Jacques de Vaucanson was a prolific inventor who made many contributions to the Industrial Revolution. Born at Grenoble, France, in 1709, he showed an early interest in machinery. He was educated at the Jesuit College of Grenoble and then went to Paris, France, to study mechanics.
In Paris he became interested in building automata, life-like devices drivenby clock-like mechanisms. Vaucanson's first automation, built in 1738, was "The Flute Player." The next, in 1739, was "The Tambourine Player." His most famous automaton was "The Duck," a robot bird that quacked, swam, flapped its wings, ate, drank, and even digested food. The Vaucanson Duck entertained audiences across Europe. In order to build his automata, Vaucanson designed various precision machine tools such as lathes and drills.
After being appointed inspector of silk factories in 1741, Vaucanson began designing improved weaving machines. He developed an automated loom in 1745 that used perforated cards to select the warp threads. This loom was later improved on by Joseph-Marie Jacquard and became one of the most important machinesof the Industrial Revolution. During the 1770s Vaucanson built an unconventional iron-framed slide lathe that permitted a much higher degree of precisionthan the old wooden-bed ornamental
For all of his inventions, Vaucanson continued to design improved machine tools that became widely used. Late in his life, he collected many of his toolsand inventions, plus those of others, and this collection was incorporated into the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris in 1794. There, Vaucanson'sslide lathe has been exhibited ever since, the oldest engineering lathe in existence. Also at the Conservatoire, Jacquard discovered the loom that he then redeveloped. Vaucanson died in Paris in 1782.