How the Digital Revolution
Began in the 1800s

Ada LovelaceWhat do Lord Byron and his daughter Ada Lovelace have to do with coining the term “Luddite” and the development of computers?

In 1812 at age 24, Lord Byron gave a speech in the House of Lords agreeing with Ned Ludd that mechanical weaving machines were going to be the downfall of humane society. Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s only legitimate child, was, however, fascinated by the punch cards used in creating mechanical weaving machines. As a teenager she studied these automated weaving looms on a trip through the British Midlands. Later Ada worked with Charles Babbage, creator of the “Difference Engine,” a robust calculator that computed polynomial figures; and the “Analytical Engine,” the precursor to the computer, which he started building in 1834.

Jacquard cards
Jacquard punch cards. Berlin Technological Museum (Gessler Photo)
Portrait of Joseph-Marie Jacquard
This woven silk portrait of Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752–1834), inventor of the mechanism that made it possible for such detailed automated work, got Babbage’s and Lovelace’s minds working about how to use punch cards for other purposes.

In 1843 Ada published an article in a scientific journal discussing four points that earned her a place at the forefront of the digital revolution.

  1. She envisioned a machine that could be programmed and reprogrammed
  2. She thought Babbage’s Analytical Engine could be used not just for numbers but for anything that could be notated symbolically, such as music and words
  3. She published the world’s first computer program by creating detailed instructions about a sequence of operations to give the computer
  4. She opined that computers cannot think
Babbage's Analytical Engine
Babbage’s Analytical Engine

In 1979, the U.S. Department of Defense named its new common high-order computer programming language Ada. Since 2009 the second Tuesday in October has been known as Ada Lovelace Day, when women in STEM celebrate their achievements.

Ada’s contributions are discussed in “The Innovators,” Walter Isaacson’s book, which he will be discussing April 20 in a fundraising event for the Greenwich Historical Society.


Isaacson event info

“An Eye to the East:
The Inspiration of Japan”

The Greenwich Historical Society’s exquisite current exhibition, An Eye to the East: The Inspiration of Japan, looks at the influence of Japanese art and culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a special emphasis on the Cos Cob art colony. The contribution of Genjiro Yeto, who studied under John Henry Twachtman at the Art Students League in New York and spent part of each year from 1895 to 1901 at the Holley House, is explored; this gallery features a recent and important donation of his work to the Historical Society by his granddaughter Yukiko Tanaka. Here are photos of some items you will see including paintings, prints, photographs, carvings, ceramics and textiles.

In 1854 a treaty opened trade between the United States and Japan, a nation that had been closed until that point. Within a year, French artist Félix Bracquemond “discovered” the woodblock prints of Hokusai and circulated them among his Paris art circle. Their influence was immediate, and visiting Cos Cob artists John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir and Childe Hassam all took note. Within a few years, a fascination with Japanese art and culture began to sweep Europe and, following the Civil War, the phenomenon took America by storm as well.

To find out more about the exhibition from the curator herself, Karen Frederick, listen to her podcast, originally broadcast on WGCH.

Visitor Information

An Eye to the East: The Inspiration of Japan will run through February 26, 2017 at the Storehouse Gallery, Greenwich Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob, CT 06807. Exhibition hours are from noon to 4:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Regular admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors; admission is always free to members and children under 18 and free to all on the first Wednesday of each month.

“The Curator’s Eye” tours are offered on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 12:15 pm. These informal, 20- to 30-minute docent-led gallery tours focus on exhibition highlights, themes and background stories that provide a framework for better understanding the art and objects on display.