John Kay (flying shuttle)
17 June (N.S 28 June) 1704|
Walmersley, Bury, Lancashire, England
|Known for||Flying shuttle|
|Children||Lettice, Robert (drop box inventor), Ann, Samuel, Lucy, James, John, Alice, Shuse, William, (and two other children who died in childhood)|
|Parent(s)||Robert Kay and Ellin Kay, née Entwisle|
John Kay (17 June 1704 – c. 1779) was the inventor of the flying shuttle, which was a key contribution to the Industrial Revolution. He is often confused with his namesake, who built the first "spinning frame".
John Kay was born on 18 June 1704 in the Lancashire hamlet of Walmersley, just north of Bury. His yeoman farmer father, Robert, owned the "Park" estate in Walmersley, and John was born there. Robert died before John was born, leaving Park House to his eldest son. As Robert's fifth son (out of ten children), John was bequeathed £40 (at age 21) and an education until the age of 14. His mother was responsible for educating him until she remarried.
He apprenticed with a hand-loom reed maker, but is said to have returned home within a month claiming to have mastered the business. He designed a metal substitute for the natural reed that proved popular enough for him to sell throughout England. After travelling the country, making and fitting wire reeds, he returned to Bury and, on 29 June 1725, both he and his brother, William, married Bury women. John's wife was Anne Holte. His daughter Lettice was born in 1726, and his son Robert in 1728.
The flying shuttle
In 1733, he received a patent for his most revolutionary device: a "wheeled shuttle" for the hand loom. It greatly accelerated weaving, by allowing the shuttle carrying the weft to be passed through the warp threads faster and over a greater width of cloth. It was designed for the broad loom, for which it saved labour over the traditional process, needing only one operator per loom (before Kay's improvements a second worker was needed to catch the shuttle). 
Kay always called this invention a "wheeled shuttle", but others used the name "fly-shuttle" (and later, "flying shuttle") because of its continuous speed, especially when a young worker was using it in a narrow loom. The shuttle was described as travelling at "a speed which cannot be imagined, so great that the shuttle can only be seen like a tiny cloud which disappears the same instant."
In July 1733, Kay formed a partnership in Colchester, Essex to begin fly-shuttle manufacturing. No industrial unrest was anticipated, this being the first device of the modern era to significantly enhance productivity. But by September 1733 the Colchester weavers, were so concerned for their livelihoods that they petitioned the King to stop Kay's inventions.
Kay tried to promote the fly-shuttle in Bury, but could not convince the woollen manufacturers that it was sufficiently robust; he spent the next two years improving the technology, until it had several advantages over the device specified in the 1733 patent. This was to be one of his difficulties in the coming patent disputes.
In 1738 Kay went to Leeds, where his problem had become royalty collection (the annual licence fee was 15 Shillings per shuttle). He continued to invent, patenting some machines in the same year, though these were not taken up industrially.
The Shuttle Club
Kay (and, initially, his partners) launched numerous patent infringement lawsuits, but if any of these cases were successful, compensation was below the cost of prosecution. Rather than capitulate, the manufacturers formed "the Shuttle Club", a syndicate which paid the costs of any member brought to court; their strategy of patent piracy and mutual indemnification nearly bankrupted Kay.
In 1745, he and Joseph Stell patented a machine for cloth ribbon weaving, which they anticipated might be worked by water wheel, but they were unable to advance their plans because of Kay's legal costs. Impoverished and harassed, Kay was compelled to leave Leeds, and he returned to Bury. Also in 1745, John's twelfth (and final) child, William, was born.
Kay remained inventive; in 1746 he was working on an efficient method of salt production, and designing improvements to spinning technology – but that made him unpopular among Bury spinners. Also, fly-shuttle use was becoming widespread in weaving, increasing cotton yarn demand and its price – and Kay was blamed.
