Fisk, “Arkwright”

In the reading, “Arkwright: Cotton King or Spin Doctor?” Karen Fisk looks critically upon Richard Arkwright’s influence on the textile industry, as well as the evolution of the industry itself.

First, who is Richard Arkwright?  Sometimes referred to as “’founding father’ of the Industrial revolution” or “father of the factory system,” Arkwright was a trained barber who, later popularized the first spinning frames used in the textile industry.  Was he really what many people regard him as?

Although, Arkwright is regarded as “founding father,” he wasn’t the first to develop these spinning frames.  In the early 1700’s Thomas Cotchett and George Sorocold built the first water powered silk wheel, which was continuously modified and improved throughout the 18th century.  As the use of these machines grew in popularity, “The demand for yarn became so greatly increased that it became impossible to meet it merely by hand labour.”  Because of this, Arkwright decided to get into the textile business.  Lacking funds and technical skill, Arkwright had the help of John Kaye for mechanical knowledge and John Smalley, David Thornley, Jedediah Strutt, and Samuel Need for monetary assistance.  With their help, Arkwright patented the spinning machine before any other inventor.  This business move ended up making Arkwright a fortune, but also made some enemies.  After patenting and constructing several other machines and mills all related to the textile industry, starting in 1772, some of these enemies attempted set his patents aside, on the grounds that he was not the original inventor.  Unsuccessful in their initial attempt, in 1781, Arkwright’s opponents attacked his second patent; this time on the grounds, that he failed to provide “an accurate description of the machinery in the specification.”  Again, not being entirely successful, Arkwright’s opponents attacked his patents, and eventually won in 1785.  Thus, ending Arkwright’s monopoly within the textile industry.

Even though Arkwright may seem scandalous regarding patents, he was not when it came to the welfare of his workers.  He believed that education was very important and would not employ children “until they could read.”  Arkwright also was very generous; “build(ing) rows of cottages for his workers” as well as, “A school was founded for the children of his staff, churches and chapels were built with Sundays left free from work for church attendance…” For all these reasons, Arkwright was “acknowledged above all his peers” and considered the “father of the factory system.”

As you can probably see, the textile industry was a very serious one.  Because of this, Fisk states that the textile industry is “the most dramatic story of the Industrial Revolution.”  In a short period of fifty years, textiles went from being produced in family’s homes to being produced in large factories with heavy machinery.

Word Count: 455

If you would like more information, here are some links to check out: 1221644

The first article describes the Textile industry during the Industrial Revolution in both England and the United states.  This article does a great job of fully explaining the evolution of the textile industry during this time as well as the transfer of technology and ideas to the united states.  I also find it very interesting that the article addresses the effects of the growth of the textile industry on other industries in the same time period.

-Jeff Kalitan




8 Replies to “Fisk, “Arkwright””

  1. I enjoyed reading your post. You did a great job walking through the timeline of Arkwright’s life.
    Though he is seen as a ‘founding father’ in the textile industry, I think the most important thing to take note of is Arkwright’s value of education, and from that, his choice to prohibit young, unskilled children in the workplace. I’m sure that this idea was revolutionary in the late 1700’s. Prior to Arkwright, production and efficiency were valued above everything else; the more produced, the more successful a company was considered, even if this child labor was required. The shift to giving children an education led to a huge societal change.

  2. Going off of what Lauren said, I also believe that the main importance in this article was describing the man that Arkwright was. He was smart in knowing that more intelligent workers do a better job and in turn, this helped his product to grow. Arkwright knew how to make loads of money without necessarily stepping all over those below him. I think he had ethics knowing that child labor was not the way to do things and wanted to give children a chance to strive for greatness. He really played the game by a different set of rules than the average monopoly man in this time. I think he should be remembered for that just as much as his worldly accomplishments. Thank you for taking me on a trip through his life during the blog post. It was both interesting and fun to read.

  3. I really loved how Arkwright was referred to as “the founding father to the industrial revolution.” You did a great job including how he created some enemies as well. I also really enjoyed the link you provided to, it did a great job explaining the evolution of the textile industry.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your summary and you did a very good job at summarizing this article and outlining all of the main points from the article. One question that I had from reading the article, and maybe you thought of this too, but without Thornley’s death and the addition of Need and Strutt as financial backers who both had connections in the textile industry, do you think that Arkwright would have been able to patent the spinning machine before other inventors and would have the success that he had?

  5. Jeff,
    You did a wonderful job with this post, It read like a story and was very entertaining. From what you wrote it seems like Arkwright lead a rather interesting life. I too was pleased with his values for education, children, and general philanthropic tendencies. I will however point out that the second link you supplied states that he did in fact employ children “as young as six years old” which doesn’t sound as pleasant as “until they can read”. Also on the second link, I found it rather funny that his creation of waterproof wigs helped him finance his spinning devices.

  6. I was a little skeptical about Arkwright being portrayed as a moral paragon with regard to how he treated his workers so I looked into it. I found he often encouraged large families to move to Cromford, where his factory was. Often times, whole families were employed with large numbers of children ranging from the age of 7, increasing to 10 by the time Arkwright handed the business to his son. Near the end of his tenure, nearly two-thirds of the 1,150 strong workforce were children. This is the information I have found and I know that it would be wrong of me to say that this seems immoral due to judging from a modern lens but one can’t help but think about the purpose the the proposed school house he founded for the children of his staff when the types of families that worked for him all worked together. There seem to be holes about this man’s actual motivations.

  7. Great job with this post! I am surprised how vicious his opponents were in attempting to challenge his patents. I also find it interesting that Arkwright was considered the “founding father” due to the way he treated his workers and not necessarily the techniques and technologies he developed. This shows how much the decent treatment of workers matters, and hopefully this can be applied in companies and factories in the present day.

Leave a Reply