Claims & Counterclaims

“Friendship is like money, easier made than kept.”

Samuel Butler

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The Patent Race ended in a courtroom.  In 1775, Richard Arkwright, ever the astute entrepreneur, patented an assortment of machinery for manufacturing cotton.  Before long, much to his dismay no doubt, he was beset by a series of court cases that challenged his patents.

Thomas Highs, John Kay, John Kay’s wife, and the widow of James Hargreaves steadfastly alleged that Richard Arkwright intentionally stole their inventions.  As with any court proceedings, the details of the transactions were complex. In this case, the new technologies which involved intricate mechanisms such as feeder, roving can, crank and comb, and rolling spinning, made it more problematic.  It was difficult to sort out all of the facts, the dates, the witness accounts.

In 1785, despite valiant efforts to defend his position, Richard Arkwright lost in the courts.  Considered copies of the invention of others, his patents were revoked.

So what happened to our players?

James Hargreaves patented a sixteen spindle spinning jenny on July 12, 1770.  His invention introduced labour-saving technology that had a direct impact on the employment levels of the spinning community.  Recall that hand spinners, fearing for their livelihood, broke into his house and destroyed a few of his spinning jennies.  However, not even the spectre of unemployment stopped the sale of his machines, which enabled him to support his large family.  When he moved to Nottingham in 1768, he partnered with Thomas James to build a small mill which housed jennies used to spin yarn for hosiers.   James Hargreaves did not live to see Richard Arkwright’s patents revoked, but he lived comfortably until his death in 1778.

John Kay, the clock-maker, worked with Richard Arkwright for twenty-one years, pledging to keep their methods secret. In 1769, they constructed the first working mill powered by horses.  Richard Arkwright never gave any credit to John Kay, despite his invaluable contributions.  They had a falling out when Arkwright accused Kay of giving their design to James Hargreaves.  On his side, Kay accused Arkwright of stealing his work tools.  Their relationship was abruptly dissolved.

Thomas Highs, the reed-maker, claimed several patents which included the spinning jenny, a carding machine and a water frame.  After he and John Kay had run out of money, he continued fine-tuning his inventions.  In 1770/71, while living in Manchester, he constructed a double-jenny, which had twenty-eight spindles on each side. Shortly thereafter he constructed a carding-engine.  The meeting with Samuel Crompton of Bolton produced the spinning Mule, which combined the roller-spinning frame and the spinning jenny.  During the 1780’s he spent time in Ireland before being called back to give testimony at the 1785 patent trial.  He died in 1803 at the age of eighty-four, outliving them all.

Despite the setback of revoked patents in 1785, Richard would go on to receive a knighthood in 1786 and become High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1787.  By the time of his death, five years later on August 3, 1792, his factories in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and Scotland had made him a very wealthy man.

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Most historians agree that Richard Arkwright’s factories was a grand start to the industrial revolution.   Richard Arkwright may have taken the ideas of Thomas Highs, John Kay and James Hargreaves, but there is evidence that he improved upon their initial work.  It was said that he was so obsessed with spinning machines that his second wife destroyed his development models in hopes that he would return to the security of wig making.  That was not to be.  Richard Arkwright’s destiny was to be the first to build a steam-powered textile factory and be given the title of “Father of the Factory System.”

Water Buckets

Next Post – Mighty Machines

114 thoughts on “Claims & Counterclaims

    • I agree. I have been just reading Joseph Campbell and his ideas on the “Hero’s Journey.” Humanity has a wonderful breadth of diversity; it seems that we have a way of bring forth ideas that build on each other. It really is quite marvelous. 🙂

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      • I’m currently reading a book about the feminine version of the “Hero’s Journey.” It’s called “The Virgin’s Promise,” by Kim Hudson. It’s a way of looking at archetypal journeys from a woman’s point of view.

