The Luddites were a group of English textile workers and weavers in
the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest.
The group was protesting the use of machinery in a "fraudulent and
deceitful manner" to get around standard labour practices. Luddites
feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go
to waste as machines would replace their role in the industry. It
is a misconception that the Luddites protested against the machinery
itself in an attempt to halt the progress of technology. Over time,
however, the term has come to mean one opposed to industrialisation,
automation, computerisation, or new technologies in general. The
Luddite movement began in
Nottingham and culminated in a region-wide
rebellion that lasted from 1811 to 1816. Mill owners took to shooting
protesters and eventually the movement was suppressed with military
2 Historical precedents
3 Birth of the movement
4 Government response
5 In retrospect
6 Modern usage
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Although the origin of the name
Luddite (/ˈlʌd.aɪt/) is uncertain,
the movement was said to be named after Ned Ludd, an apprentice who
allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779 and whose name had
become emblematic of machine destroyers. Ned Ludd, however, was
completely fictional and used as a way to shock the
government. The name evolved into the imaginary General Ludd
or King Ludd, who, like Robin Hood, was reputed to live in Sherwood
The lower classes of the 18th century, generally speaking, were not
openly disloyal to the king or government. Overall, violent action
was rare because punishments were harsh. The majority of individuals
were primarily concerned with meeting their own daily needs. This
movement towards aggression in the 19th century can be seen as part of
the rise in English working-class discontent due to the Industrial
Revolution. Working conditions in the mills were harsh but efficient
enough to threaten the livelihoods of skilled artisans. The new
inventions allowed for faster and cheaper labour because machines were
operated by less-skilled, low-wage labourers. The Luddites were not
afraid of technology and did not attempt to eliminate technology out
of fear. Their goal was instead to gain a better bargaining position
with their employers. Luddism was in fact a prototypical,
insurrectionary labour movement involving a loose coalition of
Research by Kevin Binfield and others asserts that since organized
action by stockingers had occurred at various times since 1675, the
movements of the early 19th century must be viewed in the context of
the hardships suffered by the working class during the Napoleonic
Wars, rather than as an absolute aversion to machinery.
Irregular rises in food prices provoked the
Keelmen working in the
port of Tyne to riot in 1710 and tin miners to steal from
granaries at Falmouth in 1727. There was a rebellion in Northumberland
and Durham in 1740, and the assault of Quaker corn dealers in 1756.
Skilled artisans in the cloth, building, shipbuilding, printing and
cutlery trades organized friendly societies to peacefully insure
themselves against unemployment, sickness, and in some cases against
intrusion of "foreign" labour into their trades, as was common among
Malcolm L. Thomis argued in his 1970 history, The Luddites, that
without the structure of a union, machine-breaking was one of the only
mechanisms workers could use to increase pressure on employers, to
undermine lower-paid competing workers and to create solidarity among
workers, "These attacks on machines did not imply any necessary
hostility to machinery as such; machinery was just a conveniently
exposed target against which an attack could be made."
An agricultural variant of Luddism, centering on the breaking of
threshing machines, occurred during the widespread
Swing Riots of 1830
in southern and eastern England.
Birth of the movement
See also Barthélemy Thimonnier, whose sewing machines were destroyed
by tailors who believed that their jobs were threatened
Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the
Napoleonic Wars, which saw a rise of difficult working conditions in
the new textile factories. Luddites objected primarily to the rising
popularity of automated textile equipment, threatening the jobs and
livelihoods of skilled workers as this technology allowed them to be
replaced by cheaper and less skilled workers. The movement began
Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread rapidly throughout
England over the following two years. Handloom weavers burned
mills and pieces of factory machinery. Textile workers destroyed
industrial equipment during the late 18th century, prompting acts
such as the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788.
