MAKE | Laser-cut Punch Cards for Jacquard Looms
Richard Jeryan and his wife Chris are awesome.
You see, the manufacturers of Jacquard Looms used proprietary authoring tools and file formats. As a result, some surviving looms can’t have new patterns written for them, because the key punchers have been lost.
The traditional way to create a card is to use a custom key puncher. The key puncher is designed for the specific loom, and you can’t use a key puncher from one manufacturer to create cards for a different loom.
These devices are humanity’s first numerically-controlled engines of creation. They were among the first devices to use punch cards to store data1. They inspired Charles Babbage to use punch cards in his plans for the Analytical Engine. They’re marvels of industrial engineering, and many of them have survived through today, over a hundred years later.
And we couldn’t use them for anything new, because the key to their copy protection was lost.
Enter Richard and Chris of Greenfield Village at Henry Ford. They’re using laser cutters to make new patterns in punch cards, unlocking machines that would otherwise have sat useless, crippled by 19th century DRM.
I hope we can start documenting and archiving these formats and the tools to unlock them. This is only the beginning of a very, very hard job.