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      • Thank you for the recommendation. I have just added “The Virgin’s Promise” to my Amazon Wish List. It has great reviews! Thank you. I was looking at the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroine by Patricia Monaghan PhD. There is so much to read, which to me is the most exciting thing of all!! 🙂

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  1. I wonder how many advancements in technology have been destroyed because of fear and/or jealousy. Stealing ideas is the norm rather than the exception. It still happens all the time. Facebook, for example. I understand the temptation to improve on an idea, especially when the original inventor doesn’t have the capability to do it, but the person who had the original idea should be credited. Those who “borrow” tend to keep the glory for themselves.

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    • A very, very good point. As I was considering the whole of this story, the question of value, worth, credit, glory etc. was ever in front of me. Which of these men gave the greatest contribution? Would progress have been made if one of them had not been an active participant? Generally, we ascribe success to the person who gained the greatest monetary wealth from the enterprise. On the other hand, Thomas Highs was granted the wealth of time. More than that, when he became disabled, a friend supported him and ensured that he was given a proper burial. For me, friendship and added years is of greater value than $$. The one who seemed to have the most difficult life was John Kay, who passed Thomas High’s ideas over to Richard Arkwright, without giving any credit to the originator. Interesting how it all turns out in the end…

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      • I agree wholeheartedly – progress comes from individual efforts that combine with others to bring about synergistic outcomes. The most thing is to participate!!! 🙂

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  2. Good morning Rebecca,
    first of all many thanks for your touching quote at the top of the page:)
    These inventors, with all their negative sides,and especially Richard Arkwright, seem to have been very passionate about what they did and this is absolutely necessary, if you want to make changes in our world, at least according to me.
    Many thanks for this very inspiring post and have a quiet day.

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    • And many thanks for adding depth to our dialogue. I agree – these men were determined and passionate in their resolve to transform the cotton industry. And transform it they did! They all made an invaluable contribution – we are reaping the benefits to this very day. The idea of reward for effort is always an issue at the time, but as time goes on, we all forget the hard work of those that have gone on before. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson. Whatever we do, whatever efforts we give, must be seen in a historical perspective. Have a wonderful weekend!!! 🙂

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    • Thank you so much for stopping by – appreciate your comments. I am uncertain why you are not able to watch the video. I tried it on my iPad and iPhone without any problem. So sorry it didn’t work – I know you would have enjoyed it. And there is more coming in the next post. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention. 🙂

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      • I knew you would like it! What I found most interesting is how the clockmaker, John Kay, was able to use his knowledge in relatively small mechanisms and apply it to these types of machines. Truly remarkable.

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  3. One has to wonder how much of this goes on. Who really invented what. It’s sad that a person’s life work can go masked by the misdeeds of another. And behind most recognized how many go unrecognized. It’s heart opening when acknowledgement is giving, when humility manifests, but as the original astute quote says, when friendships last, made from the cloth of trust. I’m blessed with a few good, long time friends, one of which is my dearest husband, who today is 70 years young. Love, Paulette

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    • Happy Happy Happy Birthday to your dearest husband. I just sang him happy birthday and am sending best wishes through the cables and wires. I loved your question: “Who really invented what?” When I was researching this story, there were differing opinions as to who did what, when etc. Looking back through the years, what came through to me was that these men were caught up in a time of overwhelming transformation. With new technologies and ideas bouncing from person to person, the rules of the game were changed radically. Everyone scrambled, from those who feared unemployment to those who understood how to gain from reorganizing work. Have a wonderful birthday celebration! 🙂

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  4. Love your new header! ❤

    This is interesting history. I have enjoyed reading along. Amazing, isn't it, how improvements are made from one idea to another, even one one that belongs to someone else.That's progress, I guess.:-P

    Can you tell me about the second last picture with the pails hung along the stairs. Would those be lunch pails?

