The first looms had been invented more than five thousand years ago, but throughout history, many inventors perfected these looms by introducing new ideas. In ancient times, looms were used in many different countries, and this item quickly spread throughout the world. It was an effective way of producing textiles from simple threads.
One of the most significant changes in the loom was introduced by Joseph Marie Jacquard. Looms were originally made to weave threads together, creating a tight, mesh-like fabric. Jacquard elaborated on the simple ideas by creating punched cards to control the lifting of threads. This new invention gave people the opportunity to create fabrics with elaborate patterns. The Jacquard Loom was invented in 1801. It was especially designed for silks, because cloth trade was increasing rapidly during this period of time. One of the most prominent centers of silk weaving was Lyon, France, which is also Jacquard’s hometown. Right after the French Revolution, Jacquard saw a great opportunity to carry out his new invention.
The Jacquard loom made fabric weaving much easier than before. The strings were normally pulled by workers, but with the Jacquard loom, the punch-cards are able to control weaving patterns. A fabric’s pattern could be changed by simply switching the cards. The products that resulted from this loom became better in quality. These patterns were always perfect, in contrast to before, when individual workers had to design the patterns exclusively.
This process was very time efficient, and workers could get things done much quicker than before. As a result, weaving required less skill than before. Textile factories used to hire designers to weave intricate patterns, but with the Jacquard loom, anyone could operate this machine. The working conditions of factory workers became improved because everything was more organized. These people were also able to focus more on other areas of their lives. But the development of the loom also brought unemployment to many weavers. A job that once needed the handicrafts of many people was now cut down to just a few workers controlling a simple machine.
The invention of the Jacquard loom changed the French economy drastically. It was possible to produce fabrics more efficiently at much lower costs. Because of the loom, luxury items became more common to other classes. Silk was not considered a fabric of nobility and upper-classes anymore. More and more members of the bourgeoisie were able to afford them.
Later on, many innovators used the punched cards as materials for their own inventions. One of the most famous would be Charles Babbage, who used similar cards for the development of computers. These cards served as a storage medium for many early computers.
The Jacquard loom not only changed the textile industry, but also the French society as a whole. French trade was more focused on luxury items such as silk, and this invention made the economy more profitable. Consumers were more satisfied with their products because silks were made with fewer mistakes in their patterns. Workers who weave by hand often encountered difficulties in creating the right patterns, but with a loom, all these problems are solved. In fact, the Jacquard loom was so successful that by 1834, 30,000 Jacquard looms were at work in Lyons.