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Jacquard’s Punched Card: How a hand loom led to the birth of the information age

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 by Sukrit Tagged: , , ,

Origins

Travelling back to pre-revolutionary Lyons, France it would be a customary sight to see the city dominated by weaving studios- large rooms full of even larger looms operated by expert master weavers not much different from the sight opera conductor. For since roman times Lyons was famous for its fine quality of silk weaves – intricate and complicated patterns beautifully represented in fine knit silk. In the late seventeen hundreds Lyons suffered from a peculiar conundrum – It had more orders than its weavers could possibly deliver. A radical new invention was needed to cope with this demand. It was here that Jacquard came up with his design for a programmable loom thus bringing a paradigm shift in the way humans thought of as machines. Just as William Shakespeare might never have become a great poet and playwright without the wonderful simulation and energy of Renaissance London all around him, Jacquard would most likely never have blossomed as an inventor had he not lived in Lyons, the silk-weaving capital of the world.

The standard silk weaving loom of the day called the drawloom was a pitiable machine or rather not a machine at all. It only facilitated the manual weaving of patterns or images in fabric thus requiring expert weavers. At the maximum rate of two woven rows a minute, a mere inch of brocade fabric still required a full working day to complete, each warp thread requiring manual lifting and placement.  What was required was a method of ordering, with complete precision, the lifting of warp threads that formed the shed in a better way than having a draw-boy doing the whole thing by hand. Programming Cards was the answer.

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