Luddism – a hatred of technology – takes its name from a group of disgruntled nineteenth-century textile workers who rebelled against new factory methods that threatened their livelihood. Although the original Luddite Revolt was swiftly quashed, fear and distrust of new scientific advances continues to play a role in politics and has colored contemporary debates about a variety of topics ranging from computers to genetically modified foods.
The original Luddites took their name from Ned Ludd, who may or may not have been a real person. According to legend, Ludd broke into a house sometime in the late 1770s and destroyed a pair of stocking fames, recently invented knitting machines that were blamed for putting textile workers our of work. Whether or not this event actually occurred, the phrase “Ludd must have been here” became a common refrain in English factories whenever a piece of newfangled machinery was found damaged.
By 1812, a group of textile workers who had crowned Ned “King Ludd” began destroying stocking frames and weaving frames all over England. The first organized Luddite Revolts occurred in 1811; it took 2,000 troops to quell the violence. Soon thereafter, “machine breaking” was made a capital crime. (After one 1813 trial in York, seventeen men were hanged for breaking this law.)
Although the original Luddite Revolt faded away, the term Luddite entered the political lexicon as a way of describing opponents of the relentless onslaught of technology.