Sir Richard Arkwright (23 December 1732 – 3 August 1792) was self-made man, a leading entrepreneur during the early Industrial Revolution. Although the patents were eventually overturned, he is credited with inventing the spinning frame, which, following the transition to water power was renamed the water frame. He also patented a rotary carding engine that transformed raw cotton into cotton lap.
Arkwright's achievement was to combine power, machinery, semi-skilled labour and the new raw material (cotton) to create mass-produced yarn. His skills of organisation made him, more than anyone else, the creator of the modern factory system, especially in his mill at Cromford. Later in his life Arkwright was known as 'the Father of the Industrial Revolution'.
He was the youngest of 13 children, was born in Preston, Lancashire. His father was a tailor and a Preston Guild burgess. His parents, Sarah and Thomas, could not afford to send him to school and instead arranged for him to be taught to read and write by his cousin Ellen. Richard was apprenticed to a Mr. Nicholson, a barber at nearby Kirkham, and began his working life as a barber and wig-maker, setting up a shop at Churchgate in Bolton in the early 1750s. It was here that he invented a waterproof dye for use on the fashionable 'periwigs' (wigs) of the time, the income from which later facilitated his financing of prototype cotton machinery.
It was only after the death of his first wife that he became an entrepreneur.
On his own, Arkwright took an interest in spinning and carding machinery that turned raw cotton into thread. In 1768, he and John Kay, a clockmaker, relocated to the textile centre of Nottingham. In 1769 he patented the water-frame, a machine that produced a strong twist for warps, substituting wooden and metal cylinders for human fingers. This made possible inexpensive yarns to manufacture cheap calicoes, on which the subsequent great expansion of the cotton industry was based.
How does a Water Frame work ? For each spindle, the water frame used a series of four pairs of rollers, each operating at a successively higher rotating speed, to draw out the fiber,or fibre, which was then twisted by the spindle. The roller spacing was slightly longer than the fiber length. Too close a spacing caused the fibers to break while too distant a spacing caused uneven thread. The top rollers were leather covered and loading on the rollers was applied by a weight. The weights kept the twist from backing up before the rollers. The bottom rollers were wood and metal, with a flute along the length. The water frame was originally powered by horses at a factory built by Arkwright and partners in Nottingham. In 1770 Arkwright and partners built a water powered mill in Cromford, Derbyshire.
Arkwright's achievements: He served as high sheriff of Derbyshire and was knighted in 1786. Much of his fortune derived from licensing his intellectual rights; about 30,000 people were employed in 1785 in factories using Arkwright's patents. He died at Rock House, Cromford, on 3 August 1792, aged 59, leaving a fortune of £500,000.
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