The First Commercial Re-programmable Machines Were Used For?
Long before IBM’s general purpose computers were calculating artillery tables or crunching retirement benefits for the Social Security Administration, there were re-programmable machines of a more humble and focused sort on the market.
In the mid-20th century, punch cards had become ubiquitous with computing. Equations, data, and programs alike could be fed into computers via punch readers and the computers could perform a wide array of functions based on such simple analog input. Before punch cards became the basis of general purpose computing inputs and outputs, however, they were put to use in the weaving industry.
In 1801, inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard developed a loom which utilized paper tape (chains) constructed from punched cards to control the patterns being woven by the machine. These weaving programs allowed factories to switch between weaving patterns without retooling the machines or changing their mechanical design. Although more than a century and a half away from the heyday of general purpose punch card programming, these early programmable looms were an absolute landmark in the history of programmable devices and laid the groundwork for future developments in computing.
Image courtesy of Ashley Dace.