Technology and Society: The Influence of Machines in the United States

By S. Mckee Rosen ; Laura Rosen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
MANUFACTURE

The Father of American Manufactures.The scene is the little town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The year is 1790. In the back room of a clothier shop by the light of a dim candle sits a young man constructing a mechanical contrivance the like of which has never been seen in America. The contrivance as it takes form is a cotton-spinning machine. The young man is Samuel Slater, whom Alexander Hamilton was later to acclaim as the Father of American Manufactures.

This young English-born mechanic—he was only twenty‐ two at the time—had served as an apprentice to the partner of Richard Arkwright, promoter of the cotton-spinning machine in England. Learning that the Pennsylvania Legislature had granted one hundred pounds in 1789 to the inventor of a power carding machine, Slater migrated to America. Unfortunately, British laws forbade the export of machinery, as well as of plans and drawings, which might lead to competition with English industry.

Upon his arrival in this country Slater was employed by Moses Brown of Pawtucket to operate an experimental mill which had not proved successful. Legend has it that with characteristic Yankee impertinence he told his employer the equipment of the mill was of no earthly use and that he ( Slater) could set up a plant which would turn out a product superior to that of the mother country. And as the story goes, Slater proceeded to design from memory and to construct piece by piece the first Arkwright type of cotton‐ spinning machine to be built in America. Fourteen workers were employed in the original factory equipped with machinery made by the Father of American Manufactures.

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