What Is a Power Loom?

A power loom is a mechanical loom that is powered by a drive shaft. Edmund Cartwright designed the power loom in 1784, and the first one was patented and built in 1785.

Prior to the introduction of the power loom in 1785, weaving was done by hand on huge, cumbersome machines. Edmund Cartwright's invention made weaving much easier and more efficient. Everything that was previously done by a weaver's hands and feet was now done by the machine. Even though the process was mostly automated, people were still needed to load the machines and repair them when broken.

The power loom performed well initially, but Edmund Cartwright became bankrupt a few years after his first loom went into operation. William Horrocks made improvements on Cartwright's invention and, in 1802, he patented a new power loom design. It was even more efficient due to an improvement in winding the cloth on the back of the machine. By 1850, there were 250,000 power looms in Britain.

Even though the power loom streamlined the textile industry, there was a downside to the invention. The introduction of the loom resulted in unemployment and reduced wages for employees who were not let go. Since the loom was so easy to operate, there was also an increase in child labor.