Thursday, January 14, 2016

American Textile Industry - Woven from Espionage

Samuel Slater, who established the United States' first textile mill in 1793, is widely regarded as the father of America's industrial revolution, having received that very accolade from Andrew Jackson. But American industry may owe as much to his fantastic memory and legally questionable sneakiness as his skill as a machinist and manager. This is the story of how the industrial pioneer earned his other title: "Slater the Traitor."

The ninth of 13 children, Samuel Slater was born in Belper, England in 1768. At age 14, he entered a seven-year apprenticeship agreement with mill owner Jedediah Strutt. He proved a clever, talented young man and quickly became Strutt’s “right hand.” During Slater’s apprenticeship, he learned a great deal about cotton manufacturing and management. He had the opportunity to work on the machines, and saw how Richard Arkwright’s spinning frame—the first water-powered textile machine—was used in large mills. Unfortunately for the ambitious Slater, Strutt had several sons of his own. As a result, Slater would not have a path to advance in the business.

In 1790, Slater decided to leave Strutt’s employment after coming across a Philadelphia newspaper that offered a “liberal bounty” (£100) to encourage English textile workers to come to the United States... Once he arrived in Rhode Island, legend has it that it took him just one year to build the complicated Arkwright machines from memory. Soon they had plenty of thread to sell and Slater’s reputation was secure. In 1793, the newly established Almy, Brown, and Slater company built the mill that would usher in the American industrial revolution. The rest is history. more