Skinner, Halcyon

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b. 6 March 1824 Mantua, Ohio, USA
d. 28 November 1900 USA
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American inventor of a machine for making Royal Axminster and other carpets.
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Halcyon was the son of Joseph and Susan Skinner. When he was 8 years old, his parents moved to Stockbridge in Massachusetts, where he obtained education locally and worked on farms. In 1838 his father moved to West Farms, New York, where Halcyon helped his father make violins and guitars for seven years. He then worked as a general carpenter for eight years until he was hired in 1849 by Alexander Smith, a carpet manufacturer. Skinner designed and constructed a hand loom that could weave figured instead of striped carpets, and by 1851 Smith had one hundred of these at work. Skinner was retained by Smith for forty years as a mechanical expert and adviser.
Weaving carpets by power started in the 1850s on enormous and complex machines. Axminster carpets had traditionally been produced in a similar way to those made by hand in Persia, with the tufts of woollen yarn being knotted around vertical warp threads. To mechanize this process proved very difficult, but Skinner patented a loom in 1856 to weave Axminster carpets although, it was not working successfully until 1860. Then in 1864 he developed a loom for weaving ingrain carpets, and c. 1870 he altered some imported English looms for weaving tapestry carpets to double their output.
His most important invention was conceived in 1876 and patented on 16 January 1877. This was the Moquette or Royal Axminster loom, which marked yet another important step forward and enabled the use of an unlimited number of colours in carpet designs. This type of loom became known as the Spool Axminster because of the endless chain of spools carrying lengths of coloured yarns, wound in a predetermined order, from which short pieces could be cut and inserted as the tufts. It put Smith's company, Alexander Smith \& Sons, Yonkers, New York, in the lead among American carpet manufacturers. This type of loom was introduced to Britain in 1878 by Tomkinson \& Adam and spread rapidly. Skinner virtually retired in 1889 but continued to live in Yonkers.
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Further Reading
Biography, American Machinist 23.
Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII.
G.Robinson, 1966, Carpets, London (for the history and techniques of carpet weaving).
A.Barlow, 1878, The History and Principles of Weaving by Hand and by Power, London (includes a section on pile weaving which covers some types of carpets).
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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