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The Jacquard Loom: A Driver of the Industrial Private

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The Jacquard Loom: A Driver of the Industrial

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.

Joseph Marie Charles Jacquard of France was born into a family of weavers in 1752. He received no formal schooling but tinkered with ways to improve the mechanical textile looms of the day.

At that time, two people were needed on each loom. A skilled weaver and an assistant, or draw boy, chose by hand which warps (the lengthwise threads held under tension on the loom) to pull up so the weft (the thread inserted at right angles) could be pulled through the warps to create a pattern.

At an industrial exhibition in Paris in 1801, Jacquard demonstrated something truly remarkable: a loom in which a series of cards with punched holes (one card for each row of the design) automatically created complex textile patterns. The draw boy was no longer needed. Patterns that had been painstaking to produce and prone to error could now be mass-produced quickly and flawlessly, once programmed and punched on the cards.

The government of France soon nationalized the loom (or considered it government property) and compensated Jacquard with a pension to support him while he continued to innovate. He also was paid a royalty for each machine sold. It took Jacquard several more years to perfect the device and make it commercially successful.

The social and psychological impact of a machine that could replace human labor was immense.


Jacquard did not invent a whole new loom but a head that attaches to the loom and allows the weaving machine to create intricate patterns. Thus, any loom that uses the attachment is called a Jacquard loom.

The state-of the art loom at that time was one in which the harnesses holding the threads were raised or lowered by foot pedals on a treadle, leaving the weaver free to operate the machine with his hands. The Jacquard loom, in contrast, was controlled by a chain of punch cards laced together in a sequence. Multiple rows of holes were punched on each card, with one complete card corresponding to one row of the design. Chains of cards allowed sequences of any length to be constructed, not limited by the cards’ size.

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