In 1725, French textile worker Basile Bouchon revolutionised the textile industry by creating a semi-automated loom machine. This made the production of textiles not only more efficient and quicker to produce, but it also made it so that the textiles could be uniformly produced.
Up until that point, all the work had to be done and directed by hand. While many of the workers in this industry were incredibly skilled, this did not mean that there were not variations in textiles and baskets that were made. This meant that one textile may come out differently than another.
Bouchon’s invention changed the way that the loom was used. By using perforated paper tape, the machine read when it was to use a set of needles at a certain location on the textile, which needles were to be used, and how the stitch was to be followed. Within no time, the industry was greatly transformed through this process.
The invention of this semi-automated machine made the manufacture of textiles much more efficient and made the process a lot faster. He had come up with an idea that truly changed the way that industry produced goods for the consumer.
However, with every great invention comes ideas that make in better, and three years after Bouchon’s creation his assistant, Jean Baptiste Falcon, made some tweaks to the loom that made the invention even better. These helped to create a more efficient machine that could process textiles even faster.
In 1728, Falcon expanded the number of cords that could process through the machine. The way that Bouchon’s system worked was quite elegant. A series of cords were passed to the horizontal needles that were arranged on a device called a slide. As the textile moved forward, the needles on the slide were told which ones needed to move down into the textile created a stitch by the perforations on the paper tape. This made it so that several needles could be operating at a time, and that the same stitch would be applied to a textile every time, because of the manner in which the perforation worked.
It was truly brilliant, but it had its limitations. This is where Falcon came into the picture.
While the invention was brilliant, Bouchon’s slide only contained so many needles for it to work correctly. Jean Baptiste Falcon had worked with Bouchon for some time and three years after the invention, he helped to make some very dramatic improvements that made the device even better.
The first of these is that he made it so that the slide could contain a larger number of cords at one time. This made it so that the number of holes that could be produced by the slide increased as well and work efficiency increased by more than one-hundred percent.
What had hindered this idea before was that the new invention increased efficiency, but it also required two workers to manage it. Because the textile had to be fed a certain way and monitored to make sure that the machine did not have any issues, the number of employees operating the machine increased. The loom still worked more quickly and efficiently so that it was well worth having two employees operating one machine.
However, as the number of cords increased that efficiency decreased markedly. This is where Falcon’s work was so important because he made it so that the number of needles that were working increased while the machine still worked as it should have.
This addition also allowed for much larger patterns and material to be worked on at the same time. Since they were able to expand the number of needles, they were also able to expand the area that could be worked on. This made it so that much larger pieces could be sewn because the additional needles expanded the work area.
As time went on, they were able to add even more needles to the slider so that they could work on an even larger area. This has been essential to improving the efficiency of the loom.
This was not the only innovation that Jean Baptiste Falcon added to the loom created by his mentor. The perforated paper tape was a brilliant idea that made it so that the textiles could be made quicker and with greater uniformity each time. However, the paper had a tendency to break with continual use.
A better answer was needed but the problem was that a thicker piece of paper would not process in the same way and the effectiveness of the loom was lost. Falcon resolved the issue by creating a rectangular card that resolved two problems.
The first of these is that these cards lasted much longer. There was a lot less worry about the perforated guide breaking which meant that there were fewer problems along the way. The loom could run for longer periods of time without the worry of constant replacements of the paper.
The other advantage was that the cards could be connected together in a loop. This made it so that the machine could continually run as long as the textile was fed by the operators. The cards would continually run through the endless loop, continuing the process, thus making this one of the more important innovations.
Jean Baptiste Falcon's Semi Automated Loom 1728, on display at CNAM, Paris, France
While playing an important role in improving the device created by Basile Bouchon, the fact remains that he is not the inventor of the semi-automated loom. This has often made his contributions less significant in the eyes of some who see him as someone who is more of an afterthought than an innovator.
That may have some merit to it, however, his innovations and improvements upon the loom were quite significant. He not only improved the overall concept of the machine, but made it much more efficient, and set the stage for later even more important improvements.
The reader card was one of the most important of these improvements because it played a major role in the development of the fully automated loom, as well as with other devices and processes that would later use perforated cards to perform tasks. The fact that he was able to make the semi-automated loom work more efficiently and able to use a better means to keep the system running smoothly.
Yes, it is true that he was not the original inventor, but that does not mean that Jean Baptiste Falcon is not an important person in the development of the industrial complex that creates textiles today. He helped to develop innovative ideas that increased the efficiency of the textile industry and set the stage for even bigger ideas that would come along.
Jean Baptiste Falcon may not have been the creator of the semi-automated loom, but his innovations help to take this device into the eighteenth century and beyond. It was not long before even greater innovations were being added because he opened the door to these possibilities. People in his age recognise his contributions, and this is why he is included in the discussion as important people who have made significant contributions to the textile industry.