Joseph-Marie Jacquard Biography (1752-1834)


During the 1700s, inventors were attempting to automate the process by whichpatterned textiles were woven--primarily due to the rising demand for fine patterned cloth. It was generally accepted that, for such a machine to work, itmust satisfy two requirements. First, it must mechanically simulate the action of hand-lifting the individual warp threads, thus creating the pattern. Second, it must possess some storage medium by which the pattern is "remembered," enabling the weaver to identically duplicate the pattern again and again.Though many devices were constructed throughout the tenth century, none satisfied these requirements as well as the Jacquard loom, patented in 1804 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard.

Jacquard was born in 1752 in Lyons, France. The French silk industry, with which his parents were involved. Young Jacquard, however, found little interestin the textile industry, instead apprenticing himself to a book binder and,later, a cutler. Upon the death of his parents he inherited the family home,a parcel of land, and a small sum of money, which he lost in a number of dubious entrepreneurial investments. It was not until 1790 that he came upon theidea for his automatic loom; at that time, however, he joined the revolutionists, and the loom was not actually constructed until 1801.

The result of ideas borrowed from Basile Bouchon, Falcon, and Jacques de Vaucanson, the Jacquard loom used a system of hooks and needles to lift the appropriate warp threads. The pattern was stored on a collection of thick paper cards perforated with rectangular holes. As the fabric was woven, the hooks were held stationary by the surface of the card. However, whenever a hole was encountered, a hook would be allowed to pass through to lift its thread. By stringing together a large number of cards, an intricate pattern could be created.

Jacquard took his loom to Paris, and in 1804 he was awarded a gold medal anda patent for its invention, as well as a handsome pension. He was not so wellreceived by the local handweavers, however, who saw the automatic loom as athreat to their business. Several of his machines were burned, and Jacquard himself was beaten on more than one occasion. Despite this initial opposition,the Jacquard loom began to enjoy commercial success, and by 1812 thousands were in use in France alone.

The idea of using perforated cards as a method for storing information intrigued the British scientist Charles Babbage who, in 1823, received funding fromthe British government to construct an analytical engine. This steam-powered device would be able to perform many different mathematical functionsat once, printing the result. Though it was never constructed (the technology of the time was too primitive to provide Babbage with the necessary parts),the design of the analytical engine in turn inspired American scientist Herman Hollerith to build a similar machine to compute the results of the 1890 census; this machine, which used punched cards as the storage medium, was the ancestor of the modern computer Hollerith's company, the Tabulating Machine Company, went on to become International Business Machines (IBM).

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