Girard, Philippe de

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. 1775 France
d. 1845
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French developer of a successful flax-heckling machine for the preparation of fibres for power-spinning.
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Early drawing and spinning processes failed to give linen yarn the requisite fineness and homogeneity. In 1810 Napoleon offered a prize of a million francs for a successful flax-spinning machine as part of his policy of stimulating the French textile industries. Spurred on by this offer, Girard suggested three improvements. He was too late to win the prize, but his ideas were patented in England in 1814, although not under his own name. He proposed that the fibres should be soaked in a very hot alkaline solution both before drawing and immediately before they went to the spindles. The actual drawing was to be done by passing the dried material through combs or gills that moved alternately; gill drawing was taken up in England in 1816. His method of wet spinning was never a commercial success, but his processes were adopted in part and developed in Britain and spread to Austria, Poland and France, for his ideas were essentially good and produced a superior product. The successful power-spinning of linen thread from flax depended primarily upon the initial processes of heckling and drawing. The heckling of the bundles or stricks of flax, so as to separate the long fibres of "line" from the shorter ones of "tow", was extremely difficult to mechanize, for each strick had to be combed on both sides in turn and then in the reverse direction. It was to this problem that Girard next turned his attention, inventing a successful machine in 1832 that subsequently was improved in England. The strick was placed between two vertical sheets of combs that moved opposite to each other, depositing the tow upon a revolving cylinder covered with a brush at the bottom of the machine, while the holder from which the strick was suspended moved up and down so as to help the teeth to penetrate deeper into the flax. The tow was removed from the cylinder at the bottom of the machine and taken away to be spun like cotton. The long line fibres were removed from the top of the machine and required further processing if the yarn was to be uniform.
When N.L.Sadi Carnot's book Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu, was published in 1824, Girard made a favourable report on it.
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Further Reading
M.Daumas (ed.), 1968, Histoire générale des techniques, Vol. III: L'Expansion du
Machinisme, Paris.
C.Singer (ed.), 1958, A History of'Technology, Vol. IV, Oxford: Clarendon Press. T.K.Derry and T.I.Williams, 1960, A Short History of Technology from the Earliest
Times to AD 1900, Oxford.
W.A.McCutcheon, 1966–7, "Water power in the North of Ireland", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 39 (discusses the spinning of flax and mentions Girard).
RLH

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

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