Richard Arkwright was born in 1732. Arkwright is considered to be the father of Britain’s factory system. He died in 1792 – a very rich man.
Originally a wig maker, Arkwright is considered by some historians to be an inventor but others consider him to be a man who used other peoples inventions for his own purposes and that he should be considered more a brilliant business man rather than a pure inventor. He lived in a time when patents were rarely used by inventors – so if someone was not careful with a good invention of theirs, that invention or one extremely similar to it, could be used by someone else.
Arkwight ‘invented’ the spinning frame and it was first put into use in Preston in 1768. The machine worked all hours – if it did not break down – and it needed few people to keep it running. A factory needed an engineer and anybody else on the work floor was essentially unskilled and did basic and badly paid work. Children were especially useful in textile factories as they could crawl underneath machinery to do repairs even as the machine still worked.
Arkwright was not popular in Preston as those who were skilled hand-spinners were frightened that they might lose their jobs to the new machine invented by Arkwright. As a result of the threat posed by these people, Arkwright moved to Nottingham where he teamed up with a man called Jedediah Strutt who invented the stocking frame.
In 1769, Arkwright took out a patent on his spinning machine. By law, no-one could copy it. By 1771, he had established a large water powered mill at Cromford – and it is this building that can claim to be the first factory in the world.
As the population of the cities and towns grew, so those people needed clothes. It was this market that Arkwright targeted and he became a very wealthy man. He had got into this market first though his tendency to ‘borrow’ other peoples ideas caught up with him in 1785 when his patent for his spinning frame was withdrawn by the courts. Despite this set-back, he was already established in the cotton market and his importance was recognised by George III who knighted him.
By the time of his death in 1792, Arkwright was a very wealthy man. The whole idea of factories was to massively change many cities and for many poor people, they became places of hardship and despair – though also places of desperately needed employment.