Friday, November 2, 2007

Unsung Technology: The Loom

Do you remember the last time someone remarked about how influential the loom was? I certainly don't. But why not? The loom gets a short shrift.

Textiles are, naturally, a very important part of society. Clothes, blankets, towels, etc. Wool, cotton and linen have been used to weave such things for as long as humans have been out of Africa. Given human ingenuity, it was only a matter of time until someone came up with a device to make it easier, and thus was born the loom.

The loom's impact on textile production alone would make it worth mentioning. But it did more than that. It had an impact on automation and computing. The first machine to be automated by means of punch cards was a loom. It inspired Babbage to use punch cards in his designs for mechanical computers.

More than that, the loom led in the Industrial Revolution, and helped the growth of the steam engine. One of the first enhancements to the manufacturing process was the flying shuttle. The shuttle is a particular piece of a loom that needed to be moved by hand, until the invention of the flying shuttle. It sped up the process of weaving by loom, increasing the demand of yarn, which led to inventions to speed up yarn production, etc. Later, came the power loom, to make weaving even faster. Originally, it was run off of water power, but soon was adapted to take advantage of steam power.

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