100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

The Spinning Jenny
Year of Invention: 1764

What Is It? The first mechanical device to spin multiple threads of raw flax,
wool, or cotton at the same time.

Who Invented It? James Hargraves (in Lancashire, England)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

You can’t make clothes without first making thread to weave into cloth to sew into clothes. The slowest part of the entire cloth-making process was spinning thread from raw cotton, wool, flax, or silk. Spinsters spun by hand—one thread at a time. It was slow and tedious work.

Then James Hargraves invented a machine that could spin eight threads at once. The spinning jenny allowed for the mass production of thread, cloth, and clothes. It slashed the price of clothes and made them affordable for ordinary working families.

The jenny created the industrial technology that triggered the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. For the first time, people went to factories and mills to work. Hargraves’s spinning jenny changed the world.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Spinning and weaving were standard parts of farm life in the evenings. Typically, three women (spinsters) spun thread on large, vertical spinning wheels while one man (weaver) wove cloth. Selling this cloth to clothes mills was a large part of many farm families’ income.

In 1733 Englishman John Kay upset the balance between spinsters and weavers by inventing a device called the flying shuttle, which more than tripled the speed of weavers. Suddenly each weaver needed 10 to 15 spinsters. Weavers wove fast enough to run out of thread. The lack of thread threw the weaving industry into crisis. The London Society of the Arts offered a reward of £50 for a spinning machine that could spin at least six threads at a time.

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