Despite being one of the most important inventors in the history of textiles and looms, there is surprisingly little information on Basile Bouchon available. We're still attempting to find more information on him, but so far we've been unable to find any records of him. We'll continue to look via ancestral records but so far we've been unsuccessful in our search.
Bouchon's semi-automated loom is believed to the very first semi-automated loom. It was a major influence on the automated looms that would later follow. His invention allowed control of a weave using a perforated paper tape that revolutionised the manufacture of textiles. It allowed workers to produce textiles faster and more efficiently than ever before.
Bouchon had been employed as a textile worker since early on in his adult life. This was in an area of Lyon that was referred to as the silk centre, where he was employed for years before coming up with his innovative invention.
Bouchon had been born into a family where the father was an organ maker and his dad had been quite an inventor of his own. His father had developed a process to help reduce the inefficiency and tediousness of the drawloom by making an automated system that wrapped the threads using cords. This enabled the operator to quickly and efficiently create the inner portion of the organ through a process that made it so that the same sound arose with each organ that was made, something that couldn’t be guaranteed under the old process.
With this kind of background, it was inevitable that the son would also use his intelligence and ingenuity to find a way to make the process easier in the textile manufacturing as well. In 1725, he developed his first creation that would revolutionise the way that the loom was used.
Working from the concept of his father, he quickly realised that the same practice could be used in the development of the loom to make it more efficient as well. The idea was similar, but the methods that had to be used were significantly different because of the way that the loom is designed in comparison to an organ. However, he knew that there could be some kind of method to make this process significantly more efficient and ensure that each textile had the same kind of quality production each time it was made.
To accomplish this task, Basile Bouchon developed a semi-automated kind of machine that helps to revolutionise the method that was used to create textiles. What he looked to accomplish was to use the cords of the warp that were passed through the eyes of each of the horizontal needles, arranging them in the slide that was contained within the box. This allowed several different cords to be weaved into the textile at one time.
That was just the beginning of the process, however. How Bouchon made a drastic change was by automating the process using a strand of perforated paper tape that was used to determine when the stitching would occur. As the perforated tape moves forward it would act as a guide that would help the machine to know when it was that it needed to apply a stitch through the textile or other weaving areas.
The perforated tape could be customised in such a way so that the different needles that were contained within the box would operate according to the manner in which the tape was perforated. For example, if six needles were placed inside the slide area, that meant that the perforated tape would have six columns in each row where perforation would be set. If only five of those spots in the row were perforated, then only five needles would go through the textile with the other one laying dormant.
This process completely revolutionised the way that textiles were to be made. This meant that the same perforated tape could be used over and over again so that each textile that was made came out exactly the same as the prior one.
It is easy to understand that an individual who is doing this process solely by their own expertise and without a guide of this nature. It is very easy to see how textiles could come out with variations using this process. Even a person with exceptional skill is going to have variations each time that they work on a textile. Whether one is talking about fatigue, attitude, or a number of other factors, there can easily become a situation where no matter how skilled someone is at their job, there are going to be variations in the way that they perform it. Especially when you are talking about a repetitious activity. This is what was happening with the textile.
However, the ideas created by Basile Bouchon removed out human error from the equation. This made it so that each and every textile that was placed on the loom would come out the exact same way because of the perforated paper tape that was used.
Basile Bouchon's Semi Automated Loom 1725, on display at CNAM, Paris, France
Three years after Bouchon created his invention, Jean-Baptist Falcon further advanced the loom by increasing the number of cords that could be controlled in each of the holes in rows. He also created rectangular cards that were fixed together in an endless loop so that the same pattern could be run over and over again, while the role of the operator was to make sure that the textile continued to feed correctly through the loom so that it was made as was designed.
It should be noted that while this helped to make the process of creating textiles more efficient, the early models were not without their challenges. While the mistakes that were made from the lifting of threads were removed completely, and the extra operator was needed to control the loom to ensure that there were no problems and that the material continued to move through the loom as it was intended.
It would actually not be until 20 years after Basile Bouchon originally created his invention that another inventor, Jacques de Vaucanson, would make the process 100% automated. It was at that point that operators were not needed to aid in the movement of the textile through the machine.
While Basile Bouchon did not create a fully automated loom, his invention greatly revolutionised the way in which textiles were produced, and led to many of the modern applications that we see today within the textile production industry. We also see that his invention helps to revolutionise the way and which piano players were made as well. There is no doubt that his ingenuity, and the ingenuity of his father, have helped to make the textiles that we buy each day more standard and better produced than they were hundreds of years ago.
He truly was a man that revolutionised the textile production industry and frankly, it's a real shame he has been forgotten by so many.