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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Jacquard Weaving

It is amazing to me still that the first practical use of punch cards was not for math or science, but rather for weaving.  I visited a silk making town when I was in China, and they still had Jaquard looms on display.
It all started when, just a few years after Pascal, the German Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (co-inventor with Newton of calculus) managed to build a four-function (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) calculator that he called the stepped reckoner because, instead of gears, it employed fluted drums having ten flutes arranged around their circumference in a stair-step fashion. Although the stepped reckoner employed the decimal number system (each drum had 10 flutes), Leibniz was the first to advocate use of the binary number system which is fundamental to the operation of modern computers. Leibniz is considered one of the greatest of the philosophers but he died poor and alone.
In 1801 the Frenchman Joseph Marie Jacquard, using some of this creativity, invented a power loom that could base its weave (and hence the design on the fabric) upon a pattern automatically read from punched wooden cards, held together in a long row by rope. The number of colors that could be incorporated into the cloth and the complexity of the design (see some examples above from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) are astounding.

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