Richard Arkwright and the Water Frame

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Richard Arkwright became one of the pivotal figures in the Industrial Revolution when he invented the spinning frame, later called the water frame, an invention for mechanically spinning thread.

Early Life

Richard Arkwright was born in Lancashire, England in 1732, the youngest of 13 children. He apprenticed with a barber and wigmaker. The apprenticeship led to his first career as a wigmaker, during which he collected hair to make wigs and developed a technique for dyeing the hair to make different-colored wigs.

 

The Spinning Frame

In 1769 Arkwright patented the invention that made him rich, and his country an economic powerhouse: The spinning frame. The spinning frame was a device that could produce stronger threads for yarns. The first models were powered by waterwheels so the device came to be known as the water frame.

It was the first powered, automatic, and continuous textile machine and enabled the move away from small home manufacturing towards factory production, kickstarting the Industrial Revolution. Arkwright built his first textile mill in Cromford, England in 1774. Richard Arkwright was a financial success, though he later lost his patent rights for the spinning frame, opening the door for a proliferation of textile mills.

Arkwright died a rich man in 1792.

Samuel Slater

Samuel Slater (1768-1835) became another key figure in the Industrial Revolution when he exported Arkwright's textile innovations to the Americas.

On December 20, 1790, water-powered machinery for spinning and carding cotton was set in motion in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Based on the designs of English inventor Richard Arkwright, a mill was built by Samuel Slater on the Blackstone River. The Slater mill was the first American factory to successfully produce cotton yarn with water-powered machines.

Slater was a recent English immigrant who apprenticed Arkwright's partner, Jebediah Strutt.

Samuel Slater had evaded British law against emigration of textile workers in order to seek his fortune in America. Considered the father of the United States textile industry, he eventually built several successful cotton mills in New England and established the town of Slatersville, Rhode Island.