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Joseph Jacquard, working in France around 1810, originated the idea of using holes punched in cardstock to control the pattern a loom weaves.

The key idea behind Jacquard's loom was to control the action of the weaving process by interfacing the behaviour of the loom to an encoding of the pattern to be reproduced. In order to do this Jacquard arranged for the pattern to be depicted as groups of holes 'punched' into a sequence of pasteboard card. Each card contained the same number of rows and columns, the presence or absence of a hole was detected mechanically and used to determine the actions of the loom. By combining a `tape' of cards together the Jacquard loom was able to weave (and reproduce) patterns of great complexity, e.g. a surviving example is a black and white silk portrait of Jacquard woven under the control of a 10,000 card `program'.

Jacquard's invention of the punched card is recognised as important largely because of the influence it had on other developers of computing machinery. The significance of the Jacquard Loom is that it was one of the earliest instances of data storage, and the first example of a computer program. One inventor to develop the potential of the punched card further was Charles Babbage, with his counting machine, a predecessor to the electronic calculator.

Modern Jacquard Loom with panels showing