CR4 - The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion ®


"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

Previous in Blog: October 31, 1941 – The Completion of Mount Rushmore   Next in Blog: December 1, 1743 – The Birth of Martin Heinrich Klaproth
Close
Close
Close
2 comments

November 21, 1782 – The Death of Jacques Vaucanson

Posted November 21, 2016 3:00 PM by MaggieMc
Pathfinder Tags: November 21

On November 21, 1782, Jacques Vaucanson, renowned for his automata, died after an eventful existence. From childhood, Vaucanson is said to have been fascinated with mechanics. In fact, it is rumored that his story begins by recreating a clock he’d repeatedly seen while accompanying his mother to confession. Vaucanson’s story continued to intersect with religion as he was bolstered by a monk who was actually his math teacher. He even became a novice in the religious order of Minimes in Lyon.

Vaucanson left the religious life when he was condemned by a visitor for whom he created “androids, which would serve dinner and clear the tables.” Afterward, the high-ranking visitor reportedly declared that “he thought Vaucanson’s tendencies ‘profane,’ and ordered that his workshop be destroyed.”

Luckily for Vaucanson, Paris offered a respite from the criticism, as well as a chance to create enough automata to go on tour. On tour he found a financial backer to support him. Shortly after the tour ended, Vaucanson dreamed up his next creation in an illness-induced delirium. The creation, a life-size flute player capable of playing twelve different melodies, mimicked “the very means by which a man would make [music]. There was a mechanism to correspond to every muscle.”

Vaucanson followed up the flutist with a pipe-and-drum figure and his most famous creation: a mechanical duck.

The duck could eat from Vaucanson’s hand, then swallow, digest, and excrete the food’s waste. The onlookers were amazed by the lifelike creature, which drank water and quacked—just like a real duck.

Having caught the eye of Louis XV with his excrement-producing duck, Vaucanson was offered the position of Inspector of Silk Manufacture. During his time in this position, Vaucanson managed to create an automated loom. Unfortunately, his success ended there as the silk workers revolted. The revolt was suppressed, but not without sufficient loss of life that many blamed Vaucanson for—it didn’t help that he had responded to their criticisms of his machine by building “a loom manned by a donkey, in order to prove, as he said, that ‘a horse, an ox or an ass can make cloth more beautiful and much more perfect than the most able silk workers.’” The result was that Vaucanson ran away, as he had from his religious life. Perhaps, it can be seen as him coming full circle because he escaped in the garb of a Minime monk.

Vaucanson’s automata are still referenced today as an essential step toward the industrial revolution—especially his automated loom and his ever-memorable duck.

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.
Guru
Hobbies - DIY Welding - Wannabeabettawelda

Join Date: May 2007
Location: Annapolis, Maryland
Posts: 4003
Good Answers: 218
#1

Re: November 21, 1782 – The Death of Jacques Vaucanson

11/21/2016 4:15 PM

". . . Vaucanson managed to create an automated loom. Unfortunately, his success ended there as the silk workers revolted. The revolt was suppressed, but not without sufficient loss of life that many blamed Vaucanson for—it didn’t help that he had responded to their criticisms of his machine by building “a loom manned by a donkey, in order to prove, as he said, that ‘a horse, an ox or an ass can make cloth more beautiful and much more perfect than the most able silk workers."

Even today, we grapple with very similar issues.

Reply
Guru
New Zealand - Member - Kiwi Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member Engineering Fields - Power Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Posts: 8301
Good Answers: 339
#2

Re: November 21, 1782 – The Death of Jacques Vaucanson

11/21/2016 5:22 PM

During his time in this position, Vaucanson managed to create an automated loom. Unfortunately, his success ended there as the silk workers revolted.

it didn’t help that he had responded to their criticisms of his machine by building “a loom manned by a donkey, in order to prove, as he said, that ‘a horse, an ox or an ass can make cloth more beautiful and much more perfect than the most able silk workers.

What a stereotypical engineer, brilliant and ground-breaking but oblivious to important social and political concerns of the time.

Good thing that sort of thing doesn't happen anymore.

__________________
jack of all trades
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 2 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Previous in Blog: October 31, 1941 – The Completion of Mount Rushmore   Next in Blog: December 1, 1743 – The Birth of Martin Heinrich Klaproth

Advertisement