The flying shuttle: the key to mechanisation

When a shuttle is passed through by hand, making wide pieces of cloth requires two men to work on the same loom - one at each end. In 1733, to reduce the workforce required, John Kay invented the flying shuttle, propelled by a mechanical system and received by a picker, and then by a box.

With mechanisation, the shuttle was straightened out and its ends were fitted with steel caps to resist the shock of the rapid and violent propulsion. This in turn required the construction of more resistant looms in cast iron, known as “heavy looms”, around 1860. The threads themselves were strengthened to prevent snapping and loss of production.

On such a loom, the shuttle passed up to 160 times per minute - one can imagine the noise the workers had to tolerate in a workshop with up to one hundred looms. Deafness was not recognised as an industrial illness until the 1960s ...