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Author Topic: Sir Richard Arkwright  (Read 720 times)


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Sir Richard Arkwright
« on: October 13, 2018, 07:32:18 am »
Richard was born poor.   His parents couldn't afford to send him to school, but his cousin taught him how to read and write.

Yet he ended up one of the richest people in England

Related image

He began working as an apprentice barber and it was only after the death of his first wife that he became an entrepreneur. His second marriage to Margaret Biggins in 1761 brought a small income that enabled him to expand his barber's business. He acquired a secret method for dyeing hair and travelled around the country purchasing human hair for use in the manufacture of wigs. During this time he was often in contact with weavers and spinners and when the fashion for wearing wigs declined, he looked to mechanical inventions in the field of textiles to make his fortune.

In 1771 he set up a cotton factory in Cromford:
File:Cromford 1771 mill.jpg

He didn't just build a dedicated building for it, large enough for machines that couldn't fit in cottages.   He set up an aqueduct from the river to bring water to an overshot waterwheel for power.   He built cottages for workers (it employed 200 people), initially encouraging skilled textile workers to move to Cromford, but eventually reached the point where he could treat them as replaceable commodities (many of his workers were children, trained just to operate his machines, and labour was divided by machine, rather than a worker following an individual item from start to finish)

The machines were operated day and night, by two 13-hour shifts, with workers working six days per week.   Bells rang at 5 am and 5 pm and the gates were shut precisely at 6 am and 6 pm. Anyone who was late not only could not work that day but lost an extra day's pay.   Workers got 1 week of holiday per year, provided they didn't leave the village.

He played the patent game vigorously, and made much of his money be licensing technology to other factory owners, but he started several factories himself, including the first to make use of steam power.   But what he is chiefly remembered for are the technologies he improved to the point where it was a viable economic proposition to use powered machines to produce useful products:

The Water Frame

The water frame is the name given to a spinning frame when water power is used to drive it. Both are credited to Richard Arkwright, who patented the technology in 1768. It was based on an invention by Thomas Highs, and the patent was later overturned.

The water frame is derived from the use of a water wheel to drive a number of spinning frames. The water wheel provided more power to the spinning frame than human operators, reducing the amount of human labor needed and increasing the spindle count dramatically. However, unlike the spinning jenny, the water frame could spin only one thread at a time until Samuel Compton combined the two inventions into his spinning mule in 1779.

The water frame was originally powered by horses at a factory built by Arkwright and partners in Nottingham. In 1770 Arkwright and partners built a water powered mill in Cromford, Derbyshire.  (SOURCE)

The Carding Engine

Drawing of Carding Machine (1823)

Lewis Paul's carding patent is dated 30th August, 1748. A copy of which, with the drawings, I have obtained from the Patent Office. The machine had a horizontal cylinder, covered in its whole circumference with parallel rows of cards, with intervening spaces, and turned by a handle.

One of the first improvements made in the carding machine was the fixing of a perpetual revolting cloth, called a feeder, on which a given weight of cotton wool was spread, and, by which it was conveyed to the cylinder. This was invented in 1772, by John Lees, a Quaker, of Manchester

When Arkwright took out his patent for the carding machine, he also included in it machines for drawing and roving. It consists in drawing out the carding by rollers, and then doubling and redoubling the slivers, which are called ends, so as to restore them to nearly the same substance as at first. (SOURCE)

In a way, Arkwright reminds me of Bill Gates.   Producing a more effective carding machine wasn't an act of genius so much as one of investment.   He identified a bottleneck, and then invested more than 10,000 (an enormous sum in those days) on development, because it made economic sense for him to do so.

So why was it Cromford where the elements of the industrial revolution first all came together?  Why not the Netherlands, Japan, or some other place?
« Last Edit: October 13, 2018, 07:37:24 am by Aletheia »

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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2018, 07:39:24 am »
Cromford looks pretty random.   It is a small town in Derbyshire, right in the middle of Britain, away from the coast, no coal or iron.

