A source for the silk trade of Lyons:
the population census of Lyon from 1808 till 1812

We resume here a page very interesting of the archives of the City hall of Lyon (to see bibliography at the bottom of page). This text tries to correct successful ideas generally maintained due to the lack of check of sources by almost all those who speak about the Jacquard loom.

The history of the silk trade of Lyons remains to write.The capital of the municipal Archives on the " Big Factory " were not yet exploited. The history of the silk trade of Lyons in the XIX-th and XX-th centuries focuses, too often , on Jacquard loom and its legend. To evoke this person by leaning on facts always provokes surprises. The exploitation of Lyons registers of the population census, from 1808 till 1812, brings us a supplementary proof of it.

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The reality of the Jacquard loom

After Napoléon Ier's visit in Lyon, the imperial decree of Germinal 25 the year XIII (in April 15, 1805) assigns a 50-franc premium to Jacquard, for every loom endowed with its mechanics, during six years. The Chamber of Commerce of Lyon is in charge of establishing the list of the buyers and of sending it to home secretary. There 1806 , two lists are sent for a total of 41 mechanics and, in 1811, a list of only 16 mechanics. Now, all the historians assert that in 1812 , 12 000 in 18 000 Jacquard looms work in Lyon and that the usage of the others looms is definitively abandoned. The aforesaid inventories contain a column of observations which contains extremely precise information on the number and the kind of looms, the nature of silk tissues, the number and the function of the silk workers. The comparison of the lists of the Chamber of Commerce and the registers of the inventories modifies completely the free assertions of the biographers of Jacquard loom. Force is to notice that the mention "Jacquard loom" appears nowhere. All the weavers owners of mechanics Jacquard loom, without exception, return to the others looms. It is the case of Jacques Rive, doubtless parent of Jacquard, who lived 103 Grande Côte. He acquired a first mechanics on July 16, 1806 and one second on September 10, 1806. The weavers use again drawboys. Indeed, the production of a shaped tissue requires the presence of two persons : a weaver for the basic structure and a drawboy for the production of the decoration. So, the mechanics invented by Jacquard, according to that of Vaucanson, by means of numerous co-workers, is not operational. It will be the french Jean - Antoine Breton which will invent in 1817 a new mechanics, based on the same principles and which will keep, however, the name of Jacquard loom. It is the one that works still in Croix-Rousse.


A new vision of the Factory of Lyons of silk trade

The exhaustive study of the workshops of Lyons indicates that the looms by taffeta occupy more half of the total number of the looms and that the number of looms by big shaped is very reduced : 5 %. Plain taffeta are made on looms working by means of two treadles and of a carette and, for the other armors (sergé, satin, etc.), by means of several treadles. Tissues " small shaped ", said also " to the mechanics " (it is not, naturally , about mechanics said in Jacquard loom), weave on the looms by Verzier, by Brown or by Moron. Finally, one also finds said looms " in Falconne " using the drilled cards. The kind of tissues, in these censuses(inventories), brings precision of a big interest for the knowledge of the production of Lyons. Finally, a study of the occupations working for the factory of Lyons allowed to draw up a long list including more than seventy activities. It would be desirable that historians are interested in these invaluable and detailed inventories to establish a realistic and precise picture of the daily life of Lyonnais under the first Empire.


Jean HUCHARD et Gabriel VIAL, " À propos du métier Jacquard ", dans Créer et produire des formes textiles, colloque à la faculté de philosophie de l’université Lyon 3, 13 et 14 décembre 1984, Lyon, L’Hermès, 1987, pp. 25-47.

Jean HUCHARD, " Joseph Marie Jacquard ", Bulletin de la société historique, archéologique et littéraire de Lyon, T. XXIV, 1995, pp. 7-27.

Jean HUCHARD, " À propos de Jacquard ", Bulletin municipal officiel, n°5104 (18/02/1996) ; n°5105 (25/02/1996) ; n°5195 (16/11/1997) ; n°5196 (23/11/1997) ; n°5219 (03/05/1998) ; n°5220 (10/05/1998) ; n°5267 (04/04/1999) ; n°5281 (11/07/1999) ; n°5309 (23/01/2000) ; n°5310 (30/01/2000) ; n°5346 (08/10/2000) ; n°5368 (11/03/2001). Website Mairie de Lyon