The Factory System

The Factory System

factory systemHitherto the cotton manufacture had been carried on almost entirely in the houses of the workmen; the hand or stock cards, the spinning wheel, and the loom required no larger apartment than that of a cottage. A spinning jenny of small size might also be used in a cottage, and in many instances was so used; when the number of spindles was considerably increased adjacent workshops were used. But the water frame, the carding engine, and the other machines which Arkwright brought out in a finished state required both more space than could be found in a cottage and more power than could be applied by the human arm. Their weight also rendered it necessary to place them in strongly built mills, and they could not be advantageously turned by any power then known but that of water.

The advantage of manufacturing on a large scale

The use of machinery was accompanied by a greater division of labor than existed in the primitive state of the manufacture; the material went through many more processes, and, of course, the loss of time and the risk of waste would have been much increased if its removal from house to house at every stage of the manufacture had been necessary. It became obvious that there were several important advantages in carrying on the numerous operations of an extensive manufacture in the same building. Where water power was required it was economy to build one mill, and put up one water wheel rather than several. This arrangement also enabled the master spinner himself to superintend every stage of the manufacture; it gave him a greater security against the wasteful or fraudulent consumption of the material; it saved time in the transference of the work from hand to hand; and it prevented the extreme inconvenience which would have resulted from the failure of one class of workmen to perform their part, when several other classes of workmen were dependent upon them. Another circumstance which made it advantageous to have a large number of machines in one manufactory was, that mechanics must be employed on the spot to construct and repair the machinery, and that their time could not be fully occupied with only a few machines.

The beginnings of the factory system

All these considerations drove the cotton spinners to that important change in the economy of English manufactures, the introduction of the factory system; and when that system had once been adopted, such were its pecuniary advantages that mercantile competition would have rendered it impossible, even had it been desirable, to abandon it. The inquiry into the moral and social effects of the factory system will be made hereafter. At present we observe that although Arkwright, by his series of machines, was the means of giving the most wonderful extension to the system, yet he did not absolutely originate it. Mills for the throwing of silk had existed in England, though not in any great number, from the time of Sir Thomas Lombe, who, in 1719, erected a mill on the river Derwent, at Derby, on the model of those he had seen in Italy.

Early use of water power

It has been seen that Wyatt’s first machines, at Birmingham, were turned by asses, and his establishment, at Northampton, by water. So Arkwright’s first mill, at Nottingham, was moved by horses; his second, at Cromford, by water. “During a period of ten or fifteen years after Mr. Arkwright’s first mill was built (in 1771), at Cromford, all the principal works were erected on the falls of considerable rivers; no other power than water having then been found practically useful. There were a few exceptions, where Newcomen’s and Savery’s steam engines were tried. But the principles of these machines were defective and their construction bad, the expense in fuel was great, and the loss occasioned by frequent stoppages was ruinous.” . . .

Arkwright’s extensive business

Arkwright was now rapidly making a large fortune, not merely by the sale of his patent machines and of licenses to use them, but much more by the profits of his several manufactories, for, having no less enterprise than judgment and skill, and being supported by large capital and very able partners, he greatly extended his concerns, and managed them all with such ability as to make them eminently prosperous. He offered the use of his patents by public advertisements, and gave many permission to use them on receiving a certain sum for each spindle. In several cases he took shares in the mills erected; and from these various sources he received a large annual tribute. . . .

Arkwright knighted

Arkwright continued, notwithstanding, his prosperous career. Wealth flowed in upon him with a full stream from his skillfully managed concerns. For several years he fixed the price of cotton twist, all other spinners conforming to his prices. His partnership with the Messrs. Strutt terminated about 1783, and he retained the works at Cromford, still carried on by his son; whilst Messrs. Strutt had the works at Belper, which also are yet conducted by the surviving members of their family. In 1786 Arkwright was appointed high sheriff of Derbyshire; and having presented an address of congratulation from that county to the king on his escape from the attempt of Margaret Nicholson on his life, Arkwright received the honor of knighthood. Sir Richard was for many years troubled with a severe asthmatic affection; he sunk at length under a complication of disorders, and died at his house at Cromford, on the 3d of August, 1792, in the sixtieth year of his age.

Arkwright profited by the labor of others

I have found myself compelled to form a lower estimate of the inventive talents of Arkwright than most previous writers. In the investigation I have prosecuted, I have been guided solely by a desire to ascertain the exact truth. It has been shown that the splendid inventions, which even to the present day are ascribed to Arkwright by some of the ablest and best-informed persons in the kingdom, belong in great part to other and much less fortunate men. In appropriating those inventions as his own, and claiming them as the fruits of his unaided genius, he acted dishonorably, and left a stain upon his character, which the acknowledged brilliance of his talents cannot efface. Had he been content to claim the merit which really belonged to him, his reputation would still have been high, and his wealth would not have been diminished.

Undeniable inventive talent of Arkwright

That he possessed inventive talent of a very superior order has been satisfactorily established. And in improving and perfecting mechanical inventions, in exactly adapting them to the purposes for which they were intended, in arranging a comprehensive system of manufacturing, and in conducting vast and complicated concerns, he displayed a bold and fertile mind and consummate judgment, which, when his want of education and the influence of an employment so extremely unfavorable to mental expansion as that of his previous life are considered, must have excited the astonishment of mankind. But the marvelous and “unbounded invention” which he claimed for himself, and which has been too readily accorded to him,—the creative faculty, which devised all that admirable mechanism, so entirely new in its principles, and characteristic of the first order of mechanical genius,—which has given a new spring to the industry of the world, and within half a century has reared up the most extensive manufacture ever known,—this did not belong to Arkwright. It is clear that some of the improvements which made the carding engine what it was when he took out his second patent were devised by others; and there are two prior claimants to the invention of spinning by rollers, one of whom had undoubtedly made it the subject of a patent thirty-one years before the patent of Arkwright. . . .

Arkwright’s tremendous industry

The most marked traits in the character of Arkwright were his wonderful ardor, energy, and perseverance. He commonly labored in his multifarious concerns from five o’clock in the morning till nine at night; and when considerably more than fifty years of age,—feeling that the defects of his education placed him under great difficulty and inconvenience in conducting his correspondence, and in the general management of his business,—he encroached upon his sleep in order to gain an hour each day to learn English grammar, and another hour to improve his writing and orthography I He was impatient of whatever interfered with his favorite pursuits; and the fact is too strikingly characteristic not to be mentioned, that he separated from his wife not many years after their marriage, because she, convinced that he would starve his family by scheming when he should have been shaving [it will be remembered that he was a barber], broke some of his experimental models of machinery. Arkwright was a severe economist of time; and that he might not waste a moment, he generally traveled with four horses and at a very rapid speed. His concerns in Derbyshire, Lancashire, and Scotland were so extensive and numerous as to show at once his astonishing power of transacting business and his all-grasping spirit. In many of these he had partners, but he generally managed in such a way that, whoever lost, he himself was a gainer. So unbounded was his confidence in the success of his machinery, and in the national wealth to be produced by it, that he would make light of discussions on taxation, and say that he would pay the national debt! His speculative schemes were vast and daring; he contemplated entering into the most extensive mercantile transactions and buying up all the cotton in the world, in order to make an enormous profit by the monopoly; and from the extravagance of some of these designs his judicious friends were of opinion that if he had lived to put them into practice, he might have overset the whole fabric of his prosperity!

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