin placed beside her fathers.
Both Ada and her father had died at the age of 36.
When we think of visionaries who were ‘ahead of their time’, Ada Lovelace would be near the top of that list. It took technology almost a century to catch up with Lovelace’s notes on the analytical engine. When the age of computer science began in the 1950s, people gained a new appreciation for Lovelace’s work, and she earned her place as the Mother of the Computer.
And as a side note—if you’ve got a British passport, flip to pages 46 and 47. The Countess of Lovelace has been gracing the pages of your international travel document since 2015.
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