Joseph Marie Charles dit (called or nicknamed) Jacquard (7 July 1752 (Lyon, France) – 7 August 1834 (Oullins, France)) played an important role in the development of the earliest programmable loom (the "Jacquard loom"), which in turn played an important role in the development of other programmable machines, such as computers.
Jean Jacquard’s name was not really “Jacquard”. In his grandfather’s generation, several branches of the Charles family lived in Lyon’s Couzon-au-Mont d’Or suburb (on Lyon’s north side, along the Saône River). To distinguish the various branches, they were given nicknames; Joseph’s branch was dubbed the “Jacquard” Charles. Thus, Joseph’s grandfather was “Barthélemy Charles dit [called] Jacquard”.
Joseph Marie Charles dit Jacquard was born in Lyon, France on 7 July 1752. He was one of nine children of Jean Charles dit Jacquard, a master weaver of Lyon, and his wife, Antoinette Rive. However, only Joseph and his sister Clémence (born 7 November 1747) survived to adulthood. Although his father was a man of property, Joseph received no formal schooling and remained illiterate until he was 13. He was finally taught by his brother-in-law, Jean-Marie Barret, who ran a printing and bookselling business. Barret also introduced Joseph to learned societies and scholars.
His mother died in 1762, and when his father died in 1772, Joseph inherited his father’s house, looms and workshop as well as a vineyard and quarry in Couzon-au-Mont d’Or. Joseph then dabbled in real estate. In 1778, he listed his occupations as master weaver and silk merchant.
On 26 July 1778, Joseph married Claudine Boichon. She was a middle-class widow from Lyon who owned property and had a substantial dowry. However, Joseph soon fell deeply into debt and was brought to court. To settle his debts, he was obliged to sell his inheritance and to appropriate his wife’s dowry. Fortunately, his wife retained a house in Oullins (on Lyon’s south side, along the Rhone River), where the couple resided. On 19 April 1779, the couple had their only child, a son, Jean Marie.
By 1800, Joseph began to dabble in inventing: a treadle loom in 1800, a loom to weave fishing nets in 1803, and starting in 1804, the “Jacquard” loom, which would weave patterned silk automatically. However, none of his inventions operated well and thus were unsuccessful.
In 1801, Jacquard exhibited his invention at the industrial exhibition in Paris; and in 1803 he was summoned to Paris and attached to the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers. A loom by Jacques de Vaucanson on display there suggested various improvements in his own, which he gradually perfected to its final state. Although his invention was fiercely opposed by the silk-weavers, who feared that its introduction, owing to the saving of labour, would deprive them of their livelihood, its advantages secured its general adoption, and by 1812 there were 11,000 Jacquard looms in use in France. The loom was declared public property in 1806, and Jacquard was rewarded with a pension and a royalty on each machine.
Jacquard died at Oullins (Rhône), 7 August 1834. Six years later a statue was erected to him in Lyon, on the site where his 1801 exhibit loom was destroyed.
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