But it did have canals:

and they connected it to Liverpool, one of the great ports of the world at the time, a lynchpin of the Atlantic trade:

Unlike most of the rest of Europe, Britain's population had increased by 250% over the previous 100 years, and while prosperity was high (due to the cheap resources come in from the Atlantic trade), the laws of the land did far more to protect the property rights of the rich than they did to protect the welfare of the poor.

Britain was becoming highly urbanised, and factories could be built without regard for worker safety:

All the individual elements of the industrial revolution existed before 1771.   The ship production in Venice used mass production factory techniques.   The work ethic, technology and investment culture were present in other countries like the Netherlands.   Other countries had coal.  Other countries had efficient agriculture, leading to spare people who could become industrial workers.   Clocks, machine tools, and others pre-cursors were available throughout Europe.

And, once the revolution had started, it was quickly copied in places like America and Japan.

What caused the initial investment in automated production to happen in Britain, rather than elsewhere, was economics.   Richard Arkwright had the money to invest, he could see the potential return on investing in improving automated production and in setting up cottages, aqueducts, etc.   And for him, in that time and place, it made economic sense.   If he hadn't done it, then 5 years later one of the other entrepreneurs in Britain would have done it.   He just saw it first.

Why was Britain the place which first had all the pre-conditions to make that a profitable investment lined up like ducks in a row?


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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2018, 07:42:49 am »

Knowledge of innovation was spread by several means. Workers who were trained in the technique might move to another employer or might be poached. A common method was for someone to make a study tour, gathering information where he could. During the whole of the Industrial Revolution and for the century before, all European countries and America engaged in study-touring; some nations, like Sweden and France, even trained civil servants or technicians to undertake it as a matter of state policy. In other countries, notably Britain and America, this practice was carried out by individual manufacturers eager to improve their own methods. Study tours were common then, as now, as was the keeping of travel diaries. Records made by industrialists and technicians of the period are an incomparable source of information about their methods.

Another means for the spread of innovation was by the network of informal philosophical societies, like the Lunar Society of Birmingham, in which members met to discuss 'natural philosophy' (i.e. science) and often its application to manufacturing. The Lunar Society flourished from 1765 to 1809, and it has been said of them, "They were, if you like, the revolutionary committee of that most far reaching of all the eighteenth century revolutions, the Industrial Revolution".[211]  (SOURCE)


Origins 17551765

The origins of the Lunar Society lie in a pattern of friendships that emerged in the late 1750s. Matthew Boulton and Erasmus Darwin met some time between 1757 and 1758, possibly through family connections, as Boulton's mother's family were patients of Darwin; or possibly though shared friendships, as both were admirers of the printer John Baskerville and friends of the astronomer and geologist John Michell, a regular visitor to Darwin's house in Lichfield.[23] Darwin was a physician and poet who had studied at Cambridge and Edinburgh; Boulton had left school at fourteen and started work in his father's business making metal goods in Birmingham at the age of 21. Despite their different backgrounds they shared a common interest in experiment and invention, and their activities would show Darwin's theoretical understanding and Boulton's practical experience to be complementary.[3] Soon they were visiting each other regularly and conducting investigations into scientific subjects such as electricity, meteorology and geology.[24]

Around the same time the Derby-based clockmaker John Whitehurst became a friend, first of Boulton and subsequently of Darwin, through his business supplying clock movements to Boulton's ormolu manufacturing operation. Although older than both Boulton and Darwin, by 1758 Whitehurst was writing to Boulton telling excitedly of a pyrometer he had built, and looking forward to visiting Birmingham "to spend one day with you in trying all necessary experiments".[25]

Boulton, Darwin and Whitehurst were in turn introduced by Michell to Benjamin Franklin when he travelled to Birmingham in July 1758 "to improve and increase Acquaintance among Persons of Influence",[26] and Franklin returned in 1760 to conduct experiments with Boulton on electricity and sound.[27] Although Michell seems to have withdrawn slightly from the group when he moved to Thornhill (near Dewsbury) in 1767,[11] Franklin was to remain a common link among many of the early members.[5]


