Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1732, was born Richard Arkwright.

Arkwright was a wig salesman, who invented a spinning frame to increase production, and then instigated the use of water power in mills, and so inadvertently started the Industrial Revolution.

Richard Arkwright was born on 23rd December 1732, at Preston, the 13th and last child of a barber, Thomas Arkwright. He worked as a barber until he was 28, and then became a dealer in hair, used for wigs, a necessary fashion accessory for Eighteenth Century gentlemen. By chance, he discovered a waterproof dye, which could make his wigs, weatherproof, and used his discovery to improve the stylishness of the man about town, making a considerable amount of money in the process.

He used his capital to develop spinning machinery, to be used to produce a flexible yard, suitable as a hair substitute. In 1764, he perfected Arkwright's water frame, a water-powered device which produced a cotton yarn suitable for warp. This machine proved to be a quantum-leap from the spinning jenny of James Hargreaves, as it produced a soft and subtle yarn, at a minimal cost.

Arkwright opened mills at Cromford and Nottingham, powered by horses, but in 1771, he converted to water power. Within a few years he was operating a number of factories equipped with machinery for carrying out all phases of textile manufacturing from carding to spinning. He built a large number of terraced cottages near the mill and brought in workers from outside. He also built a pub which still stands in Cromford [Greyhound Hotel, Market Place, Cromford, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3QE]. In 1781, he opened the first steam powered mill in Manchester.

Arkwright never had an original idea in his life. He borrowed the ideas of others and built on their designs. People whose designs he stole sued him for patent infringement and, in a famous law case, all Arkwright’s patents were revoked. Nevertheless, he made a considerable fortune, in excess of Ł500,000, Ł25 million in today’s money. More importantly, by finding a way to make cotton cheaply, he led other manufacturers to make cotton goods in the same way. The expansion in cotton created jobs, and the resulting purchasing power led to demand for manufactured goods which gave the impetus for the coal and iron industries, which expanded rapidly and brought about the Industrial Revolution. All this came about from an idea for a hair dye!

Arkwright died on 3rd August 1792, and is buried in Cromford, near to his original mill. [St Mary’s Church, Mill Road, Cromford, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3RQ]

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