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:
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.