LudditeToday marks the anniversary of the first Luddite riot. Chambers Book of Days calls it “a black-letter day in the annals of Nottinghamshire.”

Luddites were stocking knitters and wool croppers in Nottingham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, who were trying to save their livelihoods by smashing the machines that replaced them. They were against being replaced by low-skilled workers. They wanted their fair pay. They also wanted an end to inferior products created by machine which undermined the reputation of their craft.

On March 11, 1811, the first Luddites destroyed sixty-three knitting frames, sparking a series of such incidents that spanned over about 6 years.

FrameBreaking-1812No one knows for certain where the name Luddites came from. It is said to have originated from an apprentice weaver named Ludd who smashed his loom in anger at the master who beat him. Or, less dramatically, The Book of Days says a youth named Ludlam who when his framework-knitter father told him to “square his needles” took his hammer and smashed them.

However the name originated, the leaders of the rioting against the industrialization of their craft came to be called General Ludd or King Ludd, and the character became as legendary as  Robin Hood.

The government refused to step in to aid the Luddites (in spite of Lord Byron speaking in their behalf in Parliament). They focussed on enforcement, but, because the Luddites disguised themselves and because their communities were so tightly unified with them, most were never caught and punished. Basically the rioters and protesters, the machine smashers, were all desperate enough to risk hanging or transportation.

Eventually enough machines were destroyed and enough manufacturers were willing to cede to the Luddites wishes that the movement lost some steam. Even though some Luddite leaders joined other movements for social change. By 1817 frame smashing ceased to become an issue.

Today we still use the term Luddite to refer to any opponent of industrial change or innovation.

I can’t say I’m an opponent of industrial innovation, but I sure can’t figure out how to use all the features on my Smart TV!

In what way are you a Luddite? Or, if not you, do you know a Luddite?

(by the way, I’ll pick Sally MacKenzie’s winner after 12 midnight tonight)

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Linda B
Linda B
9 years ago

I certainly enjoyed reading today’s post; I love learning little tidbits of history. I think that a recent novel I read (part of the Morland series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles) was set during this era of industrial unrest.

Laurel Hawkes
9 years ago

I suppose those who don’t know me well would consider me a luddite since I don’t own a smart phone or even text. The difference is that I don’t mind if others have it. I simply don’t want to deal with one more thing. When I’m away from my computer I want to be honestly away. I don’t even always take my cell phone with me when I leave the house.

9 years ago

I worked with Luddites who pitched vigorous and loud fits when we switched softwares. None of them work here anymore, mainly because they felt personally insulted and left for those elusive greener pastures.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Great post, Diane!! My 73 year old aunt would have fit right in with the Luddites. She has never, ever used a computer–before she retired she worked in a very old-fashioned, paper file system office and never bought a home computer (I don’t know how she lives without stuff like Go Fug Yourself!!). She only got a cell phone last year because my mother worried about her and bought her a pay as you go phone. 🙂

9 years ago

Great post, Diane. I didn’t know where the name came from so I am going to add this one to my file!

I was late coming into the cell phone age. I’ve only had mine since 2008 or so. And I still don’t have a smart phone of any kind. And my internet is still dial-up, although that is out of necessity, not because I want it that way. High speed internet is not offered where I live. At least not yet.

I don’t mind technology, but my biggest fear is that we will forget how to do so many things for ourselves. I worry about what we will give up and what will be taken from us for the sake of convenience.

I still read paper books, although I do have a kindle and I still write letters – the kind you put a stamp on to mail. I still add things in my head and figure out percentages without a calculator. My younger coworkers think this makes me brilliant. Poor things couldn’t recite their multiplication tables if their lives depended on it.

But I do love my laptop and I love the internet because it keeps me connected to my friends !

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