Skip to main content
Select Source:

Sir Richard Arkwright

Sir Richard Arkwright

The English inventor and industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) developed several inventions which mechanized the making of yarn and thread for the textile industry. He also helped to create the factory system of manufacture.

Richard Arkwright was born on Dec. 23, 1732, in Preston, Lancashire, England. Little is known of his early life except that he was from a large family of humble origin and obtained only the rudiments of an education. He was apprenticed to a barber in Preston, and when about 18 he set up on his own in Bolton, a textile town in Lancashire.

Sometime in the 1760s Arkwright began working on a mechanical device for spinning cotton thread, the spinning frame, which he patented in 1769. Problems still remained: the raw cotton had to be prepared for the invention by a hand process, and the invention had to be made practical and commercially successful. For this he needed funds and a mill where he could install the frame.

Probably for this reason in 1771 he moved to Nottingham, where a highly specialized kind of weaving, that of stockings, had already been fairly well mechanized. There Arkwright, whose inventions had reduced him to poverty, found a partner who supported his work and backed the construction of a mill run by waterpower (hence the later name of water frame).

Arkwright found that he could successfully use his thread for stockings and also as the warp, or longitudinal threads, in an ordinary loom onto which the weft, or cross threads, were woven. Heretofore, cotton thread had been used for the weft, but only linen threads had been strong enough for the warp. Now a textile made solely of cotton could be produced in England, and it eventually became one of the country's chief exports.

The production of thread was further improved in 1775 by Arkwright's patenting a practically continuous method which prepared the raw cotton for spinning. Apart from a completely mechanical loom, Arkwright had thus eliminated all the major obstacles to producing cotton cloth by machine.

Because thread production was now completely mechanized, all the hitherto separate operations could be coordinated and carried out under one roof, in a mill, or, as it was increasingly called, a factory. Arkwright paid as careful attention to the mill's operation as he did to his inventions. It was typical of his aggressive entrepreneurship that he was one of the first to apply the steam engine to his mills. While such a concentration of machines, driven by a prime mover, was not a new invention, Arkwright's rationalization of the factory system was nevertheless to become one of the most characteristic features of the industrial revolution.

Wealth and honors, including the bestowal of knighthood, came to him in the 1780s. He died in Nottingham on Aug. 3, 1792.

Further Reading

Two works have been written on Arkwright's relations with associates: George Unwin, Samuel Oldknow and the Arkwrights (1924), and R. S. Fitton and A. P. Wadsworth, The Strutts and the Arkwrights, 1758-1830 (1958). Supplementary accounts of Arkwright's work may be found in T. S. Ashton, The Industrial Revolution: 1760-1830 (1948; rev. ed. 1964), and in Abbott Payson Usher's "The Textile Industry, 1750-1830," in Melvin Kranzberg and Carroll W. Pursell, Jr., eds., Technology in Western Civilization, vol. 1 (1967).

Additional Sources

Fitton, R. S., The Arkwrights: spinners of fortune, Manchester, UK; New York: Manchester University Press; New York, NY, USA: Distributed exclusively in the USA and Canada by St. Martin's Press, 1989. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sir Richard Arkwright." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Sir Richard Arkwright." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sir-richard-arkwright

"Sir Richard Arkwright." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sir-richard-arkwright

Arkwright, Sir Richard

Arkwright, Sir Richard (1732–92). Born in Preston, one of thirteen children, Arkwright was apprenticed to a barber, and established a business in Bolton. Travelling around northern textile districts to buy hair for wig-making, Arkwright met craftsmen attempting to improve cotton production and lured John Kay away from his employer in the 1760s; together they produced the water frame, a roller-spinning machine which Arkwright patented (1769). This, powered by water or a horse capstan, was the basis of Arkwright's fortune. His first horse-driven factory was established at Nottingham (1769) to supply Midland hosiers in partnership with Samuel Need and Jedediah Strutt of Derby. In 1771 he moved to Cromford (Derbys.) and was dominant in the early cotton industry. Lancashire cottonmasters successfully attacked his patent (1781 and 1785), but Arkwright deserves the title of ‘father of the factory system’ because of his organization of production. Knighted (1786), he became high sheriff of Derbyshire in 1787.

John Butt

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arkwright-sir-richard

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arkwright-sir-richard

Arkwright, Sir Richard

Sir Richard Arkwright, 1732–92, English inventor. His construction of a machine for spinning, the water frame, patented in 1769, was an early step in the Industrial Revolution. His machines and his gift for organization enabled him and his partner, Jedediah Strutt, to establish huge cotton mills and thus helped to start the factory system. He became very wealthy and was knighted in 1786.

See R. S. Fitton and A. P. Wadsworth, The Strutts and the Arkwrights, 1758–1830 (1958, repr. 1968); The Arkwright Society, Arkwright and the Mills at Cromford (1971).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arkwright-sir-richard

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arkwright-sir-richard

Arkwright, Sir Richard

Arkwright, Sir Richard (1732–92) British inventor and industrialist. He introduced powered machinery to the textile industry with his water-driven frame for spinning; he started work on the machine in 1764 and patented his invention in 1769. He opened textile factories in Nottingham.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arkwright-sir-richard

"Arkwright, Sir Richard." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arkwright-sir-richard