Johnson, Thomas

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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fl. 1800s England
d. after 1846
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English developer of the sizing and beaming machine, and improver of the hand loom.
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Thomas Johnson was an assistant to William Radcliffe c.1802 in his developments of the sizing machine and hand looms. Johnson is described by Edward Baines (1835) as "an ingenious but dissipated young man to whom he [Radcliffe] explained what he wanted, and whose fertile invention suggested a great variety of expedients, so that he obtained the name of the “conjuror” among his fellow-workmen". Johnson's genius, and Radcliffe's judgement and perseverance, at length produced the dressing-machine that was soon applied to power looms and made their use economic. Cotton warps had to be dressed with a starch paste to prevent them from fraying as they were being woven. Up to this time, the paste had had to be applied as the warp was unwound from the back of the loom, which meant that only short lengths could be treated and then left to dry, holding up the weaver. Radcliffe carried out the dressing and beaming in a separate machine so that weaving could proceed without interruption. Work on the dressing-machine was carried out in 1802 and patents were taken out in 1803 and 1804. These were made out in Johnson's name because Radcliffe was afraid that if his own name were used other people, particularly foreigners, would discover his secrets. Two more patents were taken out for improvements to hand looms. The first of these was a take-up motion for the woven cloth that automatically wound the cloth onto a roller as the weaver operated the loom. This was later incorporated by H.Horrocks into his own power loom design.
Radcliffe and Johnson also developed the "dandy-loom", which was a more compact form of hand loom and later became adapted for weaving by power. Johnson was the inventor of the first circular or revolving temples, which kept the woven cloth at the right width. In the patent specifications there is a patent in 1805 by Thomas Johnson and James Kay for an improved power loom and another in 1807 for a vertical type of power loom. Johnson could have been involved with further patents in the 1830s and 1840s for vertical power looms and dressing-machines, which would put his death after 1846.
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Bibliography
1802, British patent no. 2,684 (dressing-machine).
1803, British patent no. 2,771 (dressing-machine).
1805, with James Kay, British patent no. 2,876 (power-loom). 1807, British patent no. 6,570 (vertical powerloom).
Further Reading
There is no general account of Johnson's life, but references to his work with Radcliffe may be found in A.Barlow, 1878, The History and Principles of Weaving by Hand and by Power, London; and in E.Baines, 1835, History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain, London.
D.J.Jeremy, 1981, Transatlantic Industrial Revolution. The Diffusion of Textile Technologies Between Britain and America, 1790–1830s, Oxford (for the impact of the dressing-machine in America).
RLH

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

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