He was born at Lyon, France on the 7th of July 1752. On the death of his father, who was a working weaver, he inherited two looms, with which he started business on his own account. He did not, however, prosper, and was at last forced to become a limeburner at Bresse, while his wife supported herself at Lyon by plaiting straw.
In 1793 he took part in the unsuccessful defence of Lyon against the troops of the Convention; but afterwards served in their ranks on the Rhóne and Loire. After seeing some active service, in which his young son was shot down at his side, he again returned to Lyon.
There he was employed in a factory, and use his spare time in constructing his improved loom, of which he had conceived the idea several years previously. In 1801 he exhibited his invention at the industrial exhibition at Paris; and in 1803 he was summoned to Paris to work for the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. A loom by Jacques de Vaucanson (1709—1782), deposited there, suggested various improvements in his own, which he gradually perfected to its final state.
His invention was fiercely opposed by the silk-weavers, who feared that its introduction, owing to the saving of labour, would deprive them of their livelihood. However, its advantages secured its general adoption, and by 1812 there were 11,000 looms in use in France. The loom was declared public property in 1806, and Jacquard was rewarded with a pension and a royalty on each machine.
He died at Oullins (Rhóne) on the 7th of August 1834, and six years later a statue was erected to him at Lyon.