The Industrial Revolution was one of the most significant global events that the planet has ever seen. The rise of industry and innovation help to usher in a new age on the planet where goods and services produced greater efficiency and success than ever before. Whether one is talking about the production of rifles or an increase in food production, the Industrial Revolution touched the lives of virtually every citizen on this planet.
The Industrial Revolution is such a significant event in the world thanks to the innovations and creations of inventors thought outside of the box to usher it a new age of automation and efficiency. One such inventor, John Kay, helped to create one of the most important innovations that aided in the waiving of textiles to make textile production more efficient easier to process.
In June of 1704, John Kay was born in a small hamlet in England. His father was a landowner but died just prior to John being born. His mother educated him as he was growing up until she married another man when he was 14, at which point he became an apprentice with a hand loom reed maker. In less than a month, he had become a master at the loom and shortly afterwards began to develop a metal substitute that was used in place of the wood reed that traditionally had been used within the loom.
In 1725 he married his wife Anne and they had a daughter a year later. Two years later a son, named after his father Robert, was born. He would remain in the city of his youth for the remainder of most of his life where he would create a large number of inventions and improvements to the loom.
In 1733, Kay earned a patent for his most important invention of all. The wheeled shuttle revolutionised weaving within the country, greatly accelerating the process through the innovative ideas that he created.
What this device did was allow the shuttle that carried the weft to be passed through the warp threads at a significantly faster rate and over a much larger width of the cloth material itself. This was done by broadening the width of the loom which increased the amount of work that could be done in a shorter period of time. This innovation ensured that just one operator was needed for the loom to work correctly, reducing the labour force while still increasing efficiency.
In no time, the wheeled shuttle took on a new name – the fly shuttle. The reason it was given this name was because of the rapid speed by which the new mechanism processed the textile and weaved in the material. It also was able to maintain the speed at a constant rate which made production greater and more efficient than ever before.
The increased speed and efficiency were so significant that later historians would refer to it as one of the greatest innovations in the history of textile production, and describe the speed at which the device worked as “unimaginable.”
A great innovation like this really improved the textile industry in ways that cannot be imagined. This ensured that the textiles could be produced more rapidly and with greater efficiency. This led to a decrease in price as supply increased and made it so that the average person had a greater accessibility to high-quality goods.
The fly shuttle reduced the number of operators that was needed for textile production and this led to a series of protests attempting to stop the production of this machine.
What needs to be understood is that Kay’s device was the very first device in the Industrial Revolution that greatly increased productivity. Many ignored the impact on the labour force at first but as other innovations quickly followed Kay became the focus of attacks.
There was no doubt that the device worked well. Productivity more than doubled because of the flying shuttle. Textiles looked better than ever and costs dropped as productivity increased greatly.
Kay attempted to take his fly shuttle to other industries to demonstrate to them how this device could improve their productivity as well. The woollen manufacturers were one such example. Within two years his devices had greatly improved productivity while also decreasing the number of operators that were needed for functioning.
It was at this time that large numbers of people began to protest against his invention. While Kay to make textiles more affordable for people, he had also cost thousands of people their jobs, greatly increasing unemployment within the region surrounding his home. This led to massive backlashes against him personally, as citizens not only called upon their local representatives to stop the use of his device but also the attacks against him increased as well.
In 1738, Kay left his home and went to Leeds to help promote the use of his devices there. Much to his dismay, the inventor discovered that people within the city had been using his device while not paying the license fee that was owed. He was forced to take the groups to court for patent infringement in a series of lawsuits. While winning the case, the cost he would have to pay to prosecute the case for damages would have cost him more than to have just let the process continue. However, he could not in good conscience allow them to continue to use his device without compensation.
That year he formed what was referred to as “The Shuttle Club,” assent which paid all the fees for any member that was brought to court for infringement upon his licensing and patent agreements. This seemed like a brilliant strategy at the time to get the compensation he needed while still protecting his investment, but the syndicate actually nearly bankrupted him. The strategy wound up backfiring and costs rose to try to keep his flying shuttle protected.
In 1745, Joseph Stell invented a cloth ribbon weaving loom that was believed to successfully operate using a waterwheel. However, the plan never came to fruition as the costs associated with Kay’s legal challenges became too overwhelming to assist Stell in developing the machine.
Nearly bankrupt and finding that the harassment of him and his family was becoming too much to bear, Kay left Leeds in return to his home in Bury. That same year his final child, the 12th from Anne was born.
His invention of the flying shuttle was bringing great prosperity to manufacturers throughout the region, that he was finding minimal financial gain as the infringements upon his patent continued. This led him to return to his first love, to invent, and in 1746 he began the process of developing a method to make salt production more efficient. He also made several improvements on the spitting technology related to weaving, making the efficiency of these devices greater.
The problem was that with each innovation that he designed, the idea led to more people losing their job. His popularity continued to plummet, especially after creating the spinner, and he found himself as a virtual recluse in his hometown.
After the treatment against him became violent, Kay was forced to leave England and moved to France. From there he was completely unable to enforce his patent protections and was forced to lean upon the support of the French government to keep him and his family sustained.
In 1747, he sold the French government all the rights to his technology. This gave him the financial resources that he needed to care for his family and continue his work while also removing the burdens he was facing from years of litigation. In France, he faced none of the persecution or animosity from citizens, and the flying shuttle was a huge success, enabling France to become one of the leaders in textile production throughout the world.
France became his adopted country and he would only return to England to more times in his life. One of those was in 1766 when he received an award for his inventions. At the age of 70, his pension that he had been receiving from the French government came to an abrupt until he began to teach a year later.
In 1779, John Kay passed on. While his name may not be one of the most commonly known about great inventors during the Industrial Revolution, his innovative ideas helped to transform the textile production industry as well as many other industries because of the advancements and improvements that he made. It is sad that he was so vilified during his lifetime, but without his production in these areas would never have reached the potential that we see today. John Kay was truly a man ahead of his time in the world for making it a better place for the designs and creations he invented.