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A: Lyon, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Joseph-Marie Jacquard's Loom Uses Punched Cards to Store Patterns

1801 to 1821
<p>Portrait of Jacquard woven by the Jacquard loom in 1839. This woven silk portrait of the inventor was based on a painting by Claude Bonnefond (1796&ndash;1860)&nbsp; commissioned by the city of Lyon in 1831. The Lyon manufacturer Didier, Petit et Cie ordered the silk version from weaver <a href="https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/people/18052497/objects/">Michel-Marie Carquillat,</a> a specialist in this kind of work. Producing the image required 24,000 punched cards. Each card had over 1,000 hole positions. "The delicate shading, crafted shadows and fine resolution of the Jacquard portrait challenged existing notions that machines were incapable of subtlety. Gradations of shading were surely a matter of artistic taste rather than the province of machinery, and the portrait blurred the clear lines between industrial production and the arts."&nbsp;</p>

Portrait of Jacquard woven by the Jacquard loom in 1839. This woven silk portrait of the inventor was based on a painting by Claude Bonnefond (1796–1860)  commissioned by the city of Lyon in 1831. The Lyon manufacturer Didier, Petit et Cie ordered the silk version from weaver Michel-Marie Carquillat, a specialist in this kind of work. Producing the image required 24,000 punched cards. Each card had over 1,000 hole positions. "The delicate shading, crafted shadows and fine resolution of the Jacquard portrait challenged existing notions that machines were incapable of subtlety. Gradations of shading were surely a matter of artistic taste rather than the province of machinery, and the portrait blurred the clear lines between industrial production and the arts." 

Few details are known for sure about the early career of Joseph-Marie Jacquard of Lyon. He was born into a family of weavers, and some say that he was originally apprenticed as a bookbinder; others say that he was originally a manufacturer of straw hats. In 1801 Jacquard received a patent for the automatic loom which he exhibited at the industrial exhibition in Paris in the same year. Jacquard's first patent, No. 245 in the French system of brevets, dated 23 December 1801, was entitled Brevet d'invention de dix ans, Pour une machine destinée à suppléer le tireur de lacs, dans la fabrication des étoffes brochées et façonnées. This patent was first published in print on pp. 62-72 of  Description des machines et procédés spécifiés dans les brevets d'invention de prefectionnement et d'importation, Dont la durée est expirée; Publiée d'après les ordres de Son Excellence le Ministre de l'Intérieur, Par M. Christian, Directeur du Conservatoire royal des Arts et Métiers, Tome Quatrième (1820). It was accompanied by 2 folding plates. Reports state that before patenting the loom Jacquard was summoned to Paris and attached to the Conservatoire nationale des arts et métiers. There he saw a loom by Jacques Vaucanson which suggested various improvements to his own, enabling Jacquard to perfect his invention before patenting it. None of the accounts I had read as of May 2016 appear to have actually read Jacquard's patent, making me wonder how accurate this report may be.

Jacquard's loom used series of punched cards to store patterns, reducing strenuous manual labor, and enabling repetitive production of complex designs. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, edited by David Jenkins I (2003) p. 793 indicates that Jacquard did not finish his loom until 1805, and it was "only operational after 1810 in France." This would correspond to Jacquard's second patent, No. 658, granted on December 13, 1805 entitled "Brevet d'Invention de quinze ans, Pour un metier à faire du filet." This patent was first published in print on pp. 238-243 of Description des machines et procédés dans les brevets d'invention, de prefectionnement et dimportation dont la durée est expirée Tome VIII (1824). It was accompanied by 1 folding plate. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles also states that after 1810 the loom required further modification and improvements "so that by 1818 there was a device incorporated in the loom to control individual warp yarns which allowed intricately woven patterns to be woven automatically and accurately." This might correspond to the patent No. 640 granted to M. Breton, mécanicien à Lyon, granted on February 28, 1815 entitled "Brevet de perfectionnement de cinq ans, Pour un perfectionnement fait au mécanisme dit à la Jacquard, destiné à remplacer le tireur de lacs, dans la fabrication des étoffes façonnes." Breton's patent was first published in print on pp. 134-39 of Tome VIII of the same volume in which Jacquard's second patent (1805) appeared.

Nevertheless other accounts that I read state that in 1806 Jacquard's loom was declared public property, and Jacquard received a pension for his invention as compensation instead of royalties on his patent. Accounts also state that Jacquard was forced to flee from Lyon because of the anger of the weavers, who feared they would lose their jobs to the new technology. Jacquard persevered, and some unverified and probably exaggerated accounts say that by the time of his death in 1834 there were as many thirty thousand Jacquard looms installed in Lyon alone. Whatever the actual number, it is likely that the expanded new technology eventually employed more people than had been previously employed by the old technology.

Finding the specific references to Jacquard's original patents eluded me for several years. The first place where I ever found them specified was in D. de Prat's Traité de tissage au Jacquard (1921) 383. This valuable technical work, "Précédé d'une Notice historique sur l'Invention du Jacquard," seems to be common in trade, as it was easy to acquire a copy in May 2016. At that time I was unable to find a digital version on the web.

The Jacquard loom did no computation, and for that reason it was not a digital device in the way we think of digital today. However the method by which Jacquard stored information in punched cards by either punching a hole in one of the more than 1000 standardized spaces in a card, or not punching a hole in that space, is analogous to a zero or one or an on-and-off switch. It was also an important conceptual step in the history of computing because the Jacquard method of storing information in punched cards was used by Charles Babbage in his plans for data and program input, and data output and storage in his general purpose programmable computer, the Analytical Engine. Trains of Jacquard cards, on which elaborate weaving patterns were stored, were programs in the modern sense of computer programs, though the word "program" did not have that meaning until after the development of electronic computers after World War II.

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