James Hargreaves – Another Genius

 “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

Cotton

There is a distinct cachet attached to the word “genius” for therein lies the suggestion that whomever possesses this gift transcends the realm of mere mortals.   While many attempt to quantify and qualify the “genius” classification, most of us find our definition via individuals who have displayed an exceptional intelligence or creativity.  Generally, we recognize it after the fact, rather than anticipate the occurrence.

James Hargreaves was an unlikely candidate for genius-hood. His birth was recorded in 1720 in the hamlet of Knuzden Brook near Blackburn, Lancashire.  Without formal education, he was unable to read or write.  He was a carpenter and weaver, occupations typical of Blackburn, a town known for the production of linen warp (lengthwise yarns/threads on a loom) and cotton weft (yarns/threads drawn through the warp to create cloth). Married with a large family, where would James have found the time to transform the weaving industry?  For that is exactly what he did when he invented the spinning jenny.  It was an engineering feat that would have far reaching consequences within his lifetime. Indeed, James’s  invention introduced a spinning technique that was a key factor in the emergence  of the Industrial Revolution.

The story goes that Jenny, one of James’s daughters unintentionally knocked over the family spinning wheel which caused the spindle to carry on revolving.  The idea that a whole line of spindles could be worked off one wheel came to him at that very moment.   It seems that Jenny never existed; and we will never know with certainty that a revolving spindle caused an “ah ha” moment.  What we do know is that James built a machine that placed eight spindles side by side so that several threads could be spun at the same time.

Here is where it gets interesting.  James kept his invention secret.  He built a machine for family use, but it wasn’t long before he sold the machines to a few of his neighbours.  At first everyone was pleased.  That is, until the price of yarn plummeted.  The large spinning community of Blackburn, foreseeing the demise of their livelihoods, turned against James.  Several broke into his home and destroyed his machines.  James fled, with his family, to Nottingham.

And that is when fate brought him ever closer to Sir Richard Arkwright.

“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”

Alexander the Great

 

 

 

 

 

 

94 thoughts on “James Hargreaves – Another Genius

    • What a great idea! Let’s go – my bags are packed.

      Whenever I think of the word “genius” Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind. While he may have well been the greatest inventor of all time, very little of his technology was implemented during HIS time. If they had, our technology today would probably be vastly different. What I love best is his resilience and courage. I imagine that he had very few people who understood him.

      “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death” Leonardo da Vinci

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  1. I find it interesting that rather than try to find a way to make a new invention or improvement work to one’s advantage, the instinct is to destroy it or the person who made it. This happens even in today’s world. I remember hearing something about a man, from Australia I think, who invented a way to power things with water rather than petroleum. He died in suspicious circumstances, of course.

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    • I agree – the James Hargreaves story has many parallels in our reality. One of the reasons why I chose this series of posts, was to explore the way in which humanity reacts to exponential change. We live in a fast-paced, mercurial world that demands our highest participation. That means, I must be ready to embrace new ideas, suggestions, ways of doing things. But there is also complexity which can be distilled into “how do we share resources.” This plays out in our everyday lives just as it does with nations. Over all, most people are risk-averse. But we are at our best when we leave our comfort zone.

      “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.” Joseph Campbell

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    • Exactly the same in business today…many new managers or high up people like to leave their mark by doing something different which the ordinary person knows may not work and then along comes the next one and the whole process starts again. Instead of finding a strength and building on it.
      Alexa from Sydney, Australia
      http://www.Alexa-asimplelife.com

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      • A insightful comment that reminds us that very little is accomplished when we demean the contribution of others. Strength comes within community. The Richard Arkwright narrative has relevance for our fast paced, mercurial world. We look back and think that life was less complicated. I don’t think humanity knows what it means to live a “easy existence.”

        “I never knew anybody . . . who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details.” Ursula K. Le Guin, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

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    • And that is exactly how the story unfolds…there is a price, but what is the cost? And how many people’s lives would be changed? I find this story fascinating because our reality comes out of it.

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    • It was indeed. I keep thinking of James Hargreaves fleeing with his wife and many children. It must have been a frightful time. As for brilliance by accident – this narrative is all about the right people being at the right place at the right time, to respond to an immediate need. I have often wondered how this happens. But it happens quite often. Sometimes even in our personal stories…. 🙂

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      • Indeed it does! 🙂 Life brings so many surprisingly good possibilities and opportunities. How do we respond and do we all see the chances presented? What would have happened if we did respond? It’s by choice and not by chance that we change our circumstances. I very much enjoyed yet another brilliant post bringing the interesting historical past to the present, Rebecca. Well done!
        Big hug to you from Norway. Siri, Selma and myself are getting ready for the big bicentennial party tomorrow. 🙂
        Dina xo

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      • Oh! How I wish I could join you, Siri and Selma tomorrow! I will be there with you “in spirit.” Your thoughts on responding are excellent. Choice must denote an action; an acceptance of risk to achieve something of value, a belief that our decisions have merit. Even in the midst of chaos, there is opportunity for reflection. As you said so eloquently “Life brings so many surprisingly good possibilities and opportunities…” Many hugs coming to you across the waters. We are celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday this weekend. ❤

