Don't Destroy the Loom: The Story of the Luddites and Ada Lovelace



A certain Englishman's ancestors come from Nottingham, England. They were sock weavers or stockingers. Weaving socks was a craft that took years to learn. A pair of socks took about a week to make.

Weaving socks
Eventually a stocking frame was invented. It was a mechanical knitting machine, a loom, that could easily be operated by anyone, and a pair of socks could be produced in minutes putting the livelihood of skilled artisans at risk.
By 1811, 25,000 stocking frames were used to produce socks. At the same time England was struggling after the Napoleonic War. The working conditions of the unskilled laborers in the textile industry was declining.

One night on March 11, 1811, a group of men got together and destroyed stocking frames as they saw this as the source of their economic troubles. This movement grew and for two years people known as Luddites destroyed knitting machines.

Leader of the Luddites, Ned Ludd
The British Army tried to stop these riots, but it just made the Luddites more violent and fight back harder. On one occasion it led to the assassination of a mill owner William Horsfall by three Luddites.

To stop the Luddites, Parliament passed the Frame Breaking Act in 1812 making it illegal to break any stocking frames. Breaking this law could be punishable by death. Eventually in an effort to stop the Luddite movement, the government put 60 men on trial (not all of them were Luddites) and some were even sentenced to execution. Lord Byron protested this law and defended the actions of the Luddites.
Lord Byron had a daughter named Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace
What do you think when you see this picture of her? Do you think "computer programmer?" Well you should, because she is the first computer programmer. Here's what happened.

Babbage's Analytical Engine
She was introduced to the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage. She was asked to translate some notes about the machine written in French into English. Lovelace not only translated the notes but also added some notes of her own, including an algorithm to use the machine to generate Bernouli numbers. This is the first published algorithm used for computing, thus making her the first computer programmer. But that isn't all that Lovelace wrote in her notes. She saw something that even Babbage couldn't see. She also mentioned that this could be used not just to generate numbers, but could compute so much more. It would be one hundred years before Ada's vision would be realized.
And how did Ada gain this insight and vision into a machine that the inventor himself didn't notice? She saw how the punch card used for the machine was like another punch card she had seen. And where did she these other punch cards?

Punch cards
On a loom.

NYPL archive

If the looms had all been destroyed, right now I'd probably be weaving socks alongside a certain Englishman in Nottingham. But the loom is why I can even write this story on my computer and share it on my blog over the internet.

I know this coronavirus is causing a pandemic that is disrupting all of our lives. We are losing livelihoods, economy, our mental health, and facing an unknown future. I know that we are feeling a sense of loss of what life was like before everything shut down and we want to get back to "normal."

My grandmother didn't almost die from the Spanish flu while everyone were in their houses waiting for it to end. She almost died months later when people were tired of the isolation and wanted to get back to normal living. She got it because her father took a train to pick up some sheep because he was worried about his livelihood. He didn't just bring home the sheep, he brought home the flu to his entire family, including his five year old daughter, Alice, who had to be packed in ice to save her life.

Let's not destroy the loom. We have the opportunity to see things in a different way. We can be creative and innovative and come up with new industries and occupations. We can discover new ways to socialize and feel a sense of unity until the pandemic is over.
Let's all help each other to move forward, not to go back.
I don't think I'd like sock weaving.
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Here are some people and organizations using this time to be innovative. Click on their name to find out what they are doing. Feel free to tell me about others and I'd be happy to add them to the list. Lizzy Mildenhall

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