Joseph Marie Jacquard, a French mechanician, born in Lyons, July 7, 1752, died at Oullins, Aug. 7, 1834. His parents were weavers, and his father, having become the proprietor of a loom, was enabled to give him a few months' schooling, the only education he ever received. When 12 years old he was apprenticed to a bookbinder, and subsequently in succession to a cutler and a type-founder, in which occupations he produced a variety of models and inventions. At about the age of 20 he succeeded, upon the death of his father, to a small workshop containing two looms, and commenced business as a weaver. Absorbed in plans for improving looms, and in a variety of other mechanical schemes, he neglected his business, and not only exhausted his father's savings, but was obliged to sell his workshop and fixtures to pay his debts. He married the daughter of an armorer, hoping with the aid of her dowry to retrieve his fortunes; but was disappointed, and finally obliged to seek employment with a lime burner in Bresse, while his wife gained a scanty living for herself and her son in Lyons by making straw bonnets. From about 1777 to 1792 there is no account of his life. In the latter year he embraced the cause of the revolution, but in 1793 was one of the defenders of Lyons against the army of the convention.
After the reduction of the city he fled with his son, a boy of 15; and both were soon after enrolled in the army of the Rhine. They fought side by side in several engagements; but after the death of his son in battle Jacquard returned to Lyons, and joined his wife in straw weaving. When Lyons began to recover from the effects of the siege, he found employment with a wealthy and intelligent silk manufacturer, who encouraged his schemes for the improvement of pattern-weaving machinery. With a view of substituting mechanical action for that of a numerous class of workmen, who by the very nature of their employment were doomed to a premature death, he produced in 1800 the first model of his apparatus for superseding the use of draw-boys in weaving figured goods, the idea of which had occurred to him, it is said, as early as 1790. In addition to economy of labor, the apparatus greatly simplified the weaving of rich designs, and could be readily applied at slight expense to any loom. He exhibited his invention in the exposition of national industry in 1801, and obtained a bronze medal. Not long after he produced a machine for weaving nets without the use of a shuttle, which came under the notice of the prefect of police, before whom the inventor was summoned to appear.
Subsequently he and his machine were conveyed to Paris and underwent an examination by Napoleon and Carnot, the latter of whom asked Jacquard if he was the man who pretended to do the impossible, i. e., to tie a knot in a stretched string. So satisfactory did the explanation prove that Jacquard received a gold medal, and was commissioned to examine and repair the machines and models in the conservatoire des arts et metiers, among which was a loom invented by Vaucan-son, which is said to have suggested to him the principal improvements embraced in his own. This, however, is believed to be erroneous. In 1804 he returned to Lyons to find himself assailed with abuse and open violence by those whom the introduction of his apparatus had temporarily thrown out of employment. He was denounced as the man who was reducing families to ruin and starvation; his house was entered by a mob, who broke one of his looms in pieces; and on several occasions he barely escaped from their rage with his life. These scenes, however, soon gave place to a general acquiescence in the invention, which was purchased by government in accordance with an imperial decree, dated Berlin, Oct. 27,1806, and made public property.
Such was the increased production of woven fabrics in Lyons, and its consequent rapid growth, that Jacquard came to be as highly esteemed as he had formerly been detested. Although strongly urged to settle in England, he preferred to devote himself to perfecting his invention in his native city, where he lived until the death of his wife. He passed his latter years in the neighboring village of Oullins. During his life he received the cross of the legion of honor, and in 1840 a statue of him was erected in Lyons. (See Weaving.)