The Textile Revolution

History of the Textile Industry

The major steps in the manufacture of textiles and clothes are:

  • first to harvest and clean the fiber or wool
  • second, to card it and spin it into threads
  • third, to weave the threads into cloth
  • and, finally to fashion and sew the cloth into clothes

Great Britain's Lead in Textile Machinery

During the early eighteenth century, Great Britain was determined to dominate the textile industry. Laws forbade the export of English textile machinery, drawings of the machinery, and written specifications of the machines that would allow them to be constructed in other countries.

Britain had the power loom, a steam-powered, mechanically-operated version of a regular loom for weaving. Britain also had the spinning frame that could produce stronger threads for yarns at a faster rate.

Meanwhile the stories of what these machines could do excited envy in other countries. Americans were struggling to improve the old hand loom, found in every house, and to make some sort of a spinning machine to replace the spinning wheel by which one thread at a time was laboriously spun.

American Failures with Textile Machinery and the American Textile Industry Flounders

In 1786, in Massachusetts, two Scotch immigrants, who claimed to be familiar with Richard Arkwright's British-made spinning frame, were employed to design and build spinning machines for the mass production of yarn. The inventors were encouraged by the U.S. government and assisted with grants of money. The resulting machines, operated by horse power, were crude, and the textiles produced irregular and unsatisfactory.

In Providence, Rhode Island another company tried to build spinning machines with thirty-two spindles. They worked badly and all attempts to run them by water-power failed. In 1790, the faulty machines were sold to Moses Brown of Pawtucket. Brown and his partner, William Almy, employed enough hand-loom weavers to produce eight thousand yards of cloth a year by hand.

Brown needed working spinning machinery, to provide his weavers with more yarn, however, the machines he bought were lemons. In 1790, there was not a single successful power-spinner in the United States.

How Did the Textile Revolution Finally Happen in the United States?

The textile industry was founded by the work and importance of the following businessmen, inventors, and inventions:

Samuel Slater & Mills

Samuel Slater has been called both the "Father of American Industry" and the "Founder of the American Industrial Revolution." Slater built several successful cotton mills in New England and established the town of Slatersville, Rhode Island.

Francis Cabot Lowell & Power Looms

Francis Cabot Lowell was an American businessman and the founder of the world's first textile mill. Together with inventor Paul Moody, Lowell created a more efficient power loom and a spinning apparatus.

Elias Howe & Sewing Machines

Before the invention of the sewing machine, most sewing was done by individuals in their homes, however, many people offered services as tailors or seamstresses in small shops where wages were very low. One inventor was struggling to put into metal an idea to lighten the toil of those who lived by the needle.

Ready-Made Clothing & Shoes

It was not until after the power-driven sewing machine was invented, that factory production of clothes and shoes on a large scale occurred.

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