|The following is reprinted from Bathroom Reader Plunges Into History Again
Hate all that newfangled technology? Someone may just call you a Luddite.
The origin of the term dates back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Here's how the whole thing got started:
It all started with the weavers. For centuries, the weavers and lace
makers of Nottingham, England, were some of the most respected artisans
in the world. But the invention of the power loom and other machines,
which produced fabric much more quickly and cheaply than the hand-weavers,
put them out of business. Just to survive, a lot of them started working
for miserly wages at the factories that produced cheap and inferior cloth
they hated. But they simmered with rage at the factory owners who appropriated
their life's work - and the machines that helped them do it.
of the sudden, factory looms started to break down. At first, just a couple.
Then a few more. When asked what had happened, the workers would just
shrug and attribute the damage to the mythical Ned Ludd.
In fact, the disgruntled ex-workers were already meeting in private to
plot their revenge. In the early months of 1811, they began sending menacing
letters, signed by General Ned Ludd, to Nottingham factory owners, warning
of dire consequences if factory conditions and wages didn't improve.
Some of the bolder Luddites showed up in person to make their demands.
Intimidated, most factory owners complied. Those who didn't found their
expensive machines smashed, by the dozens, in after-hours Luddite attacks.
THE POWDER KEG IGNITES
The rebellion leaked to nearby British regions. The first Luddites had
been strictly nonviolent, venting their anger only on the hated machines.
But in Yorkshire, the owner of Rawfolds Mill, aware of worker unrest at
his factory, had prepared for an attack on April 11, 1812, by hiring private
guards. Two men were killed in the clash. Seven days later, the Luddites
killed a mill owner in the region, William Horsfall.
The violence didn't end there. On April 20, an angry mob of thousands
attacked Burton's Mill in Manchester. Like the Rawfolds mill owner, Burton
knew trouble was coming and had hired private guards who fired on the
crowd and killed three men. The furious Luddites dispersed, returning
the following day and burning down Burton's house. In clashes with the
military (who rushed into the fray) and Burton's guards, a total of 10
men were killed.
THE UPRISING COOLS DOWN
A police crackdown ensued. Scores of leaders and rank-and-file Luddites
were arrested and tried for their crimes. A lot of men were hanged; others
were imprisoned or exiled to Australia, which put an effective end of
the immediate uprising. There were further sporadic outbreaks of violence,
but by 1817 the Luddite movement ceased to be active in Britain.
Of course, the Luddites were right all along: the hated machines were
making their jobs obsolete. These days, only a tiny fraction of the world's
cloth is made by hand. And machines make almost every article that is
found in the modern home, from shoes to electronics to furniture.