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    • How very, very true!! Genius finds an outlet. Henry Ford is well known today for the assembly line technique of mass production. He reminds me of Richard Arkwright whose brilliance lay in organization of machinery and people. Michael Farady’s name is no longer a household word as it once was. Yet, his contributions in physics and chemistry were remarkable. Did you know (I just learned) that Albert Einstein kept a picture of Farady on his study wall. Thank you so much for your visit and comments! 🙂

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    • Indeed, it is an interesting history. And it becomes even more complicated when all the players come together. But that is the reality of working in a team. Life is always an adventure!! 🙂

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  2. Thank you for this interesting short biography. It should make us search in our day for little accidental “happenings” that may result in something out of the ordinary. Genius, perhaps, comes from opening our eyes and seeing the little interesting things that happen in our day.

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  3. Glad to meet this genius, through your post, for the first time. And, sorrowful that his creativity (or what transcended from the ethers through him) was met with such a bad fate in the end. What is wrong with us!!?? RIP Mr. Hargreaves.

    Love the Schopenhauer quote. Happy day to you, Rebecca. ❤

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    • Thank you, Paulette, for adding to this discussion. James Hargreaves had an exceptional mind for engineering, but had limited knowledge of business. It was a time of great change and the tried and true strategies no longer mattered. Sound familiar? I find there are many parallels in our world. I like Joseph Campbell’s quote about transitions:

      “If you are falling….dive.”

      Sunshine in Vancouver – a happy day to you too!!! ❤

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    • Thank you!!!! 🙂 To me, photography and languages are coming together, working as a form of translator. Blogging has introduced me to diversity that I would never have imagined was possible, simply because of the visual connections.

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  4. Clan, You always imagine such neat ways to put a spin on the historical facts you are sharing. This was a great lesson. I have said it in the past by had you been a teacher when I was in school, most likely I would have done a lot better. Take care, Bill

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    • You always give a lift to my day. When I was in school, I remember memorizing dates, events, locations, battles, the names of kings and queens, but I don’t remember the stories. This blog is about going back to school to catch up on what I missed. Its like I’ve gone back to school. And what fun I am having! There are so many exciting stories out there….

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    • Thank you for your kind words. Over the past couple of years, I have given a great deal of thought to stories and storytelling. Especially as it relates to how we create our personal narrative. When we read history, we are reading about lives, not facts or details. And we can never forget that everyday we are creating history.

      “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.” Joseph Campbell

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  5. Thanks for this great story and the beautiful pictures.
    It’s allways a pleasure to read your posts.
    Your first quote (Schopenhauer) in German: 😉 I like it.
    “Das Talent gleicht dem Schützen, der ein Ziel trifft, welches die übrigen nicht erreichen können; das Genie dem, der eins trifft, bis zu welchem sie nicht einmal zu sehen vermögen. “

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    • Thank you so much for the quote – there are subtleties that are lost in translation! And thank you for your visit and comments. One of the main reasons why I blog is to look back at the stories that are tucked away in history. I find that these narratives give me a clearer understanding of our reality. My father spoke about Arthur Schopenhauer and his ideas that were influenced by Eastern philosophy. I confess that I have much to learn about him, but I do know that he inspired others with his thoughts and writings. So glad that we connected!!! 🙂

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  6. Amazing story…when in 5th grade, I has to memorize the inventors and their inventions–Your delving into the deeper impetus that takes place for an invention to occur and its implications for others, not to mention our collective receptivity or lack thereof—would have been a much bolder and meaningful understanding to have retained over the years! I cannot wait to read the next!

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    • I am delighted that you joined the dialogue! Your comments gave a lift to my day! Have a wonderful weekend. We are celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday in Canada so it is a long weekend for us. 🙂

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    • Thank you for your encouraging and heartwarming comments. Last year, my son organized a “Industrial Revolution” adventure which took us to England and Wales. As I “walked” back into time, I could sense the excitement that progress brought, just as I recognized that there were many social issues that came out of this type of growth. It seems that when there is progress in one area, there is progress in all areas to counteract inequalities. And that gives me hope.

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  7. Eine wunderbare Geschichte über diesen genialen Handwerker und Weber hast Du uns erzählt liebe Rebecca. Deine Story gefällt mir ausgezeichnet. Ich wünsche Dir eine angenehme neue Woche mit viel Sonnenschein. Ernst

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    • Danke, mein lieber Freund. Ich wollte schon immer zu gehen zurück in die Zeit der industriellen Revolution. Es gibt so viele Geschichten, die in den Jahren verloren gegangen sind. Ihre Besuche erhellen meinen Tag!

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    • And thank you for stopping by. I’m trying to figure out how to make comments using my iPad. In Victoria for the Highland Games. Your ability to keep up with blogging on your travels is truly amazing! 🙂 Learning as I go along!!!