The Luddites met at night on the moors surrounding industrial towns to
practice drills and maneuvers. Their main areas of operation began in
Nottinghamshire in November 1811, followed by the West Riding of
Yorkshire in early 1812 then
Lancashire by March 1813. They smashed
stocking frames and cropping frames among others. There does not seem
to have been any political motivation behind the
Luddite riots and
there was no national organization. The men were merely attacking what
they saw as the reason for the decline in their livelihoods.
Luddites battled the
British Army at Burton's Mill in Middleton and at
Westhoughton Mill, both in Lancashire. The Luddites and their
supporters anonymously sent death threats to, and possibly attacked,
magistrates and food merchants. Activists smashed Heathcote's
lacemaking machine in Loughborough in 1816. He and other
industrialists had secret chambers constructed in their buildings that
could be used as hiding places during an attack.
In 1817, an unemployed
Nottingham stockinger and probably ex-Luddite,
Jeremiah Brandreth led the Pentrich Rising. While this was a
general uprising unrelated to machinery, it can be viewed as the last
Later interpretation of machine breaking (1812), showing two men
superimposed on an 1844 engraving from the Penny magazine which shows
a post 1820s Jacquard loom.[c] Machine-breaking was criminalised by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom as early as 1721, the penalty
being penal transportation, but as a result of continued opposition to
Frame Breaking Act
Frame Breaking Act 1812 made the death penalty
available: see "criminal damage in English law".
British Army clashed with the Luddites on several occasions. At
one time there were more British soldiers fighting the Luddites than
there were fighting Napoleon on the Iberian Peninsula.[d] Three
Luddites, led by George Mellor, ambushed and assassinated mill owner
William Horsfall of Ottiwells Mill in
Marsden, West Yorkshire
Marsden, West Yorkshire at
Crosland Moor in Huddersfield. Horsfall had remarked that he would
"Ride up to his saddle in
Luddite blood." Mellor fired the fatal
shot to Horsfall's groin, and all three men were arrested.
Lord Byron denounced what he considered to be the plight of the
working class, the government’s inane policies and ruthless
repression in the
House of Lords
House of Lords on 27 February 1812, "I have been in
some of the most oppressed provinces of Turkey; but never, under the
most despotic of infidel governments, did I behold such squalid
wretchedness as I have seen since my return, in the very heart of a
British government sought to suppress the
Luddite movement with a
mass trial at
York in January 1813, following the attack on
Cartwrights mill at Rawfolds near Cleckheaton. The government charged
over 60 men, including Mellor and his companions, with various crimes
in connection with
Luddite activities. While some of those charged
were actual Luddites, many had no connection to the movement. Although
the proceedings were legitimate jury trials, many were abandoned due
to lack of evidence and 30 men were acquitted. These trials were
certainly intended to act as show trials to deter other Luddites from
continuing their activities. The harsh sentences of those found
guilty, which included execution and penal transportation, quickly
ended the movement.
Parliament made "machine breaking" (i.e. industrial sabotage) a
capital crime with the
Frame Breaking Act
Frame Breaking Act of 1812 and the
Malicious Damage Act 1861.
Lord Byron opposed this legislation,
becoming one of the few prominent defenders of the Luddites after the
treatment of the defendants at the
York trials. Coincidently, Lord
Byron's only legitimate daughter
Ada Lovelace would become the first
computer programmer by combining the technology of the Analytical
Engine with the Jacquard loom.
Karl Marx wrote that it would be some time before workers were
able to distinguish between the machines and "the form of society
which utilizes these instruments" and their ideas. "The instrument of
labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a
competitor of the workman himself."
In the 19th century, occupations that arose from the growth of trade
and shipping in ports, also in 'domestic' manufacturers, were
notorious for precarious employment prospects. Underemployment was
chronic during this period, and it was common practice to retain a
larger workforce than was typically necessary for insurance against
labour shortages in boom times.