Life in France
He had suffered violent treatment in England, but he did not leave the country on that account, but because of his inability to enforce (or profit from) his patent rights. Trudaine's Bureau de Commerce was known to support textile innovations (and would later actively recruit immigrant inventors). Probably encouraged by the prospect of state support, in 1747, Kay left England for France (where he had never been before, and did not speak the language).
Denied the huge lump sum he wanted, Kay finally agreed to 3,000 livres plus a pension of 2,500 livre, (annually from 1749) in exchange for his patent, and instruction in its use (to the manufactures of Normandy). He retained the sole rights to shuttle production in France, and brought three of his sons to Paris to make them. Although wary of entering the manufacturing provinces (because of his experiences with rioting weavers in England) he was prevailed upon to do so.
At one time, the French authorities may have discouraged his communication with England, but Kay wrote about the unanticipated use of his technology in England to the French government: "My new shuttles are also used in England to make all sorts of narrow woollen goods, although their use could have been more perfect had the weavers consulted me".
The beginning of mechanisation in French textile production is traditionally dated to 1753, with the widespread adoption of the flying shuttle there. Most of these new shuttles were copies, not made by the Kays. John Kay unsuccessfully tried to enforce his manufacturing monopoly, and began to quarrel with the French authorities, briefly returning to England, in 1756 (it is said that he was in his Bury home in 1753 when it was vandalised by a mob – and that he narrowly escaped with his life, but this is probably a 19th-century tale based on earlier Colchester riots; Kay was probably in France throughout the early 1750s).
He found his prospects in England unimproved; by 1758 he was back in France, which became his adopted country, though he was to visit England at least twice more. In the winter of 1765/66 he appealed to the Royal Society of Arts to reward him for his inventions, and exhibited his card-making machine for them. The Society could find no-one who understood the shuttle, and there was a breakdown in correspondence, so that no award was ever made. He was in England again in 1773, but returned to France in 1774 having lost his pension (at aged 70).
His offer to teach pupils if the pension were restored was not taken up, and he spent his remaining years developing and building machines for cotton manufacturers in Sens and Troyes. Though he was busy with engineering and letter-writing until 1779, he received only 1,700 livres from the French state over these five years, reaching a state of penury in March 1778 before receiving his final advance (to develop yet more machinery).
His last known letter (8 June 1779) listed his latest achievements for the Intendant de Commerce, and proposed further inventions. But since these were never made, and no more is heard of the 75-year-old Kay, it is believed that he must have died later in 1779.
In Bury, Kay has become a local hero: there are still several pubs named after him, as are the Kay Gardens. Bury town centre has William Venn Gough's 1908 Memorial to John Kay (sculpture by John Cassidy). Planning began after a 1903 Bury public meeting launched a public subscription. 19th century efforts to acknowledge Kay achieved little, but by 1903 it was felt that Bury "owed John Kay's memory an atonement", and that all Bury should contribute in restitution to "that wonderfully ingenious and martyred man".
His son John ("French Kay") had long resided with his father in France. In 1782 he provided an account of his father's troubles to Richard Arkwright, who sought to highlight problems with patent defence in a parliamentary petition.
In the 1840s, Thomas Sutcliffe (one of Kay's great-grandsons) campaigned to promote a Colchester heritage for Kay's family. In 1846 he unsuccessfully sought a parliamentary grant for Kay's descendants (in compensation for his ancestor's treatment in England). He was inaccurate in the details of his grandfather's genealogy and story, and his "Fanciful and Erroneous Statements" were discredited by John Lord's detailed examination of primary sources.
- Lord, J. (1903). Memoir of John Kay of Bury, inventor of the fly-shuttle. With a review of the textile trade and manufacture from earliest times . Rochdale: James Clegg. ISBN 978-1-150-68477-7. OCLC 12536656.
- "Science and Society Picture Library".
- John Ainsworth (b. 1777) says in his book Walks around Bury (1842) that he saw this picture in 1842, and that it appeared to show the inventor's son who he knew "very well". Although Ainsworth knew the son as an old man, and could not have met the inventor himself, Lord (1903) wrote that this "settles the question of doubt as regards the portraits which Lieut.-Col. Sutcliffe put into circulation as a portrait of his great-grandfather" (the fly-shuttle inventor) because Ainsworth is a more reliable source than Sutcliffe, who originated the claim that the elder John Kay is pictured.
