Person: Schickard, Wilhelm
Wilhelm Schickard was a German astronomer who invented a calculating machine long before Pascal. He worked on astronomy, mathematics and surveying.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Heinrich Schickard became an architect and went on to become the main architect of the Renaissance in south-western Germany.
- Wilhelm was brought up in Herrenberg but, at an early age, won a scholarship to attend the monastery school in Bebenhausen, just north of Tübingen.
- In 1613 Schickard became a Lutheran minister and was assigned to churches in towns around Tübingen.
- Kepler was working on his Harmony of the World at this time and, after meeting Schickard, he was so impressed with his abilities that he asked him to do some engravings and woodcuts for the book and also asked him to assist in calculating some tables.
- This is not as surprising as it might first sound since, among his other skills, Schickard was renowned as an engraver both in wood and in copperplate.
- Schickard sent thirty-seven woodblocks for books 4 and 5 to Augsburg towards the end of December 1617.
- Schickard engraved the figures for the last two books (the carving was done by one of his cousins).
- This was to come a little later, however, so first we will describe the next phase of Schickard's life as a professor of Hebrew.
- Schickard was a universal scientist and taught biblical languages such as Aramaic as well as Hebrew.
- Long before Pascal and Leibniz, Schickard invented a calculating machine, the 'Rechenuhr', in 1623.
- Kepler clearly showed an interest in having one of Schickard's calculators since Schickard gave instructions for one to be built for him.
- Schickard used the abridged multiplication for his machine which, Kistermann points out, was unknown to most of the scientific community in 1600, with only a handful of scientists (but including Jost Bürgi, Kepler and Schickard) having knowledge of this technique.
- Sketches of the calculator have been preserved in the manuscripts left by Schickard and Kepler.
- At this stage their significance was not understood, but twenty years later it was realised that it was a sketch of the computer described by Schickard.
- Bruno von Freytag Löringhoff constructed the computer between 1957 and 1960 using the sketch and the descriptions in Schickard's letters.
- He then tested the range of calculations which were possible to try to ascertain exactly what purpose Schickard had in building the calculating machine.
- We know that Schickard also wrote to Kepler suggesting a mechanical means to calculate ephemerides.
- In 1631 Schickard had rather a change of subject, being appointed to the chair of mathematics and astronomy at the University of Tübingen left vacant by the death of his teacher Michael Mästlin.
- As professor of astronomy Schickard lectured on the topic and undertook research into the motion of the moon.
- We should note that, at a time when the Church was trying to insist that the Earth was at the centre of the universe, Schickard was a staunch supporter of heliocentric system.
- We have mentioned above Schickard's correspondence with Kepler but he corresponded with many other astronomers including Ismael Boulliau and Pierre Gassendi.
- The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) affected much of the later part of Schickard's life.
- Although Schickard's contributions were not fully recognised during his lifetime, be is remembered today with the Wilhelm-Schickard-Institut für Informatik at the University of Tübingen and the Wilhelm-Schickard-Schule in Tübingen.
Born 22 April 1592, Herrenberg (near Tübingen), Württemberg (now Germany). Died 24 October 1635, Tübingen, Württemberg (now Germany).
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Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Germany
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive