Richard Arkwright

textile entrepreneur; developer of the spinning frame (known as the water frame)

Richard Arkwright (23 December 1732 – 3 August 1792) was an inventor and a leading entrepreneur during the early Industrial Revolution.

Sir Richard Arkwright by Mather (1790)

Quotes edit

The Case of Mr. Richard Arkwright and Co., 1781 edit

Richard Arkwright. (1781) The Case of Mr. Richard Arkwright and Co. in relation to Mr. Arkwright' s invention of an engine for spinning cotton, &c. into yarn; stating his reasons for applying to Parliament for an Act to secure his right in such invention, or for such other relief as to the Legislature shall seem meet.

Extracts from: Richard Guest (1823) A Compendious History of the Cotton-manufacture: With a Disproval of the Claim of Sir Richard Arkwright to the Invention of Its Ingenious Machinery. J. Pratt, 1823. pp. 22-24

  • About the year 1767, one Hargrave, of Blackburn, in Lancashire, constructed an engine that would at once spin twenty or thirty threads of cotton into yarn for the fustian manufacture; but because it was likely to answer in some measure the end proposed, his engines were burnt and destroyed, and himself driven out of Lancashire: he afterwards removed to Nottingham, and obtained a patent for his engine; but he did not even there long continue in the peaceable possession. His patent right was invaded, and he found it necessary to commence a prosecution; an association was soon formed against him; and, being unable to contend against the united power of a body of men, he was obliged to give up the unjust and unequal contest. His invention was cruelly wrested from him; and he died in obscurity, and great distress.
    • pp. 22-23
  • Mr. Arkwright, after many years intense and painful application, invented, about the year 1768, his present method of spinning cotton, but upon very different principles from any invention that had gone before it. He was himself a native of Lancashire ; but having so recently witnessed the ungenerous treatment of poor Hargrave, by the people of that county, he retired to Nottingham, and obtained a patent in the year 1769, for making cotton, flax, and wool into yarn. But, after some experience, finding that the common method of preparing the materials for spinning (which is essentially necessary to the perfection of good yarn) was very imperfect, tedious, and expensive, he turned his thoughts towards the construction of engines for that purpose; and, in the pursuit, spent several years of intense study and labour, and at last produced an invention for carding and preparing the materials, founded in some measure on the principles of his first machine. These inventions, united, completed his great original plan. But his last machines being very complicated, and containing some things materially different in their construction, and some others materially different in their use, from the inventions for which his first patent was obtained, be procured a patent for these also in December, 1775.
    • p. 23
  • No sooner were the merits of Mr. Arkwright’s inventions fully understood, from the great increase of materials produced in a given time, and the superior quality of the goods manufactured; no sooner was it known, that his assiduity and great mechanical abilities were rewarded with success; than the very men, who had before treated him with contempt and derision, began to devise means to rob him of his inventions, and profit by his ingenuity. Every attempt that cunning could suggest for this purpose was made; by the seduction of his servants and workmen, (whom he had with great labour taught the business) a knowledge of his machinery and inventions was fully gained. From that time many persons began to pilfer something from him; and then by adding something else of their own, and by calling similar productions and machines by other names, they hoped to screen themselves from punishment. So many of these artful and designing individuals had at length infringed on his patent right, that he found it necessary to prosecute several: but it was not without great difficulty, and considerable expence, that he was able to make any proof against them; conscious that their conduct was unjustifiable, their proceedings were conducted with the utmost caution and secresy. Many of the persons employed by them were sworn to secresy, and their buildings and workshops were kept locked up, or otherwise secured. This necessary proceeding of Mr. Arkwright, occasioned, as in the case of poor Hargrave, an association against him, of the very persons whom he had served and obliged. Formidable, however, as it was, Mr. Arkwright persevered, trusting that he should obtain in the event, that satisfaction which he appeared to be justly entitled to.
    • pp. 23-24
  • A trial in Westminster Hall, in July last, at a large expence, was the consequence; when, solely by not describing so fully and accurately the nature of his last complex machines as was strictly by law required, a verdict was found against him. Had he been at all aware of the consequences of such omission, he certainly would have been more careful and circumspect in his description. It cannot be supposed that he meant a fraud on his country: it is on the contrary, most evident that he was anxiously desirous of preserving to his native country the full benefit of his inventions. Yet he cannot but lament, that the advantages resulting from his own exertion and abilities alone, should be wrested from him by those who have no pretension to merit; that they should be permitted to rob him of his inventions before the expiration of the reasonable period of fourteen years, merely because he has unfortunately omitted to point out all the minutiae of his complicated machines. In short, Mr. Arkwright has chosen a subject in manufactures (that of spinning) of all others the most general, the most interesting, and the most difficult. He has, after near twenty years unparalleled diligence and application, by the force of natural genius, and an unbounded invention, (excellencies seldom united) brought to perfection machines on principles as new in theory, as they are regular and perfect in practice. He has induced men of property to engage with him to a large amount; from his important inventions united, he has produced better goods, of their different kinds, than were ever before produced in this country; and finally, he has established a business that already employs upwards of five thousand persons, and a capital, on the whole, of not less than £200,000, a business of the utmost importance and benefit to this kingdom.
    • p. 24

The case, 1782 edit

Richard Arkwright, A case for the consideration of Parliament, relative to his invention of an Engine for spinning Cotton into Yarn, printed in 1782. Republished in: House of Commons (1829) Report from the Select Committee on the Law Relative to Patents for Inventions, p 184

  • Mr. Richard Arkwright, after many years study, brought his spinning machinery to bear about 1768: he was a native of Lancashire; but fearing the same fate as Hargrave, went to Nottingham, and obtained a patent, dated 3 July 1769, for a machinery for making web or yarn of cotton, flax, or wool. He afterwards found it necessary to apply the same principles to the preparation, and took another patent, dated 16 December 1775, for certain machines for preparing silk, cotton, flax and wool for spinning. During five years after the date of his first patent, Mr. Arkwright and his partners expended 12,000 l in machinery and buildings before any profit was made. The last invention was a very important addition to the first; and by combining them, excellent yarn, or twist, was at last produced; but there was still much difficulty in establishing a trade; for the cotton manufacturers would not have the new yarn at any price, and the proprietors were obliged to weave the yarn, into stockings, and into calicoes; but the latter was restricted by the Excise, which rendered relief by an Act of Parliament necessary.
  • The manufacture of yarn being at length full established, the demand for it became too great for the patentees to supply, and then they sold licenses very extensively, so that at least 60,000 l. has been expended in consequence of such grants. Mr. Arkwright and his partners have expended upwards of 30,000/. in buildings and machinery in Derbyshire, and above 4,000 /. in Manchester; and they have lost not less than 5,000 l. or 6.000 l. by injuries from mobs, and from fire. The saving of labour by this machinery is several hundred thousands per annum, and yet trade is so greatly increased, that many more people are employed, and can earn a comfortable maintenance, than were employed before. The same inventions maybe applied with equal advantage to prepare and spin wool.
  • To prevent his inventions getting abroad to foreigners, Mr. Arkwright purposely omitted to give so full and particular a description of his inventions, in the specification of his last patent, as he would otherwise have done, believing, from the concluding clause in the patent, that he need not so fully describe. His patent right being largely infringed, he was obliged to prosecute some infringers, although an association was formed to resist him; but on a trial in the King's Bench in July 1781 a verdict was given against him, on the ground that his specification was not as full and accurate as the law requires. Having established a business that already employs above 5,000 persons, and a capital of not less than 200,000 l. he hopes to be relieved by Parliament, from the consequences of an unintentional error.

