Dawson, William

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. mid-eighteenth century
d. c.1805 London, England
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English inventor of the notched wheel for making patterns on early warp knitting machines.
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William Dawson, a Leicester framework knitter, made an important addition to William Lee's knitting machine with his invention of the notched wheel in 1791. Lee's machine could make only plain knitting; to be able to knit patterns, there had to be some means of mechanically selecting and operating, independently of all the others, any individual thread, needle, lever or bar at work in the machine. This was partly achieved when Dawson devised a wheel that was irregularly notched on its edge and which, when rotated, pushed sprung bars, which in turn operated on the needles or other parts of the recently invented warp knitting machines. He seems to have first applied the idea for the knitting of military sashes, but then found it could be adapted to plait stay laces with great rapidity. With the financial assistance of two Leicester manufacturers and with his own good mechanical ability, Dawson found a way of cutting his wheels. However, the two financiers withdrew their support because he did not finish the design on time, although he was able to find a friend in a Nottingham architect, Mr Gregory, who helped him to obtain the patent. A number of his machines were set up in Nottingham but, like many other geniuses, he squandered his money away. When the patent expired, he asked Lord Chancellor Eldon to have it renewed: he moved his workshop to London, where Eldon inspected his machine, but the patent was not extended and in consequence Dawson committed suicide.
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Bibliography
1791, British patent no. 1,820 (notched wheel for knitting machine).
Further Reading
W.Felkin, 1867, History of Machine-Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufacture (covers Dawson's invention).
W.English, 1969, The Textile Industry, London (provides an outline history of the development of knitting machines).
RLH

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

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