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  8. ★ ★ ★ Hi Rebecca ★ ★ ★

    A very enlightening post starting with that quote by Schopenhauer, followed by your insights as to the attempts of achieving a complete definition in order to

    quantify and qualify the “genius” classification.

    And ending by telling us about James Hargreaves´ legacy…

    His invention was absolutely important as, quoting you “it was a key factor in the emergence of the Industrial Revolution”…

    What I liked about this story is that Hargreaves was an ordinary man, without formal education. That is really the most interesting aspect to me…
    I will like to add an eloquent quote by Albert Camus in this latest sense:
    “I don’t want to be a genius-I have enough problems just trying to be a man.”

    Thanks for the good reading,

    Best wishes, Aquileana 😀

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    • Thank you for your comments – they add so much to the dialogue. I loved the Albert Camus quote – we must never forget our humanity. James Hargreaves reminded me that we our unique, that whatever talents or intelligence we have will come out, in one form or another. Perhaps it is seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Progress is a series of actions made by many people over time, that when they come together have exponential power. 🙂 Best wishes coming back to you…

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    • Thank you for your heartwarming comments. The James Hargreaves story becomes even more interesting and complex – because we want to see a fair and equitable distribution. I am so glad that you joined the conversation. 🙂

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  9. I always find it baffling that anyone can have a mind complex enough to think up these intricate inventions. But good that we have those people – our world would be very basic and very hard work if we didn’t! And it’s a pity Jenny didn’t exist, that sounded a perfect explanation. Not quite sure why I didn’t find this blog before, but anyway, I’m glad to finally find where you’ve been beavering away! 😉

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    • Sorry I haven’t responded sooner – I’ve been on my iphone for the past week, ever since my computer decided to take a break. Now, I am back and reconnecting.

      I am really enjoying this series of posts – so many stories forgotten in the folds of history. I have a new appreciation for the clothes that I wear. The journey from cottage to factory had many twists and turns. More to come…

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    • I am so glad that we connected! I agree – genius takes the road “less traveled.” It is not easy to see what others cannot see or understand. I don’t think that James Hargreaves placed himself in the category of “genius;” He just saw the need. Perhaps we all have a little bit of genius in us! 🙂

      “There is no great genius without a mixture of madness.” Aristotle

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  10. What a classic tale Clanmother! Thanks for posting this. James Hargreaves’s lack of formal education was clearly irrelevant because he saw an opportunity and seized it. 🙂

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    • I am so pleased that you stopped by for a visit! Genius is found in unlikely places! As you said, “he saw an opportunity and seized it.” That was the defining moment.

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    • Thank you!! And that is why I’m following your remarkable blog. Everyone of your post is a powerful story. Without question, we draw strength and courage from those who have gone before. Now, we must live the stories that will be given to future generations. To me, that is the way we pass on hope. 🙂

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    • Grazie mille per fermarsi per una visita. Sono stato via un paio di giorni su un incarico di lavoro. Mi piace ricevere i vostri commenti. Voi portate sole per la mia giornata!

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    • Thank you!!! Just this week I had a chance to experience once again how the academic community views history. Sometimes it is a tedious process, that clips all excitement and joy. I am going back to look at the stories, not only dates, events etc. History is about humanity – it is our story. There are many sides to a narrative. Your visits and comments add to the dialogue!

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  11. that is such a great quote, and pondering the word ‘genius’ made me think of a mentor of mine. he was a true genius, had no children, and when visiting his home, i was always the ‘only child…’ he doted on me, as did his wife, but he always shared his ‘visions’ (he was an engineer) which were always way way way over my ability to grasp.. but wow, what a gift it was to observe and know a truly brilliant mind.

    i love your posts, of course, and i’m still hobbling along in cyberspace.. traveling home today from costa rica… either will arrive at a hotel around 2 in the morning or roll onto a bus bound for home.. if at a hotel, i’ll say hi/goodnight before crashing!

    z

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    • I love hearing from you! Your determination and patience to work with an intermittent connection is an inspiration to us all. Plus, I always feel like I have been parachuted into one of your adventures. Very exciting.

      There are some people that you meet that will forever change the way you conduct the rest of your life. You had a wonderful mentorship experience. Isn’t it fun reaching for the impossible and finding it possible!!! 🙂 Safe travels!

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      • I did!! And I remember all of them. They allowed me to see who they were – imperfect people who lived remarkable lives. They taught me that challenges and taking risks created resilience. Most of all, it was about connections and love for all things that walk and live on this beautiful world. I have many mentors – from age 5 to 95. Since joining the blogging community, my mentors have grown exponentially! Hugs from across the miles. 🙂

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  12. It just goes to show, that many times you don’t need a formal education to be a genius. Sometimes a little lateral thought is all that’s needed – or alternatively someone to knock over your spinning wheel! 🙂

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    • I love the thought of “someone knocking over your spinning wheel!!” It certainly is a catalyst for thinking differently. And that is what makes life all the more exciting! 🙂 Thank you for your visit and comments – so very much appreciated.

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