Social Change in the Industrial Revolution: An Application of Theory to the British Cotton Industry

By Neil J. Smelser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI (Concluded)
STRUCTURAL DIFFERENTIATION IN SPINNING

THE INTRODUCTION OF MULE SPINNING

Early Steps. The spinning jenny, the water-frame, and the carding engine boosted the fustian and calico branches of the cotton trade enormously. Muslins,1 however, still could not compete effectively with the finer goods imported from India. The water-frame was strictly limited on higher yarn counts; in addition, it could not produce an even yarn because it lacked the jenny's "stretch" principle. The jenny, however, could produce only soft yarn suitable for weft. Samuel Crompton, subsequently the inventor of the mule, was aware of this shortcoming, as well as the inconvenience of attaching broken ends when spinning on the jenny. A brief attempt to simulate Indian muslins by using the jenny's yarn as weft failed in Lancashire around 1780.2

In formal terms, the primary dissatisfaction preceding the invention of the mule concerned a misallocation of resources, namely a shortage of fine and regular yarn for luxury goods (1-5).3 Furthermore, the existing spinning machines were inadequate to correct this shortage (A-6). The records of Samuel Oldknow's firm show these dissatisfactions. In 1784 Oldknow used counts no higher than No. 44 in twist and No. 47 in weft for calicoes, shirtings, and sheetings; even for muslins he did not normally use as high as No. 66 in twist and No. 86 in weft. In 1786 Oldknow's London merchant wrote to him, "Arkwright...must spin finer. Tell him the reputation of our country against Scotland is at stake...Great Revolutions we think will

____________________
1
This is the generic term for the finest quality cotton goods at the time. Unwin, Samuel Oldknow and the Arkwrights, p.43.
2
Usher, An Introduction to the Industrial History of England, pp. 296-7; Daniels, The Early English Cotton Industry, p. 117; Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XIII, p. 148; Baines, History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain, p. 334.
3
The connection between this shortage and the subsequent incorporation of the mule is illustrated by the fact that Crompton's invention was called the Muslin Wheel for some time after its introduction. Baines, History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain, p. 202.

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