Joseph Jacquard

Joseph Jacquard

Joseph Jacquard, the son of a silk weaver, was born in Lyon in 1752. He inherited his father's small weaving business but trade was bad and eventually went bankrupt. In 1790 he was given the task of restoring a loom made by Jacques de Vaucasan. Although fifty years old, it was one of the earliest examples of an automatic loom. Working on this loom led to him developing a strong interest in the mechanization of silk manufacture.

The French Revolution brought a temporary halt to Jacquard's experiments. Jacquard fought on the side of the Republicans but as soon as they achieved victory, he returned to work.

In 1801 he constructed a loom that used a series of punched cards to control the pattern of longitudinal warp threads depressed before each sideways passage of the shuttle. Jacquard later developed a machine where the punched cards were joined to form an endless loop that represented the program for the repeating pattern used for cloth and carpet designs.

Jacquard's invention allowed patterns to be woven without the intervention of the weaver. At first Jacquard's looms were destroyed by weavers who feared unemployment. The French government took over the invention and Jacquard was given a royalty on every loom sold.

By 1812 there were 11,000 Jacquard looms working in France, and they were also beginning to appear in other countries. The growth of the use of the Jacquard loom in the 1820s gave the textile industry a tremendous boost in Britain. By 1833 there were about 100,000 power-looms being used in this country that had been influenced by Jacquard's invention.

Joseph Jacquard died in 1834. Charles Babbage was later to adapt Jacquard's punch-card system to produce a calculator that was the forerunner of today's methods of computer programming.