The Birth of Joseph-Marie Jacquard

jacquard-cardDuring the 1700s, inventors were attempting to automate the process by which patterned textiles were woven — primarily due to the rising demand for fine patterned cloth. It was generally accepted that, for such a machine to work, it must satisfy two requirements. First, it must mechanically simulate the action of hand-lifting the individual warp threads, thus creating the pattern. Second, it must possess some storage medium by which the pattern is “remembered,” enabling the weaver to identically duplicate the pattern again and again. Though many devices were constructed throughout the tenth century, none satisfied these requirements as well as the Jacquard loom, patented in 1804 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard.

The idea of using perforated cards as a method for storing information intrigued the British scientist Charles Babbage who, in 1823, received funding from the British government to construct an analytical engine. This steam-powered device would be able to perform many different mathematical functions at once, printing the result. Though it was never constructed (the technology of the time was too primitive to provide Babbage with the necessary parts), the design of the analytical engine in turn inspired American scientist Herman Hollerith to build a similar machine to compute the results of the 1890 census; this machine, which used punched cards as the storage medium, was the ancestor of the modern computer. Hollerith’s company, the Tabulating Machine Company, went on to become International Business Machines (IBM).

“Joseph-Marie Jacquard.” World of Computer Science. Gale, 2006. Science in Context. Web.

Learn more about Jacquard’s use of punched cards to store information »


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