A key invention and the major developments in the industrialization of weaving was the “flying shuttle“. It was invented by John Kay, an English inventor, in 1733 during the early Industrial Revolution. The flying shuttle along with a few other important inventions and innovations, the spinning jenny, the water frame, and the spinning mule, transformed the textile industry in Great Britain.
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Textile Industry in Great Britain during 18th Century
The textile industry was one of the major industries that benefitted Great Britain with the production of goods on a large scale. Weaving, cloth manufacturing, was the major work of the textile industry. Before the industrial revolution inventions, in the early 18th century, weaving and the production of cloths were done on a very small scale as it was home-based. This period in history is commonly referred to as the ‘cottage industry’. Individual workers produced goods, such as wool, either in their premises in which they lived or on their own farms, and then sold it to local communities around the country by packhorse or by river navigations. The cottage industry productions were slow and were very small in scale. They struggled to keep pace with the growing demand. In the mid-18th century, many inventors were inventing better ways which transformed the ‘cottage industry’ into the ‘textile industry’. Inventions become more productive and were able to fill the gap of growing demand with mass production which led to the birth of the Industrial Revolution. It also led the inventors to speed up the production method of many goods, but most noticeably in the textile industry of Great Britain.
Success stories of the Flying Shuttle and Weaving Looms
In a typical handloom or frame loom, weaving had been carried out by passing the shuttle through the shed and the shuttle carried a bobbin for the weft. The passing was carried out from one hand to the other and in case of broad or large looms two weavers were needed to throw the shuttle through the shed, it was very slow and really time-consuming.
In 1733 John Kay invented and patented, his most revolutionizing device a ‘wheeled shuttle’ or ‘flying shuttle’ for weaving that increased the speed dramatically. The flying shuttle works with the help of “race,” a board on either side to hit the shuttle, and a box to catch the shuttle on both sides of the loom, connected by a long-board, runway. In general, the flying shuttle was heavier for sufficient momentum to carry it through the shed. During weaving, a single weaver can hit the shuttle by means of cords attached to the ‘board’ on either side which results in a greater accelerated weaving and automatic machine looms. Weaving using the flying shuttle created huge demands for the thread by exceeding the capacity of the spinning industry. It is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and promoted the development of better spinning machines or precisely powered one which paved way for the spinning jenny, the water frame, and the spinning mule. Thus transforming the textile industry in Great Britain.
Did You Know: ” The flying shuttle was described by John Kay as traveling at “a speed which cannot be imagined, so great that the shuttle can only be seen like a tiny cloud which disappears the same instant.” It is always considered as inventions that changed the world.
John Kay’s invention – ‘Pathetic’
John Kay was born on 17 June 1704 in the Lancashire hamlet of Walmersley. His father, Robert, owned the “Park” estate in Walmersley and John was born there. John’s father died before he was born, leaving the estate to his eldest son. His mother educated him until she remarried. He then apprenticed with a hand-loom reed maker and married a Bury woman, Anne Holte. He had a daughter, Lettice, who was born in 1726, and his son, Robert, born in 1728.
In 1733 after inventing the ‘flying shuttle’, he formed an alliance in Colchester, Essex to begin flying shuttle manufacturing. He also tried to promote his invention in Bury, but could not convince the woolen manufacturers that it was sufficiently robust. But by September 1733, the weavers in Colchester were too scared and concerned for their livelihoods that they petitioned the King to stop John Kay’s inventions.
John Kay went to Paris and tried to negotiate with the French Government to sell them his patient. He was denied a lump sum, but in exchange for his patent was finally granted 3000 livres plus a pension of 2500 livres.
Throughout the middle of the 20th century, the flying shuttle dominated commercial weaving and was always regarded as important inventions during the Industrial Revolution. Flying shuttle looms, old models, still remain and are used for some purposes.
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