Most histories of computing begin with the English inventor, Charles Babbage. Babbage conceived and designed what we, today, think of as a modern computer, a century before the technology existed to actually build one.
The Difference Engine
In 1822 he wrote a paper describing a machine, called the Difference Engine, that could compute and print complex scientific tables. Later that year, he constructed a crank-turned prototype composed of shafts and cogwheels. This earned him a ??1,500 grant from the Royal Society to build a complete full-scale working model.