Richard Arkwright was an English inventor and entrepreneur who was one of the most prominent figures of the Industrial Revolution. Here are 10 interesting facts about the life, inventions and accomplishments of the man who is considered the ‘Father of the Modern Factory System’.
#1 He didn’t receive a proper education
Born on 23 December 1732 in Preston, Lancashire, England; Richard Arkwright was the youngest of 13 children of Thomas Arkwright, who was a tailor, and his wife Sarah. As he was the last child of a large family of humble origin, there was not enough money to school him due to which Richard was taught to read and write by his cousin Ellen.
#2 Arkwright initially worked as a barber and wig-maker
Richard was apprenticed to a barber named Mr Nicholson. In early 1750s he opened his own shop at Churchgate in Bolton. He realized wig-making would be a more profitable business and started manufacturing male wigs. Arkwright invented a waterproof dye for use in the fashionable wigs of the time and the income this generated was used by him for the development of his first spinning machine.
#3 His second wife hated his machines and destroyed his models
In 1755, Arkwright married Patience Holt. However she died the next year leaving behind a son named Richard Arkwright Junior. In 1761, Arkwright married Margaret Biggins. They had three children but only Susanna survived to adulthood. Arkwright’s wife Margaret was very irritated with his obsession with spinning machines. She once destroyed all his development models hoping to force him back to working with hair.
#4 Arkwright contributed in the invention of the first automatic textile machine
Between 1763 and 1764, reed-maker Thomas Highs and clockmaker John Kay worked on inventing a mechanical spinning machine. In 1767, Arkwright teamed up with John Kay and provided him financial assistance to create a working spinning frame. The first spinning frame was put to use in 1768. It was the first powered, automatic, and continuous textile machine.
#5 Arkwright patented the water frame in 1769
After his experimentation with horses failed, Arkwright used water wheel to power the spinning frame due to which the invention was renamed water frame. In 1769, Arkwright patented the water frame. Before the water frame, the textile business was essentially a cottage industry. Its invention made mass manufacturing possible which led to great expansion of the textile industry.
#6 His Cromford Mill was the first successful cotton spinning factory
In 1771, Arkwright established the world’s first water-powered mill in Cromford, Derbyshire. Known as Cromford Mill it was the first successful cotton spinning factory and laid the foundation of Arkwright’s fortune. It showed the way ahead and was quickly copied by mills in Lancashire, Germany and the United States. It is now a World Heritage Site and attracts visitors from all over the world.
#7 He patented a carding machine in 1775
In 1748, Lewis Paul had invented a machine for carding, which is the process of disentangling, cleaning and intermixing fibres to produce a continuous web. Richard Arkwright made improvements to this machine that produced a stronger yarn and required less physical labour. In 1775 he took out a patent for this new carding engine.
#8 Arkwright employed mostly children, some as young as six years old
Arkwright established factories in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and Scotland which were equipped with machinery for carrying out all phases of textile manufacturing from carding to spinning. His machines required cheap unskilled labour which was often done by children, some as young as six years old. This made many skilled workers jobless. Towards the end of his tenure, nearly two-thirds of Arkwright’s 1,150 employees were children.
#9 He amassed a fortune of over £200 million in today’s money
From 1775 a series of court cases challenged Arkwright’s patents as copies of others work. In 1785, his patents were revoked. However by then Arkwright had interests in over a hundred companies through leasing, shares and financing. By the time he died on 3 August 1792 at the age of 59, he had amassed an estimated personal fortune of around half a million pounds, which would be over £200 million in today’s money.
#10 Richard Arkwright is considered the ‘Father of the Modern Factory System’
Arkwright’s contributions were recognized by King George III who knighted him in 1786. His cotton spinning empire helped kick-start the industrial revolution and later in his life he was known as ‘the Father of the Industrial Revolution’. Arkwright was a brilliant businessman and efficient manager who built a successful manufacturing model which was imitated by others. He is considered the ‘Father of the Modern Factory System’.