Mann, J. de L. (January 1931). "XXII: The introduction of the fly shuttle". The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. Book V. Manchester University Press. p. 449. ASIN B0006ALG3Y.
This son was known in later life in Bury as "Frenchman Kay," and the portrait supposed to be that of the inventor is really his.As well as the identification of the sitter given by John Ainsworth, the "French" clothing and tricorne were characteristic of "Frenchman" John Kay in 1790s Bury (where he was considered a "fop" -see Lord (1903) pages 91–92).
- Lord, John (1903). "IV: Documentary Evidence of Descent". Memoir of John Kay. J. Clegg. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-150-68477-7. OCLC 12536656.
Hills, R. L. (August 1998). "Kay (of Bury), John". In Day, L.; McNeil, I. Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (1 ed.). Routledge. p. 393. ISBN 978-0-415-19399-3.
b. 16 July 1704 d. 1779 France... 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.
- J. B. Thompson's 1964 summary in The achievements of Western civilisation says "date of death unknown". Nobody has yet found exact records or year of his death, though all sources agree it occurred in France between 1764 and 1780. His final year is often given as 1764 (for instance, by the London Science Museum) and often as 1780 (e.g. the BBC's History of the world gives a 1780 death date in the South of France at age 76). Lord (1903) was skeptical that Kay reached 70. And, in the Bury Times (27 December 1902) Lord wrote "The death of John Kay, in Paris, occurred in 1767 or 1768" (see: Bygone Bury p. 108). Lord acknowledges that no Paris death registration exists for John Kay between 1750 and 1770, but says that this is because "documents of all kinds were destroyed during the Commune revolutionary days" —see Lord (1903) p. 169. Mann (1931) reports a July 1779 letter from Kay (largely ruling out earlier dates) but says that he very probably died shortly after the letter was written and that the author of Thoughts on the Use of Machines (1780, probably Dorning Rasbotham) makes a "natural error" in writing that Kay was still alive in 1780.
- Mann (1931) p. 464-465
- Lord, J. (1903). "VI: John Kay, Inventor of the Fly-Shuttle". Memoir of John Kay. p. 96. OCLC 12536656.
He married in 1725, Anne, the daughter of John Holte, probably a near neighbour, and set up housekeeping at Park.
- Lord (1903) p.82
- Lord (1903) p.91, reports the 1850 recollections of John Kay's great-granddaughter, who called the Kays of Park "Jacobites... High Churchmen in Religion and Radical Reformers in Politics."
- Kay, J. (2 January 2003). "Weaving the fine fabric of success". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
technological progress is equally dependent on skills of invention and the management of invention(John Kay's essay on the two John Kays of the Industrial Revolution).
- "John Kay, inventor of the flying shuttle". Cotton Times: understanding the Industrial Revolution. 8 December 2007. p. 1. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
The life of John Kay is sketchy and frequently confusing.
- Espinasse, F. (1874). Lancashire worthies. Simpkin, Marshall, & Co. OCLC 10973235. "who has not the slightest connection with John Kay, the inventor of the fly-shuttle" (p. 330)... "John Kay, a watchmaker, who is not for a moment to be confounded with John Kay of Bury, the undoubted inventor of the fly-shuttle" (p. 378)
- Lord (1903) p.86 – The Park House, pictured.
- Lord (1903) p.76
- Lord (1903) p.91
- Lord, John (1903). "Genealogical Records". Memoir of John Kay. p. 132. ISBN 978-1-150-68477-7.
- Lord (1903) p. 81
- "John Kay 1704–1780 Inventor of the Flying Shuttle". Cotton Town website. Archived from the original on 23 September 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2010. External link in
"Introduction". Patents for inventions. Abridgments of specifications relating to weaving. Part II, A.D. 1860–1866. Patent office. 1871. p. xix. OCLC 49958504.
