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19 APRIL 2010

The Jacquard loom: automation through stored programmes

"In consequence of the Industrial Revolution, the late 18th century had witnessed a considerable expansion in the automation of processes that had once been the preserve of small groups of highly skilled workers employed in so–called 'cottage industries'. The textile industry was one sphere were industrialisation had rendered obsolete such skills. Whereas, prior to the development of mechanical looms and weaving machines, lengths of fabric had to be woven slowly by hand, the advent of powered tools for carrying out this task meant that quantities of fabric could be mass–produced at a far quicker rate than previously, thereby reducing its expense. There was one area, however, where the new machines could not compete with skilled manual workers: in the generation of cloth containing anything other than a plain (or at best extremely simple) woven pattern. The Jacquard Loom provided a solution to this problem so that, with it in use, extremely intricate patterns and pictures could be automatically woven into cloth at much the same rate as a plain length of fabric could be generated. The key idea behind Jacquard's loom was to control the action of the weaving process by interfacing the behaviour of the loom to an encoding of the pattern to be reproduced. In order to do this Jacquard arranged for the pattern to be depicted as a groups of holes 'punched' into a sequence of pasteboard card. Each card contained the same number of rows and columns, the presence or absence of a hole was detected mechanically and used to determine the actions of the loom. By combining a 'tape' of cards together the Jacquard loom was able to weave (and reproduce) patterns of great complexity, e.g. a surviving example is a black and white silk portrait of Jacquard woven under the control of a 10,000 card 'program'."

(Paul E. Dunne, University of Liverpool)

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TAGS

1801 • 18th centuryanalogue correspondenceautomation • cottage industries • devicefabrichistoryindustrial heritageindustrial revolutionindustrialisationJacquard loom • Joseph Marie Jacquard • loompatternpioneerprogrammable deviceprogrammepunch cardspunched-card systemreproductionsequencesolutiontechnologytextile industrytextilesweave • weaving machine

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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