The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Arkwright, Richard

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Edition of 1879. See also Richard Arkwright on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ARKWRIGHT, Sir Richard, an English inventor, born at Preston, Lancashire, Dec. 23, 1732, died at Cromford, Derbyshire, Aug. 3, 1792. He was the youngest child of a family of 13, and his parents were too poor to give him any education. He earned his living as a barber, shaving in a cellar for a penny, till he was 28, when he became a dealer in hair, and invented a dye by the sale of which he accumulated a little property. His first experiments in mechanics were attempts to solve the problem of perpetual motion; but he soon directed his attention to improvements in the cotton manufacture. At that time English cottons were made with only the weft of cotton, the warp being of linen, and it was considered impossible to spin cotton fine and strong enough for the warp. Moreover, the supply of weft was short of the demand, though Hargreaves of Lancashire had shortly before invented his jenny, and had several machines at work in Nottingham. In 1768 Arkwright produced the model of his famous cotton-spinning frame, by which the thread could be spun of any required fineness and strength and with immense velocity. Fearing the same hostility that had driven Hargreaves out of Lancashire, he proceeded at once to Nottingham. There he met with Messrs. Wright, bankers, who engaged to furnish the capital necessary to perfect the invention, but soon became frightened and retired. Arkwright then applied to Messrs. Need and Strutt, and the latter (the celebrated inventor of the stocking frame) saw at once the value of the invention, and the firm took an interest in it. Arkwright was profoundly ignorant of mechanics, but a few suggestions of Mr. Strutt about the wheel work overcame the last difficulty, and a machine driven by a horse was soon in operation. In 1771 another mill, driven by water power, was established at Cromford, in Derbyshire. The first patent was granted in 1769, and unsuccessfully contested in 1772. In 1775 Arkwright obtained a new patent for improvements, but it seems he had included in it things discovered before, and six years later it was declared void by the courts; but in 1785 he obtained a decision in his favor, and was reinstated in the monopoly. The object of Arkwright's invention was to spin cotton fine, with a hard twist, and fit for warp. This was done by the use of drawing-rollers, by sets of two, the second set moving faster than the first, and by a fast-revolving spindle giving a twist to the cotton as it came out from between the second pair. The introduction of this machine, which was far superior to that of Hargreaves, caused the latter to die of grief. Arkwright encountered the bitterest hostility, not so much from the working class as from the manufacturers, who at one time even refused to buy his yarns, and tried to ruin him by mischievous legislation in parliament. His energy and perseverance, however, triumphed over all obstacles. In the management of his mill he showed a remarkable capacity for organization, and his labors were rewarded with a fortune of £500,000. He acquired the rudiments of learning after he was 50 years old, was knighted in 1786 on occasion of presenting an address to the king, and in 1787 served as high sheriff of Derbyshire. His invention enables one man to do as much work as 130 could do before, and it is calculated that 40,000,000 hands would scarcely be sufficient to accomplish the spinning now done by machinery in England alone.