In the year 1733 John Kay obtained a Patent (No. 542) for the fly shuttle, and in the year 1760 his son Robert Kay invented the drop box [...] In the year 1745, John Kay and Joseph Stell obtained a Patent (No. 612) for a loom for weaving tapes and other goods in narrow breadths
- More specifically, for a "New Engine or Machine for Opening and Dressing Wool" that incorporated his flying shuttle – John Kay Biography (1704–1764)[permanent dead link]. A less important portion of the same patent (British patent no. 542) describes the 'batting machine' he had invented to rid the wool of dust. The critical specification attached to the patent dated 26 May 1733 (No. 542) describes "A new invented shuttle, for the better and more exact weaving of broad cloths, broad bays, sail cloths or any other broad goods...by running on four wheels moves over the lower side of the web and spring, on a board about nine feet long... a small cord commanded by the hand of the weaver, the weaver, sitting in the middle of the loom, with great ease and expedition by a small pull at the cord casts or moves the said new invented shuttle from side to side", quoted in Mantoux (1928).
Macy, A. W. (1912). "John Kay and his flying shuttle". Curious bits of history. The Cosmopolitan press. p. 171. OCLC 7323638.
He profited very little by his invention, and is said to have died in a foreign land, in poverty and obscurity.
- "1733 – Flying Shuttle, Automation of Textile Making".
Williams (October 1904). A history of science. 9. New York: Harper. p. 42. OCLC 545235.
John Kay and his son Robert may justly be considered the originators of modern weaving process.
|last1=in Authors list (help)
- Bigwood, G. (1919). Knox, G. D., ed. Cotton. Staple trades and industries. II. New York: Holt. p. 37. OCLC 2052367.
he gave to the weaver's shuttle a mechanical impulse entirely displacing the shuttle which up to that time had been thrown backwards across the loom by two operatives. This old shuttle was practically the same as that mentioned in the Book of Job(However, the Bury town meeting called to honour John Kay in 1903 noted that the biblical shuttle was still in use at that time in India, where two people often still worked a single loom —though mill production was flourishing there.)
- Roland de la Platière, Encyclopédie Méthodique (1785). Translation given in Mann (1931) p.470. If Roland wrote this part of the Encyclopédie Méthodique, he was writing about a shuttle he'd seen in Rouen in 1785, that would have been manufactured under Kay's supervision, or modelled after his design.
- Mann, J. de L.; Wadsworth, A. P. (1931). "The introduction of the fly shuttle". The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. Manchester University Press. p. 451.
As one of the principal centres for the manufacture of bays, which were largely made on the broad loom, it [Colchester] offered as good an opportunity as could be found in any place for discovering a partner with capital to take up the invention... Kay and Smith each took two shares and Abbott one of the five into which the patent was divided.
- Mok, M. (March 1931). "Will you lose your job because of a new machine?". Popular Science. 118 (3 – 154 pages – Magazine): 19.
Dickens, C., ed. (1860). All the year round. 3. p. 63. OCLC 1479125.
the natural balance between spinning and weaving was so much disturbed. John Kay, of Bury, had just invented the fly-shuttle, which enabled the weaver to get through as much work again as before; and he had been mobbed and nearly killed for his pains. He escaped, wrapped up in a sheet of cotton wool, and was thus carried bodily through the mob
- Mann, J. de L. (1931). The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. The transition to machine spinning. pp. 452–454.
No one denied that Kay had invented the wooden tenders and cord, by the use of which weaving the broad loom could be done by one man instead of two, but this was represented to have given rise to so many difficulties that Kay himself had done away with it... [A patent-action defendant] justified himself by pointing out that the fixed spool was not mentioned in the patent, and that the large 24-inch shuttle which he had been making was completely different from the 15-inch shuttle used by Kay in his first demonstration.
