London: Royal Society, 1859. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION OF THE “FIRST PUBLISHED ACCOUNT OF THE APPLICATION OF A MECHANICAL CALCULATOR TO PROBLEMS IN HEALTH OR BIOLOGY” (Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace 2002, Nos. 77 & 85). Complete extract (inclusive of plate) in fine condition.
William Farr, widely regarded as one of the founders of medical statistics and a pioneer in the quantitative study of morbidity and mortality, was a 19th century British epidemiologist and chief statistician of the General Register Office, England’s central statistical office.
Farr was fascinated by Charles Babbage and had long been interested in applying a calculating machine like Babbage’s Difference Engine to compute life tables.
On “Farr's recommendation, the British government authorized in 1857 the sum of £1200 for the Scheutz Engine no. 3 to be constructed by the firm of Bryan Donkin, a manufacturer of machinery, including those for the color printing of bank notes and stamps. Costs overran and Donkin delivered the machine in July 1859, several weeks past the deadline, at a loss of £615 (Lindgren 1987, 224-25). Farr's preliminary report [this paper], received by the Royal Society on March 17 of 1859, was written while the Scheutz Engine no. 3 was still "in the course of construction by the Messrs. Donkin" (p. 854). The report's table B1, "Life-Table of Healthy English Districts," made from stereotype plates produced by the calculator, represents the very first application of a difference engine to medical statistics” (ibid).
This paper was published five years prior to Farr’s famous English Life Tables in 1864 and it represents the Farr’s extensive first report describing his use of the Scheutz calculator in the preparation of his tables. Item #545
CONDITION & DETAILS: Quarto. Complete extract, 42 pages. Inclusive of all of Farr’s ‘Tables’ as well as the large fold-out plate entitled “Healthy Districts: Life Table Diagrams.” One of the tables was typeset by the Scheutz calculator itself. Fine condition.