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Jean-Marie JacquardJoseph-Marie Jacquard

inventor of the first practical "computerized" weaving loom

Joseph-Marie Jacquard was born in Lyons, France, on July 7, 1752, the son of a weaver. By the time he was old enough to go into the business himself Joseph had become intrigued by the idea of automating silk weaving looms. That intrigue was further piqued when he had the opportunity to examine a loom built by Jacques de Vaucason in the 1740's. Worked by either water or animals, automation of the loom had been achieved by perforated cards that governed a system of hooks which linked with the warp threads. The Vaucason loom that Jacquard studied was in a museum, however, because it had never been put into general use, so Jacquard determined to build one of his own.

The French Revolution, in which Jacquard fought on the Republican side, interrupted his work, but Jacquard returned to the project as soon as he was free to do so.

a Jacquard Loom on display at the National Museum of American HistoryAt the Paris Exhibition of 1801, Jacquard demonstrated a new improved type of silk draw-loom, and in 1805 he produced the Jacquard Loom in its final form. The loom combined Vaucason's system of punched cards with sprung needles that lifted only those threads corresponding to the punched pattern on the card. In this way it was possible to weave patterns of remarkable complexity in silk materials.

left: a Jacquard Loom on display at the National Museum of American History

Although his invention was fiercely opposed by the silk weavers, who feared that its introduction, owing to the saving of labor, would deprive them of their livelihood, its advantages secured its general adoption, and by 1812 there were 11,000 Jacquard looms in use in France.just one of the many highly intricate designs made possible by the Jacquard Loom

right: just one of the many highly intricate designs made possible by the Jacquard Loom

The loom was declared public property in 1806, and Jacquard was rewarded with a pension and a royalty on each machine. He died on August 7, 1834. A statue to him was erected at Lyons in 1840.

The Jacquard Loom was the basis for all the power looms used in modern textile manufacture. Its punched-card system was also adapted by Charles Babbage for the calculator he invented, so making it the forerunner of today's methods of computer programming.

Anthony Feldman and Peter Ford Scientists and Inventors, The People Who Made Technology from Earliest Times to Present Day New York: Facts on File, 1979

Charles Babbage

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This page was last updated on January 14, 2017.