Textiles and Steam Engines

Pages 73 to 101 in Cardwell’s book “Turning Points in Western Technology” provide a detailed description of how the steam engine was invented and maximized for efficiency and how textiles production was mechanized for the industrial revolution. Cardwell first talks about early attempts to mechanize spinning. This mechanization process was introduced with inventions such as the fly shuttle, which increased the speed of production and increased the width of fabric that could be woven. John Wyatt and Lewis Paul attempted to mechanized the spinning portion of textile production by creating a machine that used rollers to feed the thread. However, this invention was never successful and had to be improved by Richard Arkwright to be made practical.

Cardwell also goes into great detail about the development of the steam engine. The newcomen engine was already available, but it was not efficient and economical. John Smeaton originally worked on improving the efficiency of water wheels for textile production, but he also made the newcomen engine more efficient. He used experimental techniques to help double the efficiency of the newcomen engine. He also paved the way for the development of the most efficient engine: the steam engine invented by James Watt. This section of the book goes into MUCH more detail than this summary, and I encourage the reader to read the section in full.

Word Count: 207 Name: Connor Mackert


5 Replies to “Textiles and Steam Engines”

  1. Connor,
    This is an excellent summary of Cardwell’s article. Even though the main source of mechanical power up until the American Civil War was water power, the steam engine certainly contributed to the industrialization of western nations. In England in particular, people left farms after the Enclosure Movement and went to work in factories, particularly textile factories. As Cardwell discusses, factory owners wanted to maximize their textile production. This lead to technical advances in textile production such as the fly shuttle, as well as improvements to the Newcomen steam engine, which were pioneered by John Smeaton.

  2. Thank you for summarizing this article for everyone. I felt that you could have been more descriptive about certain things in the summary, for example, in your last paragraph you said that the Newcomen engine was not very efficient and economical. What made it not very efficient? You also said that John Smeaton worked on making the water wheel and the Newcomen engine more efficient. What did john do in order to improve these inventions? Besides that, your summary is fine, I found the link at the end to be helpful and fun to read.
    If you want to learn more about steam engines (ex. How they work and how they are used today) then you would want to click on the link above. Here is a short preview, did you know that 95% of nuclear power planets use steam engines to generate power. Yes, that is correct something as old as the steam engine is still being used today, which shows you how impactful they were and still are to society.

  3. Nice post, I thought it was very interesting to see how people such as Wyatt, and Paul were attempting to mechanize different parts of the textile process after the previous mechanization. Your use of imagery also puts the rest of the article into context, letting us see what a factory setting would have looked like. I also found it interesting how while the steam engine was a new technology, it wasn’t utilized all that quickly, as other factories still used waterwheels for power. Overall, great work.

    Nathaniel Dekin

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