Kay (of Bury), John

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. 16 July 1704 Walmersley, near Bury, Lancashire, England
d. 1779 France
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English inventor of the flying shuttle.
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John Kay was the youngest of five sons of a yeoman farmer of Walmersley, near Bury, Lancashire, who died before his birth. John was apprenticed to a reedmaker, and just before he was 21 he married a daughter of John Hall of Bury and carried on his trade in that town until 1733. It is possible that his first patent, taken out in 1730, was connected with this business because it was for an engine that made mohair thread for tailors and twisted and dressed thread; such thread could have been used to bind up the reeds used in looms. He also improved the reeds by making them from metal instead of cane strips so they lasted much longer and could be made to be much finer. His next patent in 1733, was a double one. One part of it was for a batting machine to remove dust from wool by beating it with sticks, but the patent is better known for its description of the flying shuttle. Kay placed boxes to receive the shuttle at either end of the reed or sley. Across the open top of these boxes was a metal rod along which a picking peg could slide and drive the shuttle out across the loom. The pegs at each end were connected by strings to a stick that was held in the right hand of the weaver and which jerked the shuttle out of the box. The shuttle had wheels to make it "fly" across the warp more easily, and ran on a shuttle race to support and guide it. Not only was weaving speeded up, but the weaver could produce broader cloth without any aid from a second person. This invention was later adapted for the power loom. Kay moved to Colchester and entered into partnership with a baymaker named Solomon Smith and a year later was joined by William Carter of Ballingdon, Essex. His shuttle was received with considerable hostility in both Lancashire and Essex, but it was probably more his charge of 15 shillings a year for its use that roused the antagonism. From 1737 he was much involved with lawsuits to try and protect his patent, particularly the part that specified the method of winding the thread onto a fixed bobbin in the shuttle. In 1738 Kay patented a windmill for working pumps and an improved chain pump, but neither of these seems to have been successful. In 1745, with Joseph Stell of Keighley, he patented a narrow fabric loom that could be worked by power; this type may have been employed by Gartside in Manchester soon afterwards. It was probably through failure to protect his patent rights that Kay moved to France, where he arrived penniless in 1747. He went to the Dutch firm of Daniel Scalongne, woollen manufacturers, in Abbeville. The company helped him to apply for a French patent for his shuttle, but Kay wanted the exorbitant sum of £10,000. There was much discussion and eventually Kay set up a workshop in Paris, where he received a pension of 2,500 livres. However, he was to face the same problems as in England with weavers copying his shuttle without permission. In 1754 he produced two machines for making card clothing: one pierced holes in the leather, while the other cut and sharpened the wires. These were later improved by his son, Robert Kay. Kay returned to England briefly, but was back in France in 1758. He was involved with machines to card both cotton and wool and tried again to obtain support from the French Government. He was still involved with developing textile machines in 1779, when he was 75, but he must have died soon afterwards. As an inventor Kay was a genius of the first rank, but he was vain, obstinate and suspicious and was destitute of business qualities.
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Bibliography
1730, British patent no. 515 (machine for making mohair thread). 1733, British patent no. 542 (batting machine and flying shuttle). 1738, British patent no. 561 (pump windmill and chain pump). 1745, with Joseph Stell, British patent no. 612 (power loom).
Further Reading
B.Woodcroft, 1863, Brief Biographies of Inventors or Machines for the Manufacture of Textile Fabrics, London.
J.Lord, 1903, Memoir of John Kay, (a more accurate account).
Descriptions of his inventions may be found in A.Barlow, 1878, The History and Principles of Weaving by Hand and by Power, London; R.L. Hills, 1970, Power in the
Industrial Revolution, Manchester; and C.Singer (ed.), 1957, A History of
Technology, Vol. III, Oxford: Clarendon Press. The most important record, however, is in A.P.Wadsworth and J. de L. Mann, 1931, The Cotton Trade and Industrial
Lancashire, Manchester.
RLH

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

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