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Tracing the History of the Computer - Joseph Marie Jacquard


Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) was a French silk weaver and inventor, who improved on the original punched card design of Jacques de Vaucanson's loom of 1745, to invent the Jacquard loom mechanism in 1804-1805. Jacquard's loom mechanism is controlled by recorded patterns of holes in a string of cards, and allows, what is now known as, the Jacquard weaving of intricate patterns.

Jacquard was born in Lyon, France. On the death of his father, who was a weaver, Jacquard inherited two looms, with which he started his business. However, he did not prosper as a weaver (allegedly because he spent all his time attempting to improve the process), and was at last forced to become a limeburner at Bresse, while his wife supported herself at Lyon by plaiting straw.

Joseph Marie Jacquard

Joseph Marie Jacquard

There he was employed in a factory, and spent his spare time in constructing his improved loom, the ideas for which he had conceived several years before. In 1801 he exhibited his invention at the industrial exhibition in Paris, which was later destroyed by weavers, fearing for the viability of their profession. In 1803 he was summoned to Paris to work for the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. A loom by Jacques de Vaucanson (1709-1782), deposited there, suggested various improvements in his own, which he gradually perfected to its final state.

His invention was fiercely opposed by the silk-weavers, who feared that its introduction, owing to the saving of labour, would deprive them of their livelihood. However, its advantages secured its general adoption, and the loom was declared public property in 1806, and Jacquard was rewarded with a pension and a royalty on each machine. By 1812 there were 11,000 looms in use in France.

The use of punched cards was adopted by Charles Babbage around 1830, to control his Analytical Engine, and later by Herman Hollerith for tabulating the 1890 USA census. In the years to come, variations on Jacquard's punched cards would find a variety of uses, including representing music to be played by a player piano.

Jacquard died at Oullins (Rhéne), 7 August 1834. Six years later a statue was erected to him in Lyon, on the site where his 1801 exhibit loom was destroyed.


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