Quotes about Richard Arkwright edit

Quotes are arranged in chronological order.
Arkwright's machines require so few hands, and those only children, with the assistance of an overlooker.
- Ralph Mather (1780)
In the year 1780, there were twenty Water Frame factories, the property of Mr. Arkwright, or of persons who had paid him a consideration for permission to use his machines.
- Richard Guest (1823)
18th century
  • Arkwright's machines require so few hands, and those only children, with the assistance of an overlooker. A child can produce as much as would, and did upon an average, employ ten grown up persons. Jennies for spinning with one hundred or two hundred spindles, or more, going all at once, and requiring but one person to manage them. Within the space of ten years, from being a poor man worth £5, Richard Arkwright has purchased an estate of £20,000; while thousands of women, when they can get work, must make a long day to card, spin, and reel 5040 yards of cotton, and for this they have four-pence or five-pence and no more.
    • Ralph Mather (1780). An Impartial Representation of the Case of the Poor Cotton Spinners in Lancashire. : Detailed description of Arkwright's operation; cited in, 2015.
19th century
  • Happening to be at Matlock, in the summer of 1784, I fell in company with some gentlemen of Manchester, when the conversation turned on Arkwright's spinning machinery. One of the company observed, that as soon as Arkwright's patent expired, so many mills would be erected, and so much cotton spun, that hands never could be found to weave it. To this observation I replied that Arkwright must then set his wits to work to invent a weaving mill. This brought on a conversation on the subject, in which the Manchester gentlemen unanimously agreed that the thing was impracticable; and in defence of their opinion, they adduced arguments which I certainly was incompetent to answer or even to comprehend, being totally ignorant of the subject, having never at that time seen a person weave. I controverted, however, the impracticability of the thing, by remarking that there had lately been exhibited in London, an automaton figure, which played at chess. Now you will not assert, gentlemen, said I, that it is more difficult to construct a machine that shall weave, than one which shall make all the variety of moves which are required in that complicated game...
    • Edmund Cartwright in: Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica 1801, 1803; cited in: Guest (1823;44-45)
  • When we read in Mr. Arkwright's Case of "his inventions and his machinery " being pilfered from him by artful and designing individuals," we cannot help feeling sorry for him ; but when we find that " his inventions" were all pirated from others, and that one of them (the crank and comb) "was cruelly wrested "from poor Hargrave," or, in other words, stolen from the man whose hard case he so feelingly deplores, we see the true bent of Mr. Arkwright's "natural genius "and unbounded invention," and feel emotions of a very different description from those he wished to excite.
  • In the year 1780, there were twenty Water Frame factories, the property of Mr. Arkwright, or of persons who had paid him a consideration for permission to use his machines. After the repeal of the patent in 1785, the number of factories rapidly increased, and in 1790, there were one hundred and fifty in England and Wales. About 1790, factories were also built for the Jenny; in these factories the cotton was carded and roved by the newly -invented machines, which furnished weft better in quality and lower in price, than that spun on the smaller Jennies in the houses of the weavers. Carding, roving and spinning were now given up in the cottages, and the women and children formerly employed in those operations, applied themselves to the Loom. The invention of the Mule, by enabling spinners to make finer yarns than any the Jenny and Water Frame could produce, gave birth to the muslin manufacture, and found employment for this additional number of weavers.
  • The difficulties which Arkwright encountered in organizing his factory system, were much greater than is commonly imagined. In the first place, he had to train his work-people to a precision in assiduity altogether unknown before, against which their listless and restive habits rose in continual rebellion; in the second place, he had to form a body of accurate mechanics, very different from the rude hands which then satisfied the manufacturer; in the third, he had to seek a market for his yarns; and in the fourth, he had to resist competition in its most odious forms. From the concurrence of these circumstances, we find that so late as the year 1779, ten years after the date of his first patent, his enterprise was regarded by many as a doubtful novelty.
  • Constitution,—the apex of all its intelligences and mighty instincts and dumb longings: it is I? William Conqueror's big gifts, and Edward's and Elizabeth's; Oliver's lightning soul, noble as Sinai and the thunders of the Lord: these are mine, I begin to perceive,—to a certain extent. These heroisms have I,—though rather shy of exhibiting them. These; and something withal of the huge beaver-faculty of our Arkwrights, Brindleys; touches too of the phoenix-melodies and sunny heroisms of our Shakspeares, of our Singers, Sages and inspired Thinkers all this is in me, I will hope,—though rather shy of exhibiting it on common occasions.
  • In science its main worth is temporary, as a stepping-stone to something beyond. Even the Principia, as Newton, with characteristic modesty entitled his great work, is truly but the beginning of a natural philosophy, and no more an ultimate work than Watt's steam-engine, or Arkwright's spinning-machine.
    • Julius Charles Hare, ‎Augustus William Hare, ‎Edward Hayes Plumptre (1871). Guesses at Truth. p. 326
  • As Arkwright and Whitney were the demi-gods of cotton, so prolific Time will yet bring an inventor to every plant. There is not a property in nature but a mind is born to seek and find it.

21st century edit

  • These foundations decisively changed incentives for people and impelled the engines of prosperity, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution. First and foremost, the Industrial Revolution depended on major technological advances exploiting the knowledge base that had accumulated in Europe during the past centuries. It was a radical break from the past, made possible by scientific inquiry and the talents of a number of unique individuals. The full force of this revolution came from the market that created profitable opportunities for technologies to be developed and applied. It was the inclusive nature of markets that allowed people to allocate their talents to the right lines of business. It also relied on education and skills, for it was the relatively high levels of education, at least by the standards of the time, that enabled the emergence of entrepreneurs with the vision to employ new technologies for their businesses and to find workers with the skills to use them. It is not a coincidence that the Industrial Revolution started in England a few decades following the Glorious Revolution. The great inventors such as James Watt (perfecter of the steam engine), Richard Trevithick (the builder of the first steam locomotive), Richard Arkwright (the inventor of the spinning frame), and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (the creator of several revolutionary steamships) were able to take up the economic opportunities generated by their ideas, were confident that their property rights would be respected, and had access to markets where their innovations could be profitably sold and used.
    • Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Poverty, and Prosperity (2012)

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