Moreover, the organization of manufacture by merchant-capitalists in
the textile industry was inherently unstable. While the financiers'
capital was still largely invested in raw material, it was easy to
increase commitment where trade was good and almost as easy to cut
back when times were bad. Merchant-capitalists lacked the incentive of
later factory owners, whose capital was invested in building and
plants, to maintain a steady rate of production and return on fixed
capital. The combination of seasonal variations in wage rates and
violent short-term fluctuations springing from harvests and war,
periodic outbreaks of violence are more easily understood.
In 1956, a speech said that "organized workers were by no means wedded
Luddite Philosophy." More recently, the term
emerged to describe opposition to many forms of technology.
According to a manifesto drawn up by the Second
(April 1996; Barnesville, Ohio),
Neo-Luddism is "a leaderless movement
of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and
frightening technologies of the Computer Age." 
Luddite fallacy is used by economists in reference to the
fear that technological unemployment inevitably generates structural
unemployment and is consequently macro-economically injurious. If a
technological innovation results in a reduction of necessary labour
inputs in a given sector, then the industry-wide cost of production
falls, which lowers the competitive price and increases the
equilibrium supply point which, theoretically, will require an
increase in aggregate labour inputs.
Turner Controversy – return to pre-industrial methods of production
Ruddington Framework Knitters' Museum – features a
Eric Hobsbawm has called their machine wrecking
"collective bargaining by riot", which had been a tactic used in
Britain since the Restoration, as the scattering of manufactories
throughout the country made large-scale strikes impractical.
^ The Falmouth magistrates reported to the Duke of Newcastle (16 Nov.
1727) that "the unruly tinners" had "broke open and plundered several
cellars and granaries of corn." Their report concludes with a comment
that suggests that they were no more able than some modern historians
to understand the rationale of the direct action of the tinners: "the
occasion of these outrages was pretended by the rioters to be a
scarcity of corn in the county, but this suggestion is probably false,
as most of those who carried off the corn gave it away or sold it at
quarter price." PRO, SP 36/4/22.
^ The Penny Magazine 1844, p.33
^ Hobsbawm has popularized this comparison and refers to the original
Frank Ongley Darvall (1969) Popular Disturbances and
Public Order in Regency England, London, Oxford University Press, p.
^ "What the Luddites Really Fought Against". Retrieved 8 December
^ "Who were the Luddites?". History.com. Retrieved 2016-12-12.
^ "Luddite" Compact Oxford English Dictionary at AskOxford.com.
Accessed February 22, 2010.
^ Anstey at Welcome to Leicester (visitoruk.com) According to this
source, "A half-witted Anstey lad, Ned Ludlam or Ned Ludd, gave his
name to the Luddites, who in the 1800s followed his earlier example by
expressing violence against machinery in protest against the
^ Palmer, Roy, 1998, The Sound of History: Songs and Social Comment,
Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-215890-1, p. 103
^ Chambers, Robert (2004), Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular
Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar, Part 1, Kessinger,
ISBN 978-0-7661-8338-4, p. 357
^ "The National Archives Learning Curve Power, Politics and Protest
the Luddites". The National Archives. Retrieved 19 August
^ Hobsbawm, Eric (2009-07-04). "'The Machine Breakers', Past and
Present 1 (1952), 57–70". Libcom.org. Retrieved 2013-10-04.
^ Author, Frank; Levy, David and Murnane, Richard J. "The Skill
Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration"
Archived 15 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Quarterly Journal of
^ Robert Featherstone Wearmouth (1945). Methodism and the common
people of the eighteenth century. Epworth Press. p. 51. Retrieved
21 April 2013.
^ R. F. Wearmouth, Methodism and the Common People of the Eighteenth
Century. (1945), esp. chs. 1 and 2.
^ Merchant, Brian. "You've Got Luddites All Wrong". Vice. Retrieved 13
^ "You've Got Luddites All Wrong". Motherboard. Retrieved
^ Binfield, Kevin (2004). Luddites and Luddism. Baltimore and London:
The Johns Hopkins University Press.
^ Rude, George (2001). The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular
Disturbances in France and England, 1730–1848. Serif.
