05/12/2021

004 – Weaving by punched card – 1801

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There are three roads to ruin; women, gambling and technicians. 
The most pleasant is with women, the quickest is with gambling, 
but the surest is with technicians.  Georges Pompidou

By medieval times Europeans were clothing themselves in leather, linen and wool.  Using leather and fleeces as clothing was of course a simple tailoring task, but the linen from flax and the wool from sheep had to be processed into cloth.  Both were spun into a yarn that was then knitted or woven to produce a textile.

Textiles moved from being a cottage industry during the industrial revolution and became factory made.  A whole slew of inventions was applied to speed up the looms and progressively minimise the manual tasks of the operator.

ASIDE: Amusingly when cotton first appeared in Europe there was some confusion as to its origin. Its similarity to wool led John Mandeville to state in 1850, ‘There grew in India a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the endes of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungry.’ The German word for cotton is baumwolle – literally ‘tree wool’.

Jacques de Vaucanson started out as a clockmaker in Grenoble, the clock pictured was designed for Fortnum & Mason.

With the support of a local nobleman he started to build automatons.  These included androids that were able to serve dinner and clear the table after a meal.

He produced a shepherd that played the flute and tabor with a repertoire of twelve songs.

His most famous automaton was the Digesting Duck.  It was built as an entertaining demonstration to raise funds to enable him to pursue his work. 

Made from copper and with 4,000 mechanical parts, the duck drank water and ate grain digested it and voided; it could also move, wag its tail, flap its wings and quack.  Some suggest the eating and defaecating was something of a fraud and that it would ingest the food into one container and eject faeces that had been prepared earlier!

1741 De Vaucanson was appointed to review the silk making process in France which was falling behind that of England and Scotland. 

He drew on developments made by Basile Bouchon and Jean Falcon to create the first automated loom.  Bouchon had investigated the use of punched cards in 1725 and Falcon had increased the number of warp threads that could be managed but much of this progress was overlooked during the French Revolution.

It was not until the Jacquard Loom, first displayed in 1801, that the use of punched cards became effective.  Rows of holes defined the complex weaving requirements for materials such as brocades and damasks.  Each hole drove a hook that located the warp threads for the weft threads to pass above or below them.

Napoleon placed large orders for silk in 1802 in an effort to encourage the ailing industry, it moved to adopt the Jacquard loom from 1805.  He and Josephine saw it in Lyons and granted Joseph-Marie Jacquard a patent for the invention whereby he earned fifty francs royalty from each loom built over the next six years.

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