Saturday, September 17, 2005

Sir Richard Arkwright (1732 - 1792)

Often considered the father of the modern industrial factory system, Richard Arkwright was the youngest of a family of 13 children born to a labourer and his wife. Although he did not attend school, he was lucky enough to become literate; his cousin Ellen taught him to read and write.
He began working life 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 barbering business. He acquired a secret method for dyeing hair and travelled about 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.
By 1767 a machine for carding cotton had been introduced into England and James Hargreaves had invented the Spinning Jenny. With the help of a clockmaker, John Kay, who had been working on a mechanical spinning machine, Arkwright made improvements that produced a stronger yarn and required less physical labour. His new carding machine was patented in 1775.
Arkwright's fortune continued and he constructed a horse-driven spinning mill at Preston – the first of many. He developed mills in which the whole process of yarn manufacture was carried on by one machine and this was further complimented by a system in which labour was divided, greatly improving efficiency and increasing profits. Arkwright was also the first to use James Watt's steam engine to power textile machinery, though he only used it to pump water to the millrace of a waterwheel. From the combined use of the steam engine and the machinery, the power loom eventually was developed.
Arkwright's patents were attacked and declared void in 1785, largely as a result of testimony by the John Kay. Nonetheless, Arkwright was awarded a knighthood by George III in 1786. By the time he died in August 1792 he had established factories in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and Scotland, and his empire was worth over half a million.


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