- Mantoux, P. (1928). "Machinery in the textile industry". The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century: An Outline of the Beginnings of the Modern Factory System in England. pp. 207–208. ISBN 978-0-226-50384-4.
- Stephen, L.; Lee, S. (1908). "KAY, JOHN". Dictionary of National Biography. 10. p. 1135. ISBN 978-1-146-79385-8. In 1738 Patent No. 561 was issued to Kay for a windmill for working pumps and for an improved pump-chain.
Mann, J. de L. (1931). The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. V. p. 451. OL 16534004M.
Between 1737 and 1743 the partners brought several actions against weavers for infringement of the patent. It is probable that none of them were ever decided. Chancery proceedings were proverbially long drawn out, but in some of the earlier actions Kay's legal rights seem to have been doubtful.
Barlow (1878). "Chapter V: The fly shuttle-hand shuttle-drop boxes, etc.-John Kay". The history and principles of weaving by hand and by power. p. 96.
Kay was equally determined to enforce his rights, and nearly ruined himself in Chancery suits, although they were decided in his favour.
|last1=in Authors list (help)
- Barlow (1878) p.97
- Mann (1931) p.456
- Mantoux (1928) says that the shuttle appears in some districts much later, and violence against the 'engine weavers' was continuing in 1760s London (pg.208). In Britain, the invention was only acknowledged to be in 'general use' by 1760, and then only for cotton, but it was standard practice much earlier. In 1747, before making any offers to Kay, the French Government inquired in London about the shuttles' uptake, and were assured that "no one uses anything but his shuttles" – Mann (1931) p.467. The impression that the "fly-shuttle" had been very widely adopted by 1746 may have been due to a confusion of this advance with another that Kay had made in 1734–1735: in the method of shuttle bobbin winding to reduce breaks. It was this simpler step that was first widely copied and became known as "Kay's shuttle"; this improved, non-wheeled shuttle was in (dubiously legal) general use throughout Lancashire and Yorkshire by 1737, and also substantially increased productivity – see: Mann (1931) p.467-468.
- Beggs-Humphreys, M.; Gregor, H.; Humphreys, D. (April 2006). "The revolution in spinning and weaving". The Industrial Revolution. Routledge Economic History. Routledge. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-415-38222-9.
It became possible to make a much wider cloth than before, and to produce four times as much.
- Inability to enforce patent is the reason given by Kay – Mann (1931) p. 456
- Mann, J. de L. (1931). "The French Cotton Industry and its relations with England". The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. V. pp. 197–199.
Trudaine had plans for introducing foreign workmen from every country which excelled in the cotton manufacture
- Mann (1931) p.195 proposes that the prospect of French state support attracted Kay and later inventors to France. Also, Kay's politics and religion would have been compatible (as that of Hugenotes inventors probably were not).
- Mann, J. de L. (1931). "XXII(i) Kay's career in England and France". The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. V. Manchester University Press. pp. 458–459.
Kay himself desired a sum of money to be paid down for the entire rights to the shuttles, and asked what the Government considered the exorbitant price of £10,000 sterling.(The amount Kay demanded would be equivalent to £1.47 million at today's prices.)
- He did not hold the right of production in Languedoc, having sold all rights there (for 15,000 livres) before reaching agreement with the French Government in 1749. But outside of Langudoc, he retained the monopoly on legal production of fly-shuttles for use in France, see: Mann, J. de L.; Wadsworth, A. P. (1931). "Kay's career in England and France". The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. p. 460.
- Although Kay certainly did write to the Society of Arts, and was in contact with his sons in Bury, it was thought by some in England that was unreachable; a letter published in Williamson's Liverpool Advertiser Archived 27 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine. is 7 February 1766 reads "a long time ago he was obliged to decline all Correspondence with his native land as it was not agreeable to his new Masters"
- Letter in the French Archives nationales. Extract quoted p. 470 of Mann (1931) from the Paris archives range F/12 (992 à 1083: Inventions & related correspondence 1702–1830) section 993.
