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Edmund Cartwright Brought Power to the Weaving Loom

Edmund Cartwright Brought Power to the Weaving Loom

We don’t often spend a great deal of time learning about those who have invented machinery that helped to make the textile industry a lot more efficient, but some of these inventors have revolutionised the way that manufacturing is performed. Some of these men have created devices that not only significantly changed the way in which textile production occurred but also created innovations that had a dramatic impact on the computer age as well.


It's remarkable how these inventors revolutionised the way that manufacturing in the textile industry occurred yet they receive very little consideration for the innovations they developed. One such man like this is Edmund Cartwright.


The Early Life of Edmund Cartwright

Edmund Cartwright was born in 1743 and would live to be 80 years old, dying in 1823. He was born in England and would later attend Oxford University. Edmund was born into a rather prestigious family. His brother Major John Cartwright was a political reformer, and his brother George was a famous explorer. He was the son the Reverend Edmund Cartwright.


He attended some of the most prestigious schools in all of England, including Wakefield, University College and Oxford. He later would receive an MA degree from Magdalen College and upon graduation was assigned a fellowship at the college. He also became a clergyman for the Church of England and began working for the church in 1779. In 1883, he was elected as a prebendary at the Lincoln Cathedral.


At 19, he married Elizabeth McMac.


A Different Calling

Cartwright was a brilliant man who performed quite well in his role in the clergy. However, this was not the calling he felt led to and after five years, the clergyman turned to inventing and developed one of the most important innovations in the textile industry – the power loom.


The loom had undergone a lot of innovations in the prior 60 years. In 1724, the machine was a simple one that was manually run and operated by a human operator that fed the textile through the machine and pumped the peddle to get the needles to push through the textile so that the stitch and weaving are positioned correctly.


In 1725, that drastically changed when Basile Bouchon invented the first semi-automated loom. Bouchon was the son of an inventor, and so the idea for innovation was in his blood. In that year, his loom was operated by using a perforated paper tape that told the machine when the series of needles were to weave. His original design allowed for four needles to work at a time, with the perforations in the tape determining which needle or needles would function with each movement. This was a revolutionary concept because it ensured that all textiles that produced were much more uniform than they had ever been before. The process was by no means perfect, however. It required two operators to operate it, and the tape was known to break on a regular basis, creating a slowdown in production.


A few years later Jean Baptiste Falcon made a vital innovation when he introduced the perforated card into the equation. This made the system operate more smoothly as there was a significantly decreased amount of time that the operation was offline due to breaks in the cards. Also, the cards could be looped so that the textiles could be run one right after another with higher efficiency.


Finally, 20 years after Bouchon had first created the semi-automated loom, Jacques de Vaucanson created the first fully automated loom. The inventor had long been known for creating automated figures (automatons), but this was his first venture into this kind of undertaking. Needless to say, his invention continued the revolutionising of the textile industry and allowed a larger number of needles to be used at one time. It also made it so that only a few operators were needed to monitor several machines running at the same time. Unfortunately, however, the loom was temperamental and used an expensive paper tape method similar to that of Bouchon's. It's unknown why Vaucanson didn't adopt the more robust and more suitable punched card setup that Falcon had successfully employed with his adaption of Bouchon's loom.


Cartwright Takes It a Step Further

Forty years after Vaucanson created the automated loom, Cartwright joined in on the innovations. In 1784, he designed the first power loom and would receive a patent on it a year later.


This invention was a huge boon for the industry. It was completely automated so that one worker could monitor it to ensure the quality was acceptable. The loom also reliably processed textiles at a much higher rate than any other loom of the time.


Cartwright made several additions to the machine that improved its production capabilities. A part that he added included the positive let-off motion, which served a variety of tasks. One of which was a stopping motion to the warp and weft. It also helped in sizing the warp during the action of the loom. These operations ensured that the textiles that were produced had greater precision in the stitching and production than ever before.


While working with his newly modelled loom, Cartwright found a series of other issues with the looms parts that needed correction. Instead of merely modifying the previous parts, he went about creating innovations that would make the former parts even more efficient. The original parts there did not have to be replaced or remodelled. This started with the introduction of a crank and an eccentric wheel. These parts helped with the efficiency of the dicking mechanism, which made it so that the stopping of the loom when there was an issue with the shuttle acted more efficiently. This stopped the process when there was any issue with the shuttle box, making it so that a significant amount of time did not have to be spent trying to fix this part of the loom as well as the textile that had been trapped in the shuttle box.


Also, these two new pieces also stopped the shuttle from rebounding in the box. They did this by stretching the cloth so that it would not bunch or get trapped. It was amazing how these two pieces designed by Cartwright would have such a dramatic impact on the overall efficiency of the loom, especially because the device was running entirely by an automotive process.


One of the significant challenges that arisen with previous automated models was that operators still had to keep a close eye on the machines because when problems occurred, they could be made significantly worse if the operator made any hesitation. Also, once an issue arose, the machine continued to run until it was shut off. This made for some serious problems.


However, these additions by Cartwright made it, so the device recognised that there were problems. It shut itself off, stopping any issues before they could reach a point that made for a serious issue. It was amazing how he was able to create these innovations that acted as an automated shutoff valve of sorts that meant that human error or delay was significantly limited.



It Did Not End There

About 15 years later, Edmund Cartwright came up with other ideas to improve the loom. The first of these came in 1792 when he patented a weaving machine with multiple shuttle boxes that allowed for weaving to have cross stripes and checks as well. The machine had some problems functioning and did not work correctly. William Radcliffe only resolved it in 1803.


These were not the only inventions he created, however. Cartwright also built a wool-combing machine in 1789, and a Cordelier, which is a machine that is used to make rope. He also was able to build a steam engine that used alcohol instead of water. All of these devices had a significant effect in improving the overall quality of industry and the lives of individuals.


In 1823, Edmund Cartwright passed on after years of battling a lingering illness. His daughter Elizabeth is well known for her many books that she wrote under the pen name of Mrs Markham. This innovator has had a dramatic effect on the lives of literally billions of people through the inventions that he has created, and we are still seeing the fruits of those inventions even today. A remarkable man whose legacy was established through his innovative ideas and brilliance and design so that the things we take for granted every day have become commonplace.