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With the establishment of overseas colonies, the British Empire at the end of the 17th century/beginning of the 18th century had a vast source of raw materials and a vast market for manufactured goods. The manufacture of goods was performed on a limited scale by individual workers – usually on their own premises (such as weavers' cottages) – and was transported around the country by horse and cart, or by river boat. Power was supplied by draught animals for agriculture and haulage.

There was a marketplace to service, but the scale of industry; the sources of energy; and the lack of an inland communications infrastructure were the unseen hurdles to overcome.

In this context, the scene was set for the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker to develop the industry of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution.

Industry and Invention

The Industrial Revolution, in this logic, has been a worldwide occurrence, at least insofar as it has occurred in all those parts of the world, of which there are few exceptions, where the control of Western civilization has been felt. Industrialization occurred first in Britain, and its effects spread only gradually to continental Europe and North America. Equally clearly, the Industrial Revolution that eventually transformed these parts of the Western world surpassed in magnitude the achievements of Britain, and the process was carried further to change radically the socioeconomic life of the Far East, Africa, Latin America, and Australasia. The reasons for this succession of events are complex, but they were implicit in the earlier account of the buildup toward rapid industrialization. Partly through good fortune and partly through conscious effort, Britain by the early 18th century came to possess the combination of social needs and social resources that provided the necessary preconditions of commercially successful innovation and a social system capable of sustaining and institutionalizing the processes of rapid technological change once they had started. Therefore be concerned, in the first place, with events in Britain, although in discussing later phases of the period it will be necessary to trace the way in which British technical achievements were diffused and superseded in other parts of the Western world.

In 1733 in Burymarker, Lancashire, John Kay invented the flying shuttle — one of the first of a series of inventions associated with the cotton industry. The flying shuttle increased the width of cotton cloth and speed of production of a single weaver at a loom. Resistance by workers to the perceived threat to jobs delayed the widespread introduction of this technology, even though the higher rate of production generated an increased demand for spun cotton.

In 1738, Lewis Paul (one of the community of Huguenot weavers that had been driven out of France in a wave of religious persecution) settled in Birminghammarker and with John Wyatt, of that town, they patented the Roller Spinning machine and the flyer-and-bobbin system, for drawing wool to a more even thickness. Using two sets of rollers that travelled at different speeds yarn could be twisted and spun quickly and efficiently. This was later used in the first cotton spinning mill during the Industrial Revolution.

1742: Paul and Wyatt opened a mill in Birmingham which used their new rolling machine powered by donkey; this was not profitable and soon closed.

1743: A factory opened in Northamptonmarker, fifty spindles turned on five of Paul and Wyatt's machines proving more successful than their first mill. This operated until 1764.

1748: Lewis Paul invented the hand driven carding machine. A coat of wire slips were placed around a card which was then wrapped around a cylinder. Lewis's invention was later developed and improved by Richard Arkwright and Samuel Crompton, although this came about under great suspicion after a fire at Daniel Bourn's factory in Leominstermarker which specifically used Paul and Wyatt's spindles. Bourn produced a similar patent in the same year.

1758: Paul and Wyatt based in Birminghammarker improved their roller spinning machine and took out a second patent. Richard Arkwright later used this as the model for his water frame.

1762 Matthew Boulton opened the Soho Foundrymarker engineering works in Handsworthmarker, Birminghammarker. His partnership with Scottish engineer James Watt made the steam engine into the power plant of the Industrial Revolution and was to provide many mills with a new form of power.

In 1764, James Hargreaves is credited as inventor of the spinning jenny which multiplied the spun thread production capacity of a single worker — initially eightfold and subsequently much further. Sources [86631] credit the original invention to Thomas Highs, who had a daughter named Jenny for whom the invention might have been named. Industrial unrest and a failure to patent the invention until 1770 forced Hargreaves from Blackburn, but his lack of protection of the idea allowed the concept to be exploited by others. As a result, there were over 20,000 Spinning Jennies in use by the time of his death.

Again in 1764, the first cotton mill in the world was constructed at Roytonmarker, Lancashiremarker, England.

In 1771, Richard Arkwright used waterwheels to power looms for the production of cotton cloth, his invention becoming known as the water frame. (Frame is another name for the machinery for spinning or weaving.) The water frame was developed from the spinning frame that Arkwright had developed with (a different) John Kay, from Warrington. (The original design was probably by Thomas Highs, again.) This he had patented in 1769 (see [86632]: Press the 'Ingenious' button and use search key '10302171' for the patent). Initial attempts at driving the frame had used horse power, but the innovation of using a waterwheel demanded a location with a ready supply of water. One of the first cotton mills (at Cromfordmarker, Derbyshiremarker; preserved as part of the Derwent Valley Millsmarker) was a factory in the vein of the Soho Manufactorymarker. Arkwright protected his investment (from industrial rivals and potentially disruptive workers), and generated jobs for which workers' accommodations were constructed, leading to a sizeable industrial community. Arkwright expanded his operations to other areas of the country.

In 1779, Samuel Crompton of Boltonmarker combined elements of the spinning jenny and water frame to create the spinning mule. This produced a stronger thread, and was suitable for mechanisation on a grand scale. As with Kay and Hargreaves, Crompton was not able to exploit his invention for his own profit, and died a pauper.

