Jacquard Innovation

Joseph Marie Jacquard: a Textile Engineer Revolutionary

Joseph Marie Jacquard

Joseph Marie Jacquard was a French Textile machine inventor who revolutionized the automated weaving production process for patterned fabrics. 

In 1752, Joseph Marie Jacquard was born the son of a silk weaver.  He later entered the profession himself. However, Jacquard was a poor businessman and his weaving company failed. Most likely, it was his penchant for technological process improvement that led to his business decline.

After the French Revolution, Jacquard returned to his home, Lyon France. Lyon had been the silk weaving capital for almost 200 years. He went back to work in a silk weaving factory. While working in a factory,  Jacquard constructed an improved loom for silk fabric weaving.

Based on earlier inventions by the Frenchmen Basile Bouchon (1725), Jean Baptiste Falcon (1728), and Jacques Vaucanson (1740) Jacquard tinkered with those designs to create his concept of an automated weaving loom. In 1745, Vaucanson’s loom was introduced as the first completely automated loom in the industry. His loom used repetitive movements guided by holes punched in  cards that gave precise automation “instructions” mechanically to the weaving process. However, the loom was not adopted by the industry and was placed in a museum. Where Vaucanson’ stopped, Jacquard ventured on to innovation.

News of Jacquard’s work reached Napoleon himself, who then funded Jacquard to complete his loom. By 1801, Jacquard’s first loom was operational and considered revolutionary . The innovative Jacquard loom enabled each individual warp yarn (i.e., referred to as an “end” in textile terminology) to be lifted individually and simultaneously. This mechanization when applied in the proper sequence or “instructions” provided by the punch cards (i.e., the logic, or logical “instructions”) created the desired patterns in the woven silk.

Jacquard innovated the weaving loom by attaching each warp yarn to an assigned wire harness that could raise or lower each warp yarn independently. Each wire harness was connected to a needle. Above this linkage rested a bar capable of lifting the wires and their individual threads.

What set his invention apart from the work of Vaucanson was the use of needles. Driven by the mechanical action of the loom, the appropriate needles would enter holes punched in heavy card stock, triggering the lifting bar which would in turn raise the proper wire and its thread.

Needles that did not touch a punched hole would be forced backward, detaching that wire from the lifting bar. Only the threads specific to a particular portion of the pattern would be woven. As such, Jacquard had created a logic based mechanical machine that could provide the necessary instructions to weave intricate patterns.

For further definition of the principle of the Jacquard operation follow this link.

Better yet, check out this 6 1/2 minute youtube video. It covers some basic terms, concepts, loom styles and the Jacquard loom operation.



The instruction cards are perforated according to pattern. The preparation of these perforated cards was extremely time consuming and the most difficult task of his weaving process. A new set had to be prepared for each new pattern.

The above picture depicts a few punch card patterns stored for further production.

The Jacquard attachment could be applied to almost any loom. It is regarded as the most important apparatus ever adapted to textile weaving technology due to its automated production for varieties of patterns.

Upon seeing his loom in operation, the weavers of Lyon revolted. Fiercely protective of their skills and livelihood, these hand-loom operators attacked Jacquard and his mechanical invention. Jacquard survived the assault, but his machine was destroyed.

Jacquard was not deterred by the angry craftsmen and their fears. He continued to improve his loom and increased its operational efficiency. His punch-card instruction system was modified to be incorporated with existing looms.

Sales took off. However, employed weavers discovered that the loom’s guiding machinery could easily be rendered useless by dropping a wooden shoe, known as a sabot, into the works.

Such acts of disruption and destruction became commonplace, yet the Jacquard loom offered such a dynamic advance in textile manufacture that its acceptance proved unstoppable. Within a few years, the looms numbered in the thousands and Jacquard was not only recognized for his achievement, but was rewarded for it.

The rights to the loom with the punch-card process were sold to the French government in 1806 under an agreement that gave Jacquard a pension and a small royalty for each loom in operation. By 1812, there were more than 11,000 such looms in operation in France.

The acts of destruction aimed at his machine are among the first widespread examples of industrial sabotage. There is a popular belief (i.e., however, a false account of the origin of the term’s present meaning) that the story of the French laborers throwing their wooden shoes, sabots, into Jacquard’s machinery was the origin of the word, sabotage.

Jacquard’s standardization of the punch-card system for instructing mechanical operation would come to be seen as perhaps the earliest precursor of computer programming. Essentially, Jacquard applied the first binary control logic to a manufacturing mechanism. Punch cards remained prevalent in the computer industry as current as the 1990’s.

Jacquard Raschel

Jacquard notable invention is the device that fitted onto a power loom and simplified the process of manufacturing textiles with such complex patterns as brocadedamask and matelassé.

The technology of the Jacquard loom has been applied to weaving Wilton and Axminster carpets still present today fabricated into area rugs, as well as, lace patterns and tapestries. My great grandfather would have been very familiar with the Jacquard Raschel pattern pictured above as he immigrated from England to Philadelphia, PA to work in the burgeoning lace manufacturing factories that once ruled the city to support his family.

Main Line Floors and Interiors focuses on the supply and installation of high end residential and commercial hospitality flooring, area rugs and fine home interiors.

Feel free to leave a comment if this post was helpful or informative. I hope it was.

Thank you,

Main Line Floors & Interiors


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