- Smith, M. S. (January 2006). "Textile capitalism". The emergence of modern business enterprise in France, 1800–1930. Harvard University Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-674-01939-3.
- Mann, J. de L. (1931). "Kay's career in England and France". The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. p. 460.
- According to Barlow (1878) Kay only survived this 1753 break-in because "two friends carried him away in a wool sheet" -a story given by Dickens in his weekly magazine 28 April 1860, and traced back to a 1766 letter from an unconnected party in the Williamson's Liverpool Advertiser by Mann (1931). Bennet Woodcroft's A Complete History of the Cotton Trade says he was smuggled out in a "sack of wool" (p.302).
- Although he (or his son) wrote of an anti-"Wheel Shuttle" riot, no mention of a 1753 attack predates the 19th century and this story has probably grown out of earlier disturbances in Colchester – see Mann (1931) p.456
- Mann (1931) p. 463-464
- "Manchester Engineers and Inventors". www.manchester2002-uk.com. Archived from the original on 3 August 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
- Wyke, T.; Cocks, H. (2005). Public sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool University Press. pp. 244–246. ISBN 978-0-85323-567-5.
Inscription on bronze panel beneath an oval portrait medallion of Kay:... TO PERPETUATE THE NAME AND FAME OF JOHN KAY OF BURY. WHOSE INVENTION IN THE YEAR 1733 OF THE FLY SHUTTLE QUADRUPLED HUMAN POWER IN WEAVING & PLACED ENGLAND IN THE FRONT RANK AS THE BEST MARKET IN THE WORLD FOR TEXTILE MANUFACTURERS. HE WAS BORN IN BURY IN 1704, AND DIED IN EXILE AND POVERTY IN FRANCE, WHERE HE LIES IN AN UNKNOWN GRAVE(Many more images and details of the memorial are available at johncassidy.org.)
- "The John Kay Memorial". Bury Times. 18 March 1903.
- If Robert stayed in France at all, he had permanently returned to Bury by 1748. Since Robert was born in 1728, he probably never left Britain when John Kay did. See: Hills, R. L. (1998). "Kay, Robert". In Day, L.; McNeil. Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology. p. 393. ISBN 978-0-415-19399-3.
Between 1760 and 1763 Robert Kay may have written a pamphlet describing the invention of the flying shuttle and the attack on his father, pointing out how much his father had suffered and that there had been no redress.
|last3=in Editors list (help)
Chisholm, H. (1911). "Weaving". The Encyclopædia britannica (11th ed.). p. 447. OCLC 1303014.
Robert Kay invented drop boxes in 1760, but they were not successfully applied to the power loom until 1845
Fitton, R. S. (1989). "Arkwright on the offensive". The Arkwrights: spinners of fortune. Manchester University Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-7190-2646-1.
[He] was obliged to leave his native country having spent large sums in lawsuits in defending his Patent against a combination of weavers who had an intention to murder him
- Mann, J. de L. (1931). "Kay's career in England and France". The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780. Manchester University Press. p. 449.
These legends mainly originated in the imagination of his great-grandson... It is untrue that John Kay was of gentle birth, that he directed a "factory" at Colchester owned by his father... [or] that he was forced to sell the family estate to the first Robert Peel.
- Lord, John (1903). "III: The Fanciful and Erroneous Statements regarding John Kay, made by Lieut.-Col Thomas Sutcliffe, Great-Grandson of the Inventor". Memoir of John Kay, of Bury, County of Lancaster, Inventor of the Fly-Shuttle, Metal Reeds, etc., etc. J. Clegg. p. 40. OCLC 12536656.
- Whilst Colchester had a long association with weaving and the wool trade, this link seems to rely on an 1848 source (White's History Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Essex) which has been repeated uncritically by later writers. There is an exploration of this in an article by Don Scott in the Essex Journal (Essex Journal: 6–9. Spring 2008. Missing or empty
|title=(help)) which finds no independent evidence of the Colchester connection. (This article also explores the archives of the Royal Society of Arts and their dealings with John Kay.)
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