|A Jacquard Loom|
It stored weaving programmes in a series of punched cards. Usually, about 4,000 cards were used for each design, though a portrait of Jacquard [see below] needed 24,000 cards. I have seen one of these [in the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Paris] and the quality is remarkable.
Automatic looms were already in use but could only produce simple designs. Complex patterns had to be produced by hand weavers. The Jacquard loom allowed complex complex designs to be machine produced.
In a process that is very reminiscent of the production of computer software a design would be drawn on paper and a punch card machine would be used to create a set of cards.
Essinger claims that the Jacquard loom increased the productivity of weavers about 24 fold and transformed the Lyon silk weaving industry.
|A silk print of Jacquard produced on one of his looms|
Jacquard's invention was not completely original. It built on earlier work by three other inventors.
Basile Bouchon invented a way to control a loom [see below] with a perforated paper tape in 1725. A year later his co-worker Jean-Baptiste Falcon improved the design by using perforated paper cards instead of a tape. This made it easier to quickly change programs. However, the Bouchon-Falcon loom was only semi-automatic.
In 1745 Jacques de Vaucanson built on the work of Bouchon and Falcon and created the world's first completely automated loom. His invention attracted the hostility of hand weavers and was largely ignored.
|A Bouchon Loom|
Jacquard is important in the history of computing because his ideas influenced Charles Babbage who had the idea of using punched cards to control his Analytical Engine. Babbage certainly knew of Jacquard's device. He owned a copy of the machine woven portrait of Jacquard.
Punched cards were also used by Herman Hollerith to input data to his tabulating machines. These devices were another important milestone in the development of modern computers.
In 1945 John von Neumann developed the von Neumann architecture for computers. This separated data from the programme used to process the data, and both from the computing device. Just as Jacquard separated silk, punched cards and loom.
Essinger, J., 2007. Jacquard's Web: How a Hand-loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age New Ed., Oxford University Press.
More Industrial Revelations [DVD] 2010 has an excellent episode [Cutting it Fine] on Jacquards Loom covering the inventions that preceded and followed Jacquards Loom. It also shows how the cards were produced.
Paradise Mill is part of the Silk Museum in in Macclesfield. 'This mill was home to Macclesfield's last working handloom silk-weaving until its closure in 1981, when cheaper imported silks and high quality new synthetic materials made the production of silk in England an uneconomic prospect. It is a large mill and still houses over 20 original fully working Jacquard looms - each still capable of producing the kind of intricate and delicate woven patternwork that made the loom, and Macclesfield, famous throughout Britain for the production of fine silks These looms have been lovingly restored to their original working condition, and can be seen in operation during the guided tours offered at the Mill.'