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Brief Bio: J.H. Muller

June 19, 2014 mgroves 0 Comments
Tags: Brief Bio

Welcome to the latest installment of the Brief Bio series, where I'm writing up very informal biographies about major figures in the history of computers. Please take a look at the Brief Bio archive, and feel free to leave corrections and omissions in the comments.

J.H. Muller

Johann Helfrich von Muller, born in Germany in 1746 was the son of Lorenz Friedrich Muller, an architect and engineer.

There's scant sources of information on the internet available for Muller. It seems to be the case that he was a prolific inventor, engineering cool stuff like an immersive children's theater, a range finder, a barometer, and so on. Based on what little I can find, he seems to me very much in the same category as Thomas Edison: not really inventing or creating something brand new, but rather improving existing devices. He build a calculating machine which was an improved version of contemporary Philipp Hahn's machine, which in turn was based on Leibniz's stepped drum design.

His most notable invention is also the his most interesting in the context of computing: a difference engine. Muller's invention was described briefly in an appendix of a volume containing details of the calculating machine. This machine was only a proposal, and was never built. However, Charles Babbage would later go on to actually build a machine very much like the one described by J.H. Muller, and it's entirely possible that Babbage was at least partially inspired by Muller's work.

There is a book that was published in 1990: Glory and Failure: The Difference Engines of Johann Muller, Charles Babbage, and Georg and Edvard Sheutz. I suspect this book contains more informatiion about J.H. Muller than I could drum up, but it appears to be out of print, rather expensive, and lacking an ebook version. Unfortunately, that's beyond my budget for a single blog post, so J.H. Muller will remain mostly a footnote in the grander story of Charles Babbage for now.

Muller died in 1830.


Matthew D. Groves

About the Author

Matthew D. Groves lives in Central Ohio. He works remotely, loves to code, and is a Microsoft MVP.

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