The Luddites were 19th-century English textile workers (or self-employed weavers who feared the end of their trade) who protested against newly developed labour-economizing technologies, primarily between 1811 and 1816. The stocking framesspinning frames and power loomsintroduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work.

Although the origin of the name Luddite (/ˈlʌd.aɪt/) is uncertain, a popular theory is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers.[1][2][3] The name evolved into the imaginary General Ludd or King Ludd, a figure who, like Robin Hood, was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest.[4][a]


The movement can be seen as part of a rising tide of English working-class discontent in the late 18th and early 19th century. 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.[7] [b] The Luddites' goal was to gain a better bargaining position with their employers. They were not afraid of technology per se, but were "labour strategists".[11]

Spasmodic rises in food prices provoked Keelmen in the port of Tyne to riot in 1710[12] and tin miners to plunder granaries at Falmouth in 1727. There was a rebellion in Northumberland and Durham in 1740, and manhandling of Quaker corn dealers in 1756. More peaceably, skilled artisans in the cloth, building, shipbuilding, printing and cutlery trades organised friendly societies to insure themselves against unemployment and sickness and sometimes, similar to guilds, against intrusion of 'foreign' labour into their trades.[13][c]

The Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, which saw a rise in difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. The movement began in ArnoldNottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England over the following two years.[14][15] Handloom weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery.


Prior to 1811Edit

Textile workers were destroying industrial equipment during the late 18th century, prompting acts such as the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788.

Luddite acts 1811–1813Edit

The Luddites met at night on the moors surrounding industrial towns, where they would practice drills and manoeuvres. Their main areas of operation were Nottinghamshire in November 1811, followed by the West Riding of Yorkshire in early 1812 and Lancashire by March 1813.[citation needed] Luddites battled the British Army at Burton's Mill in Middletonand at Westhoughton Mill, both in Lancashire. Rumours abounded at the time that local magistrates employed agents provocateurs to instigate the attacks.[citation needed] Using the pseudonym King Ludd, the Luddites and their supporters anonymously sent death threats to—and even attacked—magistrates and food merchants.

Isolated incidents post 1814Edit

Activists smashed Heathcote's lacemaking machine in Loughborough in 1816.[16] He and other industrialists had secret chambers constructed in their buildings that could be used as hiding places during an attack.[17]

In 1817, an unemployed Nottingham stockinger and probable ex-Luddite named Jeremiah Brandreth led the Pentrich Rising, which was a general uprising unrelated to machinery, but which could be viewed as the last major Luddite act.[citation needed]

In modern thoughtEdit

The term has since developed a secondary meaning: a "Luddite" is one opposed to industrialisationautomationcomputerisation or newtechnologies in general.[24]

In 1956, a speech in Parliament said that 'Organised workers were by no means wedded to a Luddite Philosophy'.[25]

More recently, the term Neo-Luddism has emerged to describe opposition to many forms of technology.[26] According to a manifesto drawn up by the Second Luddite Congress (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." [27]

The term Luddite fallacy is used by economists in reference to the fear that technological unemployment inevitably generates structural unemployment (and is consequently macroeconomically 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.[28]

Relationship to technostismEdit

Technostism can be seen in some ways as a modern reinvention of the original Luddite concerns sans technophobia, that there will soon be a moment where the Luddites will be proven correct in their predictions through the creation of the technotariat.