Who Were the Luddites, and What Did They Believe In?

The Luddites were textile workers in England in the early 19th century who violently protested technology that was costing them their jobs. Although they were not opposed to technology itself, they decried the way it was changing their lives.

The Luddite movement began in Nottingham, England, in March 1811. After British troops broke up a protest at a textile factory, the workers went to a nearby village armed with axes and hammers, broke into workshops, and smashed machinery, such as wool frames. When workshop guards resisted the attackers, one of the Luddites was shot and killed. The movement spread throughout the countryside. So many factories were attacked and machines destroyed that Parliament passed a law making machine-breaking a capital hanging offense akin to murder.

In late 1812, after a series of trials, 14 Luddites were hanged, and a number of others were exiled to a British penal colony in Tasmania off the coast of Australia. Although isolated incidents of violence continued, widespread protest ceased by around 1813.

The Luddites got their name from their fictional leader, known variously as Ned Ludd, General Ludd or King Ludd, an elusive character who lived in Sherwood Forest like Robin Hood. An apocryphal story was told that the legendary Ned Ludd was based on a weaving apprentice named Ludd who was admonished by his superior and retaliated by smashing his stocking frame with a hammer. Over time, the term "Luddite" came to refer to anyone who has an unreasonable fear of technology.