The Lunar Circle 17651775

The nature of the group was to change significantly with the move to Birmingham in 1765 of the Scottish physician William Small, who had been Professor of Natural Philosophy at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. There he had taught and been a major influence over Thomas Jefferson, and had formed the focus of a local group of intellectuals. His arrival with a letter of introduction to Matthew Boulton from Benjamin Franklin was to have a galvanising effect on the existing circle, which began to explicitly identify itself as a group and actively started to attract new members.[28]

The first of these was Josiah Wedgwood, who became a close friend of Darwin in 1765 while campaigning for the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal[29] and subsequently closely modelled his large new pottery factory at Etruria on Boulton's Soho Manufactory.[24]Another new recruit, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, met Darwin, Small and Boulton in 1766 through a shared interest in carriage design, and he in turn introduced his friend and fellow Rousseau-admirer Thomas Day, with whom he had studied at Corpus Christi, Oxford.[30] In 1767 James Keir visited Darwin in Lichfield, where he was introduced to Boulton, Small, Wedgwood and Whitehurst and subsequently decided to move to Birmingham.[30]

The Lunar Circle also attracted more distant involvement. Joseph Priestley, then living in Leeds and a close friend of John Mitchell, became associated with the Society in 1767 when Darwin and Wedgwood became involved with his work on electricity.[5] In the same year James Watt visited Birmingham on the recommendation of his business patron John Roebuck, being shown around the Soho Manufactory by Small and Darwin in Boulton's absence. Although neither Priestley nor Watt were to move to Birmingham for several years, both were to be in constant communication with the Birmingham members and central to the circle's activities from 1767.[31]

By 1768 the core group of nine individuals who would form the nucleus of the Lunar Society had come together with Small at their heart.[16] The group at this time is sometimes referred to as the "Lunar circle", though this is a later description used by historians,[32] and the group themselves used a variety of less specific descriptions, including "Birmingham Philosophers" or simply "fellow-schemers".[33]




You'll notice the number of Quakers and Unitarians mentioned.   Free thought in Britain was vastly enhanced by the 1689 Toleration Act, which (mostly as a response to several hundred years of Protestant versus Catholic fighting) led onto greater acceptance of non-standard views, both religious and otherwise.

I'd like to think that a third lynchpin of Britain's beating the rest of the world to igniting the industrial revolution wasn't just abysmal human rights, and the greedy accumulation of profits, but also a bit of war-worn wisdom, that let us stop fighting each other over beliefs, and instead use that energy for sharing thoughts and entrepreneurship.


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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2018, 07:44:06 am »

Why Britain (and Europe in general) started powerful empires is well covered by the book by Jared Diamond:

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

If you have not read it, you ought to.

A second piece of the puzzle is supplied by Simon Schaffer, a historian of Science:



Here's WikiPedia on some of the other parts:

Great Britain provided the legal and cultural foundations that enabled entrepreneurs to pioneer the industrial revolution.[199] Key factors fostering this environment were: (1) The period of peace and stability which followed the unification of England and Scotland; (2) no trade barriers between England and Scotland; (3) the rule of law (enforcing property rights and respecting the sanctity of contracts); (4) a straightforward legal system that allowed the formation of joint-stock companies (corporations); (5) absence of tolls, which had largely disappeared from Britain by the 15th century, but were an extreme burden on goods elsewhere in the world, and (6) a free market (capitalism).[1]


Geographical and natural resource advantages of Great Britain were the fact that it had extensive coastlines and many navigable rivers in an age where water was the easiest means of transportation and having the highest quality coal in Europe.[1]:332

There were two main values that really drove the Industrial Revolution in Britain. These values were self-interest and an entrepreneurial spirit. Because of these interests, many industrial advances were made that resulted in a huge increase in personal wealth and a consumer revolution.[111] These advancements also greatly benefitted the British society as a whole. Countries around the world started to recognise the changes and advancements in Britain and use them as an example to begin their own Industrial Revolutions.[200]

The debate about the start of the Industrial Revolution also concerns the massive lead that Great Britain had over other countries. Some have stressed the importance of natural or financial resources that Britain received from its many overseas colonies or that profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean helped fuel industrial investment.


