Richard Arkwright 1732-1792
Inventor of the Water Frame
Rather than being an inventive genius, Richard Arkwright was a sharp-witted businessman who recognized the potential of other people's innovations, and made a very large personal fortune from developing them. Preston-born to a very poor family, Richard was taught to read and write by a cousin, as his parents could not afford schooling. His first job was as a barber's apprentice. By 1762, he has founded his own wig-making company.
His first contact with the textile industry came during a business trip when he met the Warrington watchmaker John Kay, who had spent some time trying to perfect a new spinning-machine, but had run out of funds. Arkwright was very interested by Kay and his machine, offering to employ him and other local craftsmen to develop the invention. The resulting Spinning Frame could produce stronger thread than the contemporary Spinning Jenny, but was far too large to be operated by hand.
Arkwright and his team tried various experiments using horse-power, but the reliability and cheapness of water-power won the day. In 1771, Arkwright and his colleagues established a spinning and weaving factory on the banks of the River Derwent at Cromford, Derbyshire. The new invention became known as the 'water-frame'.
Thus established, Arkwright's mill required a huge workforce. He built numerous cottages for his workforce and 'imported' factory operatives from all over Derbyshire, preferring weavers with large families who had plenty of children to work in the mill. Cromford Mill was only the first in Arkwright's large and profitable empire of factories, which spread from Derbyshire into Staffordshire, Lancashire and up into Scotland. Many of his mills took power from brand new developments in steam-engine technology. In fact, Arkwright's mills were so profitable that rival millowners sent in spies to discover the secret of his success.
A testament to Arkwright's sharp business acumen came on his death in 1792, when it was found that he was worth half a million pounds, a staggering amount of money in the 18th century.