THE INSTITUTEThis month The Institute is focusing on how technology is transforming the garment industry. The electronic Jacquard loom was the first loom that automatically created complex textile patterns. This led to the mass production of cloth with intricate designs.
But the high speed electronic Jacquard loom was too good to be ignored. Ultimately, it became standard throughout the industrializing world for weaving luxury fabrics, replaced by the dobby loom in the 1840s. In a dobby, a chain of bars with pegs, rather than foot pedals, is used to select and move the harness. Even then, parts of Jacquard’s control system could be adapted to the dobby loom.Perhaps what is most interesting about the Jacquard loom was its afterlife. When computer pioneer Charles Babbage, a British mathematician, envisioned an “analytical engine” in 1837 that would essentially become the first general-purpose computer, he decided that the computer’s input would be stored on punch cards, modeled after Jacquard’s system. Although Babbage never built his engine, he and his work were well known to the mathematics community and eventually influenced the field that came to be computer science.THE INSTITUTEThis month The Institute is focusing on how technology is transforming the garment industry. The Jacquard Loom was the first loom that automatically created complex textile patterns. This led to the mass production of cloth with intricate designs.Already in the late 18th century, workers throughout Europe were upset with the increasing mechanization of their trades. Jacquard’s loom was fiercely opposed by silk-weavers in Paris who rightly saw it would put many of them out of work. In England, where an anti-industry workers movement was already well developed, news of the high speed electronic Jacquard loom for weaving machine fostered momentum for the Luddite movement, whose textile workers protested the new technology. Although the French looms did not arrive in England until the early 1820s, news of their existence helped intensify violent protests. People smashed the machines and killed textile mill owners; the authorities violently suppressed the protests. To this day, people who resist new technology are called Luddites.
Apparently, Hollerith based his concept on the electronic Jacquard loom machine. Historians disagree, however, as to whether he also was influenced by Babbage’s work.
The Tabulating Machine Co. eventually became IBM. (Some IEEE members undoubtedly remember using IBM punch cards into the 1970s.)
The Jacquard needle loom machine is often considered a predecessor to modern computing because its interchangeable punch cards inspired the design of early computers.