This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Jacquard, Joseph M. The inventor of the apparatus which bears his name. This is not a loom, but an appendage to looms, which, in the weaving of figured fabrics, automatically selects the warp threads and raises them when necessary. It was the damask loom that made possible the Jacquard. In fact, the main difference in them is that in the one human skill and patience accomplish what the other does automatically. The damask weaver puts in thread after thread by hand - over, under, through warp as the pattern requires. The Jacquard loom has weighted strings passing over a pulley to fall upon perforated cards. Each motion changes their position and lets some weights go through the holes and draws up the warp threads so as to be skipped by the woof, while others strike the card and leave their strands in place to be regularly woven. The invention has been applied to many branches of weaving, and has worked wonderful improvement in all. Jacquard was the son of a poor silk weaver of Lyons, and was born in 1752. He was first employed as a bookbinder, afterwards as a type-founder and cutter; but, on the death of his mother, he assisted his father in weaving, and, finally, when he inherited a small patrimony on his father's death, he used it in setting up a silk factory. This proved unsuccessful, mainly because his time was spent in attempting various improvements in the processes with which he was acquainted. For want of a better occupation he was at last forced to become a lime-burner and afterwards a charcoal-burner, while his wife supported herself at Lyons by plaiting straw. The machine which afterwards rendered him famous is said to have been conceived in 1790, but its execution was delayed by the breaking out of the Revolution, which drove him into the ranks, first of the insurgents, and then those of the Army of the Rhine. After seeing some active service, in which his young son was shot down by his side, Jacquard again returned to Lyons where he succeeded in finding work. He saw in an English newspaper that a Society of Arts had offered a prize to any one who should invent a plan for weaving nets by machinery. He set his wits to work, and, for his own amusement, soon produced a loom adapted to the purpose, but he made no attempt to obtain the reward, and after showing his invention to a friend, put it aside, and for sometime it was forgotten by him. To his surprise he was one day sent for by the prefect of the department, who inquired about the machine and requested him to make another, the original having been lost or destroyed. This he did, and a few weeks later he was summoned to Paris and introduced to Bonaparte. "Are you the man," asked Carnot, minister, "who pretends to do what God Almighty cannot do - tie a knot in a stretched string?" Jacquard answered that he could do, not what God could not do, but what God had taught him to do. He still labored at his silk weaving machines, and in 1801 a medal was awarded him for an invention which he exhibited in Paris, whereby one workman per loom was dispensed with in the weaving of figured silks. He was summoned to Paris again, and explained his device to Napoleon, who rewarded him with a pension of a thousand crowns, gave him employment in the Conservatory des Arts, and thus enabled him to exercise his ingenuity in other ways. At the conservatory was stationed a loom of Vaucanson's, which suggested various important improvements in his own, and which he perfected in its final and present state in 1803.
The Emperor encouraged the owners of silk factories to adopt the new loom, and many were set up at Lyons during the early part of 1804. To Jacquard's consternation the new invention was fiercely opposed by the silk weavers, many of whom it threatened to deprive of a livelihood. The Conseil des Prud'hommes, which in our age might be described as a company of "walking delegates," and whose business it was to watch over the interests of the Lyonese trade, siezed his machines and made kindling wood and scrap-iron out of them in the Public Place; "the iron \to use Jacquard's own expression) was sold for iron - the wood for wood, and he, its inventor, was delivered over to universal ignominy." The invention was too valuable not to have found its way into other countries, which, by its means were enabled to rival, and even surpass the products of the French looms. Then it was that the Lyonese weavers saw the folly of their opposition, and condescended to adopt the invention of the man they had so cruelly persecuted. Many years before his death, which occurred in 1834, the inventor had the satisfaction of seeing his loom in almost universal use, and, as a consequence, his native city rapidly advancing. The Jac-quard apparatus is now extensively used throughout the whole of the silk, worsted and cotton manufacturing districts of France, England and America. In 1876 a French manufacturing firm produced one of the most extraordinary specimens of silk weaving that probably has ever been executed. It is a portrait of Jacquard woven on a white ground with colored silks, representing that extraordinary man in his workshop, surrounded by his implements, and planning the construction of that beautiful machinery which now in its increased perfection returns a fitting testimony to the genius of the inventor. The work was woven with such truth and delicacy as to resemble a fine line engraving. There were a thousand threads in each square inch, French, in both warp and weft.
The Jacquard loom is used solely for weaving figured goods. In this loom a chain of perforated cards is made to pass over a drum, and the strings by which the threads of the warp are raised, pass over an edge with a wire or leaden weight of small diameter suspended from each. These weights at each stroke of the loom are presented to each successive card and some of them are intercepted by the card while others pass through the holes therein, the latter thus determining which threads of the warp shall be raised. In this way the figure of the card determines the nature of the figure on the fabric. [See Loom, Weaving]