in 1832 Charles Babbage published On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, the first work on operations research, partially based on data he accumulated in order to build his Difference Engine No. 1. Primary themes of the book were the division of labor and the division of mental labor, to which Babbage devoted chapters 19 and 20. His chapter on the division of mental labor was an analysis of the methods used by de Prony in the production of his celebrated mathematical tables. Babbage had seen de Prony’s manuscript tables in 1819, and around 1820 began planning the Difference Engine No. 1 based on the principles of the division of labor. With this goal, Babbage visited factories throughout England, inspecting every machine and every industrial process. Rather than a study limited to engineering and manufacturing techniques, his book turned out to be an analysis of manufacturing processes within their economic context. Written when manufacturing was undergoing rapid development and radical change, the book represents an original contribution to British economics. "Adam Smith had never really abandoned the belief, reasonable enough in his day, that agriculture was the principal source of Britain’s wealth; Ricardo’s ideas were focused on corn; Babbage for the first time authoritatively placed the factory in the centre of the stage. The book is at once a hymn to the machine, and analysis of the development of machine-based production in the factory, and a discussion of social relations in industry. . . .
"The Economy of Manufactures established Babbage’s position as a political economist and its influence is well attested, particularly on John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx. Babbage’s pioneering discussion of the effect of technical development on the size of industrial organizations was followed by Mill and the prediction of the continuing increase in the size of factories, often cited as one of Marx’s successful economic predictions, in fact derives from Babbage’s analysis. . . . Babbage wrote with many talents: a natural philosopher and mechanical engineer, his knowledge of factory and workshop practice was encyclopaedic; he was well-versed in relevant business practice; and he was without rival as a mathematician among contemporary British political economists (Hyman 1982, 103–4).
On the Economy of Machines and Manufactures was also the first book on operations research, discussing topics like the regulation of power, control of raw materials, division of labor, time studies, the advantage of size in manufacturing, inventory control, and duration and replacement of machinery. On pages 166 and 167 Babbage analyzed the production of his book as an example of the cost of each step in a particular production process, thus also contributing to book history. The work was Babbage’s most complete and professional piece of writing, and the only one of his books that went through four editions during his lifetime. The first edition of On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures was issued in two versions: a large-paper version (222 x 142 mm.), of which a small number were printed for presentation only; and the regular version, of which three thousand copies were issued. The work was also translated into several languages. Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) No. 42.