In 1784, Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, and produced a prototype in the following year. His initial venture to exploit this technology failed, although his advances were recognised by others in the industry. Others – such as Robert Grimshaw (whose factory was destroyed in 1790 as part of the growing reaction against the mechanization of the industry) and Austin [86633] – developed the ideas further.

In 1803, William Radcliffe invented the dressing frame (patented under the name of Thomas Johnson) which enabled power looms to operate continuously, and this fueled the take-off of steam-powered weaving such that by 1823 there were estimated to be 10,000 power looms in operation in Great Britain.

The use of water power to drive mills was quickly adopted by many entrepreneurs, and one example is Samuel Greg. He joined his uncle's firm of textile merchants, and, on taking over the company in 1782, he sought out a site to establish a mill. Quarry Bank Millmarker in Cheshiremarker still exists as a well preserved museum, having been in use from its construction in 1784 until 1959. It illustrates how the mill owners exploited child labour, taking orphans from nearby Manchestermarker, but also shows that these children were housed, clothed, fed and provided with some education. This mill also shows the transition from water power to steam power, with steam engines to drive the looms being installed in 1810.


Working conditions in some early British textile factories were unfavorable relative to modern standards. Children, men, and women regularly volunteered for 68-hour work weeks. Factories often were not well ventilated and became very hot in the summer. Worker health and safety regulations were non-existent. Workers who suffered debilitating injuries from work were simply dismissed without any compensation. People may have chosen to work at these factories because other work for unskilled, landless persons was less consistent throughout the year and from year to year, and offered less possibility for earnings growth for those who adapted well to the work.

Textile factories organized workers' lives much differently from craft production. Handloom weavers worked at their own pace, with their own tools, and within their own cottages. Factories set hours of work, and the machinery within them shaped the pace of work. Factories brought workers together within one building to work on machinery that they did not own. Factories also increased the division of labor. They narrowed the number and scope of tasks and included children and women within a common production process. As Manchester mill owner Friedrich Engels decried, the family structure itself was "turned upside down" as women's wages undercut men's, forcing men to "sit at home" and care for children while the wife worked long hours. Factories flourished over manual craftsmanship because they had more efficient production output per worker, keeping prices down for the public, and they had much more consistent quality of product.

The early textile factories employed a large share of children, but the share declined over time. In England and Scotland in 1788, two-thirds of the workers in 143 water-powered cotton mills were described as children. By 1835, the share of the workforce under 18 years of age in cotton mills in England and Scotland had fallen to 43%. About half of workers in Manchestermarker and Stockportmarker cotton factories surveyed in 1818 and 1819 began work at under ten years of age. [86634] Most of the adult workers in cotton factories in mid-19th century Britain were workers who had begun work as child labourers. The growth of this experienced adult factory workforce helps to account for the shift away from child labour in textile factories.

Export of technology

While profiting from expertise arriving from overseas (e.g. Louis Paul), Britain was very protective of home-grown technology. In particular, engineers with skills in constructing the textile mills and machinery were not permitted to emigrate — particularly to the fledgeling America.

Horse power (1780-1790)

The earliest cotton mills in the United Statesmarker were horse powered. The first mill to use this method was the Beverly Cotton Manufactory, built in Beverly, Massachusettsmarker. It was started August 18, 1788 by entrepreneur John Cabot and brothers. It was operated in joint by Moses Brown, Israel Thorndike, Joshua Fisher, Henry Higginson, and Deborah Higginson Cabot. The Salem Mercury reported that in April of 1788 that the equipment for the mill was complete, consisting of a spinning jenny, a carding machine, warping machine, and other tools. That same year the mill's location was finalized and built in the rural outsets of North Beverly. The location had the presence of natural water, but it was cited the water was used for upkeep of the horses and cleaning of equipment, and not for mass-production.

Much of the internal designs of the Beverly mill were hidden due to concerns of competitors stealing designs. The beginning efforts were all researched behind closed doors, even to the point that the owners of the mill set up milling equipment on their estates to experiment with the process. There were no published articles describing exactly how their process worked in detail. Additionally, the mill's horse powered technology was quickly dwarfed by new water-powered methods.


Following the creation of the United States, an engineer who had worked as an apprentice to Arkwright's partner Jedediah Strutt evaded the ban. In 1789, Samuel Slater took his skills in designing and constructing factories to New Englandmarker, and he was soon engaged in reproducing the textile mills that helped America with its own industrial revolution.

Local inventions spurred this on, and in 1793 Eli Whitney invented and patented the cotton gin, which sped up the processing of raw cotton by over 350 times. And some did even faster than that!


  1. Cora Granata and Cheryl A. Koos, Modern Europe 1750 to the Present (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. , 2008) 31.
  2. Beverly Community History Cotton Mill, URL accessed January 14, 2007.
  3. The Worcester (Mass.) Spy. August 31, 1897, Wednesday. Page 2
  4. The Beverly Cotton Manufactory: Or some new light on an early cotton mill. Robert W Lovett. Business Historical Society. Bulletin of the Business Historical Society pre.. Dec 1952; 26, 000004; ABI/INFORM(pg. 218)
  5. "Made In Beverly-A History of Beverly Industry", by Daniel J. Hoisington. A publication of the Beverly Historic District Commission. 1989.

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