Kay, Robert

Kay, Robert
SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. probably before 1747
d. 1801 Bury, Lancashire, England
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English inventor of the drop box, whereby shuttles with different wefts could be stored and selected when needed.
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Little is known about the early life of Robert Kay except that he may have moved to France with his father, John Kay of Bury in 1747 but must have returned to England and their home town of Bury soon after. He may have been involved with his father in the production of a machine for making the wire covering for hand cards to prepare cotton for spinning. However, John Aikin, writing in 1795, implies that this was a recent invention. Kay's machine could pierce the holes in the leather backing, cut off a length of wire, bend it and insert it through the holes, row after row, in one operation by a person turning a shaft. The machine preserved in the Science Museum, in London's South Kensington, is more likely to be one of Robert's machine than his father's, for Robert carried on business as a cardmaker in Bury from 1791 until his death in 1801. The flying shuttle, invented by his father, does not seem to have been much used by weavers of cotton until Robert invented the drop box in 1760. Instead of a single box at the end of the sley, Robert usually put two, but sometimes three or four, one above another; the boxes could be raised or lowered. Shuttles with either different colours or different types of weft could be put in the boxes and the weaver could select any one by manipulating levers with the left hand while working the picking stick with the right to drive the appropriate shuttle across the loom. Since the selection could be made without the weaver having to pick up a shuttle and place it in the lath, this invention helped to speed up weaving, especially of multi-coloured checks, which formed a large part of the Lancashire output.
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. In February 1764 he brought to the notice of the Society of Arts an improvement he had made to the flying shuttle by substituting brass for wood, which enabled a larger spool to be carried.
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Further Reading
A.P.Wadsworth and J. de L.Mann, 1931, The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancashire, Manchester.
A.Barlow, 1878, The History and Principles of Weaving by Hand and by Power, London; and R.L.Hills, 1970, Power in the Industrial Revolution, Manchester (for details about the drop box).
RLH

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

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