The greater liberalisation of trade from a large merchant base may have allowed Britain to produce and use emerging scientific and technological developments more effectively than countries with stronger monarchies, particularly China and Russia. Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as the only European nation not ravaged by financial plunder and economic collapse, and having the only merchant fleet of any useful size (European merchant fleets were destroyed during the war by the Royal Navy[203]). Britain's extensive exporting cottage industries also ensured markets were already available for many early forms of manufactured goods. The conflict resulted in most British warfare being conducted overseas, reducing the devastating effects of territorial conquest that affected much of Europe. This was further aided by Britain's geographical position – an island separated from the rest of mainland Europe.


Another theory is that Britain was able to succeed in the Industrial Revolution due to the availability of key resources it possessed. It had a dense population for its small geographical size. Enclosure of common land and the related agricultural revolution made a supply of this labour readily available. There was also a local coincidence of natural resources in the North of England, the English Midlands, South Wales and the Scottish Lowlands. Local supplies of coal, iron, lead, copper, tin, limestone and water power, resulted in excellent conditions for the development and expansion of industry. Also, the damp, mild weather conditions of the North West of England provided ideal conditions for the spinning of cotton, providing a natural starting point for the birth of the textiles industry.

The stable political situation in Britain from around 1688 following the Glorious Revolution, and British society's greater receptiveness to change (compared with other European countries) can also be said to be factors favouring the Industrial Revolution. Peasant resistance to industrialisation was largely eliminated by the Enclosure movement, and the landed upper classes developed commercial interests that made them pioneers in removing obstacles to the growth of capitalism.[205] (This point is also made in Hilaire Belloc's The Servile State.)

The French philosopher Voltaire wrote about capitalism and religious tolerance in his book on English society, Letters on the English (1733), noting why England at that time was more prosperous in comparison to the country's less religiously tolerant European neighbours. "Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan [Muslim], and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word. If one religion only were allowed in England, the Government would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut one another’s throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace."[206]

Britain's population grew 280% 1550–1820, while the rest of Western Europe grew 50–80%. Seventy percent of European urbanisation happened in Britain 1750–1800. By 1800, only the Netherlands was more urbanised than Britain. This was only possible because coal, coke, imported cotton, brick and slate had replaced wood, charcoal, flax, peat and thatch. The latter compete with land grown to feed people while mined materials do not. Yet more land would be freed when chemical fertilisers replaced manure and horse's work was mechanised. A workhorse needs 3 to 5 acres (1.21 to 2.02 ha) for fodder while even early steam engines produced four times more mechanical energy.

In 1700, 5/6 of coal mined worldwide was in Britain, while the Netherlands had none; so despite having Europe's best transport, most urbanised, well paid, literate people and lowest taxes, it failed to industrialise. In the 18th century, it was the only European country whose cities and population shrank. Without coal, Britain would have run out of suitable river sites for mills by the 1830s.[207]

Economic historian Robert Allen has argued that high wages, cheap capital and very cheap energy in Britain made it the ideal place for the industrial revolution to occur.[208] These factors made it vastly more profitable to invest in research and development, and to put technology to use in Britain than other societies.[208] However, two 2018 studies in The Economic History Review showed that wages were not particularly high in the British spinning sector or the construction sector, casting doubt on Allen's explanation.[209][210]



But there's one other factor I'd like to bring up: religion and the lunatics...


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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2018, 07:46:42 am »

It is interesting to think what the world might have been like if, instead of Arkwright, an entrepreneur like Wedgwood or Cadbury had been the first.


Josiah Wedgwood was born into a family of potters on 12 July 1730, at Burslem, Staffordshire. His father's death in 1739 led him to an early start working as a 'thrower' in the pottery of his eldest brother, Thomas, to whom he was later apprenticed. An attack of smallpox seriously weakened Josiah, and in 1768 he had to have his right leg amputated. This meant he was forced to abandon throwing, but he subsequently gained a wider insight into the potter's craft - for example the work of the 'modeller' - and this encouraged his love of experimentation.

