Biography: Samuel Slater

Rolls of different colored textiles.

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Samuel Slater is an American inventor who was born on June 9, 1768. He built several successful cotton mills in New England and established the town of Slatersville, Rhode Island. His accomplishments have led many to consider him to be the "Father of American Industry" and the "Founder of the American Industrial Revolution." 

Coming to America

During the United States' early years, Benjamin Franklin and the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and Useful Arts offered cash prizes for any inventions that improved the textile industry in America. At the time, Slater was a young man living In Milford, England who heard that inventive genius was rewarded in America and decided to emigrate. At the age of 14, he had been an apprentice to Jedediah Strutt, a partner of Richard Arkwright and was employed in the counting-house and the textile mill, where he learned a lot about the textile business.

Slater defied the British law against the emigration of textile workers in order to seek his fortune in America. He arrived in New York in 1789 and wrote to Moses Brown of Pawtucket to offer his services as a textile expert. Brown invited Slater to Pawtucket to see whether he could run the spindles that Brown had bought from the men of Providence. "If thou canst do what thou sayest," wrote Brown, "I invite thee to come to Rhode Island."

Arriving in Pawtucket in 1790, Slater declared the machines worthless and convinced Almy and Brown that he knew the textile business enough to him a partner. Without drawings or models of any English textile machinery, he proceeded to build machines himself. On December 20, 1790, Slater had built carding, drawing, roving machines and two seventy-two spindled spinning frames. A water-wheel taken from an old mill furnished the power. Slater's new machinery worked and worked well.

Spinning Mills and the Textile Revolution

This was the birth of the spinning industry in the United States. The new textile mill dubbed the "Old Factory" was built at Pawtucket in 1793. Five years later, Slater and others built a second mill. And in 1806, after Slater was joined by his brother, he built another.

Workmen came to work for Slater solely to learn about his machines and then left him to set up textile mills for themselves. Mills were built not only in New England but in other States. By 1809, there were 62 spinning mills in operation in the country, with thirty-one thousand spindles and twenty-five more mills being built or in the planning stages. Soon enough, the industry was firmly established in the United States.

The yarn was sold to housewives for domestic use or to professional weavers who made cloth for sale. This industry continued for years. Not only in New England, but also in those other parts of the country where spinning machinery had been introduced.

In 1791, Slater married Hannah Wilkinson, who would go on to invent two-ply thread and become the first American woman to receive a patent.​ ​Slater and Hannah had 10 children together, although four died during infancy. Hannah Slater died in 1812 from complications of childbirth, leaving her husband with six young children to raise. Slater would marry for a second time in 1817 to a widow named Esther Parkinson. 

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Bellis, Mary. "Biography: Samuel Slater." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 28). Biography: Samuel Slater. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Biography: Samuel Slater." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).