Ned Ludd, Leader of the Luddites
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|"The Leader of the Luddites," an 1812 engraving. The Luddites were a loose organization, with no actual appointed leader, named after the folklore figure Ned Ludd, whom they allegedly followed. The "Leader of the Luddites" is shown wearing a dress because this was a not altogether uncommon disguise used by members of this group while on raids to break machinery. Click here to enlarge.
The modern phrase "Luddite" is used to refer to someone who is opposed to, or distrustful of, new technology. This does not properly explain who the Luddites truly were nor what they actually thought.
The Luddites suffered technological unemployment in the early days of industrialization (the First Industrial Revolution). The machinery created by Cartwright and others, housed in large new factories, put skilled textile artisans, operating in the domestic system, out of work. The new machinery could do the work of many, and it could be operated by women and children (who were hired at much lower wages than men).
The Luddites were most active in and around Nottingham, England (the same Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame), from November, 1811, through January, 1813. Between violent clashes and capital punishment (the death penalty was invoked to deal with Luddites), dozens died before the fervor wore down. But it was certainly not the last clash between displaced workers and capitalists.
The Luddites attacked the machinery which made their own labor redundant. The replacement of human labor by machines--call it industrialization, automation, or what you like--has been occurring for over 200 years.
This image was published in May, 1812, by Mess, Walker, and Knight.
Kirkpatrick Sale published a great book on the Luddites a few years back: Rebels Against The Future: The Luddites And Their War On The Industrial Revolution: Lessons For The Computer Age.
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