Wedgwood greatly improved the clumsy ordinary crockery of the day, introducing durable, simple and regular wares. His cream coloured earthenware was christened 'Queen's Ware' after Queen Charlotte, who appointed him queen's potter in 1762. Other eminent patrons included Empress Catherine II of Russia, who ordered 952 such pieces in 1774.


Wedgwood experimented with barium sulphate (caulk), and from it produced jasper, in 1773. Jasperware, which is used for a whole host of ornaments, blends metallic oxides, often blue, with separately moulded reliefs, generally white. Some such reliefs were designed for Wedgwood by John Flaxman. Other wares included black basaltes, frequently enhanced by 'encaustic' colours like red, to imitate Greek vases.

Wedgwood was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1783, primarily for inventing the pyrometer to measure oven temperatures. He took a keen interest, too, in efficient factory organisation, and in improving the transport of raw materials and finished wares by canals, such as the Grand Trunk Canal, and by road.

One of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of the 18th century, Wedgwood created goods to meet the demands of the consumer revolution and growth in wealth of the middle classes that helped drive the Industrial Revolution in Britain.[7] He is credited as the inventor of modern marketing, specifically direct mail, money back guarantees, travelling salesmen, carrying pattern boxes for display, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.[8] Wedgwood is also noted as an early adopter/founder of managerial accounting principles in Anthony Hopwood's "Archaeology of Accounting Systems."

For the further comfort of his foreign buyers he employed French-, German-, Italian- and Dutch-speaking clerks and answered their letters in their native tongue.[35]

He was also a keen abolitionist.

Because he was a respected business man, people listened to his views and he was able to convince friends and colleagues of the evils of the Slave Trade.  He also had the money to provide financial assistance.  From 1787, he actively participated in this cause, becoming a member of one of the abolition committees. His interest possibly developed through his friendship with Thomas Bentley, his business partner, and his association with Thomas Clarkson.

He read widely on the subject and became a shareholder in the Sierra Leone Company, (which provided a colony for the habitation of enslaved people who had been made free). On the 9th January 1792, Clarkson suggested that he might consider helping to distribute a pamphlet compiled by William Fox, calling for a sugar boycott. A man of ideas, Wedgwood wrote back suggesting the pamphlet would have more impact if the society's emblem (which showed an enslaved person in chains, kneeling, with his hands lifted up to heaven) was included in the front. The emblem's motto read: "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?"  He proposed to have a woodcut made at his own expense and ordered 2000 more pamphlets.

Using his knowledge of the pottery trade, Wedgwood also had the design reproduced in a porcelain cameo. He donated hundreds of these to the Society for distribution. It became the most famous image of the campaign. The emblem was worn by fashionable ladies as a brooch or hair piece and, as Thomas Clarkson said, was the first time that "fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen ... promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom."



The Cadbury family, with their Quaker beliefs that - all human beings should be treated equally and should live in peace, believed in social responsibility and social reform.

They improved working and social conditions for their employees and the community.

A new factory, planned by George, was built on the site, and the area became known as Bournville, after the small stream that runs through the site.


George was driven by a passion for social reform and wanted to provide good quality low cost homes for his workers in a healthy environment - giving an alternative to grimy city life. So he set about building a village where his workers could live.

George said of his plans: "If each man could have his own house, a large garden to cultivate and healthy surroundings - then, I thought, there will be for them a better opportunity of a happy family life."

His aim was that one-tenth of the Bournville estate should be "laid out and used as parks, recreation grounds and open space."

The brothers set new standards for working and living conditions in Victorian Britain and the Cadbury plant in Bournville became known as "the factory in a garden".



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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2018, 09:29:33 am »
Which would suggest what?


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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #6 on: October 15, 2018, 03:34:22 pm »
Interesting.  Thank you for posting.


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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2018, 10:28:07 pm »
Bump for the laters.
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Re: Sir Richard Arkwright
« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2018, 09:56:20 pm »
I love social history and found that really interesting!  Thank you!  I need to look into why workers were considered so disposable though.
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