^ a b Thomis, Malcolm (1970). The Luddites: Machine Breaking in
Regency England. Shocken.
^ "Historical events – 1685–1782 Historical Account of
Newcastle-upon-Tyne (pp. 47–65)". British-history.ac.uk. 2003-06-22.
^ a b c d Charles Wilson, England's Apprenticeship, 1603-1763 (1965),
pp. 344–45. PRO, SP 36/4/22.
^ Harrison. The Common People. pp. 249–53
^ a b Conniff, Richard. "What the Luddites Really Fought Against".
Smithsonian. Retrieved 2016-10-19.
^ Beckett, John. "Luddites". The
Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway.
Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
^ Conniff, Richard. "What the Luddites Really Fought Against".
smithsonianmag.com. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
^ "The Luddites 1811-1816". www.victorianweb.org. Retrieved
^ Dinwiddy, J.R. (1992). "Luddism and Politics in the Northern
Counties". Radicalism and Reform in Britain, 1780–1850. London:
Hambledon Press. pp. 371–401.
^ Sale 1995, p. 188.
^ "Workmen discover secret chambers". BBC News. Retrieved 31 December
^ Hobsbawm, Eric (1964) "The Machine Breakers" in Labouring Men.
Studies in the History of Labour., London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
^ Sharp, Alan (2015-05-04). Grim Almanac of York. The History Press.
^ Lord Byron, Debate on the 1812 Framework Bill, Hansard,
^ "Luddites in Marsden: Trials at York". Archived from the original on
26 March 2012. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
^ Elizabeth Gaskell: The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Vol. 1, Ch. 6, for
contemporaneous description of attack on Cartwright.
^ "Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812" at books.google.com
^ "The Malicious Damage Act, 1812 at books.google.com
Lord Byron and the Luddites The Socialist Party of Great
Britain". www.worldsocialism.org. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
^ Plant, Sadie (November 1, 1995). "The Future Looms: Weaving Women
and Cybernetics". Body & Society. 1: 45–64 – via Sage
^ Karl Marx, Capital Vol. I, Ch. 15, Sect. 5.
^ Sale 1995, p. 205.
^ Jones, Steve E. (2006). Against technology: from the Luddites to
neo-Luddism. CRC Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-415-97868-2.
^ Sale, Kirkpatrick, America's new Luddites.
^ Jerome, Harry (1934). Mechanization in Industry, National Bureau of
Economic Research. pp. 32–35.
Archer, John E. (2000). "Chapter 4: Industrial Protest". Social unrest
and popular protest in England, 1780–1840. Cambridge University
Press. ISBN 978-0-521-57656-7.
Bailey, Brian J (1998). The
Luddite Rebellion. NYU Press.
Binfield, Kevin (2004). Writings of the Luddites. JHU Press.
Fox, Nicols (2003). Against the Machine: The Hidden
Luddite History in
Literature, Art, and Individual Lives. Island Press.
Grint, Keith & Woolgar, Steve (1997). "The Luddites: Diablo ex
Machina". The machine at work: technology, work, and organization.
Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-7456-0924-9.
Jones, Steven E. (2006). Against technology: from the Luddites to
Neo-Luddism. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-415-97868-2.
Ewan McGaughey (2018). "Will Robots Automate Your Job Away? Full
Employment, Basic Income, and Economic Democracy". ssrn.com.
Randall, Adrian (2002). Before the Luddites: Custom, Community and
Machinery in the English Woollen Industry, 1776–1809. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-89334-3.
Rude, George (2005). "Chapter 5, Luddism". The crowd in History,
1730–1848. Serif. ISBN 978-1-897959-47-3.
Sale, Kirkpatrick (1995). Rebels against the future: the Luddites and
their war on the Industrial Revolution: lessons for the computer age.
Basic Books. ISBN 0-201-40718-3.
Thompson, E. P. (1991). The Making of the English Working Class.
Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-013603-6.
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