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  5. Wenn ich deine Geschichte über diese industrielle Revolution lese und lerne, dass schon vor Jahrhunderten mit harten Bandagen um Vorteile und Macht gekämpft wurde, wird mir klar, dass die heutigen Industrie-Spionagen in aller Welt nicht von ungefähr kommen. Ohne Vergangenheit gibt es keine Gegenwart, könnte man denken.
    Rebecca, dein Bericht gefällt mir sehr. Ich wünsche dir ein angenehmes Wochenende und eine herrliche Herbstzeit.
    Liebe Grüsse. Ernest

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  6. Love the post, the subject and the way you tell the story! 🙂
    The introductory quote has however made me think for a while… and I can’t quite agree with Butler: (real) friendship is not easy made at all, it’s something that’s built along good and bad times. And because of that, it’s much more valuable and much easier to keep than money – and also much rarer!
    Just a thought… 😉

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    • And I like your thought. Sometimes is seems that we take care of money before we take care of friendships. Perhaps that is why friendship is rarer, and more precious. I have a quote that I keep on my computer desktop so that I remember that connecting, sharing has the power to give meaning to our existence…

      “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Kurt Vonnegut

      To me, friendship overcomes loneliness.

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  7. Wow, where do I begin?
    An exciting sequel once again. And great illustrated. I especially like the second to last photo, but I like the picture with the mountain of cotton too.
    It is incredible in which way the ideas were implemented and partially under difficult conditions. But some things have not changed, when I think of the disputes between the inventors. It is like today.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    • You are so right – we have not changed. The Industrial Revolution was but the foreshadowing of the exponential progress that we are experiencing today in our efforts to achieve that illusive competitive advantage. Thank you for your encouraging comments. I have enjoyed this mini-research project (and there is more to come – there are so many, many stories) because it has provided a link from past to future. It reminded me that we all must make a contribution – that we are active, not passive participants.

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  8. It’s sad to hear about all the fights and legal cases. There must be many inventors who don’t like the hassle involved in getting credit for their ideas. Some people prefer the simple enjoyment of invention. Unfortunately, their good ideas may be lost if they don’t make the effort to get a patent and then to market them.

    The inventor’s dilemma reminds me of the problems writers have. We like to write, but no one will be able to read what we have written unless we make the effort to get it published and then work to market it. Most of us prefer the writing to the marketing.

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    • A very good analogy. The writer must also be a publisher (self-publishing is growing exponentially both in print book and e-book format), marketer and business person. There are so many voices and messages that come in many formats – visual, sound and audio, every one demanding our attention. To me, writers must continue to write what is in their hearts. That is the one true voice that will bring the market to the writer.

      Thank you for stopping by and adding depth to the dialogue! 🙂

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    • It is so good to be back! I agree that trying for competitive advantages has its issues, especially when it comes to ethical behaviour. What I found so powerful about this story was that the movement, the progress, the energy of that time was bigger than any of these men. They were caught up in the events and were able, in their own way, to add value to the time that they had been given. I have been reading Joseph Campbell of late and thought this quote said it all:

      “Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.”
      Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

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    • How very well said – a soap opera. Humanity seems to thrive on complexity, especially when it comes to sharing resources and fame. As I read about each of these men, it seemed to me that the enterprise needed all of their skills. And there were others that came along, just at the right time, to push the project forward. Thank you for stopping by and for your comments! Much appreciated.

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    • I agree wholeheartedly. I can only imagine the Arkwright kitchen table full of machinery plans and models. Everywhere his wife looked, I am certain that there was clutter, all pertaining to a new business venture that was, to her mind (and probably everyone else’s) uncertain. Wig-making had made their family rich. Now, it was being used (squandered) as venture capital. During my “Arkwright” mini-project, I kept wondering about the wives and families. Money was scarce (even Arkwright needed money to pursue his dream – more to come). What these men accomplished was monumental. I had no idea until I went through the mills.

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  9. What a worthwhile conversation! Truly inspiring. I am so interested in the craft that uses spinning wheels. Must be very fascinating. I just searched to see if they are for sale and how available. Of course, they are for sale and all the equipment that is needed to make a beautiful product. But, alas, this would take a very time to develop such an exacting skill. Oh, if there were just more time to do these exciting things. Fortunately, we are able to profit from those who made machines that make so quickly the lovely cotton fabric we use today,

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    • I agree – we have indeed profited from the inventions of those that lived in the 1700’s. I was reading a quote by Susan B. Anthony:

      “Modern invention has banished the spinning-wheel, and the same law of progress makes the woman of to-day a different woman from her grandmother.”

      And this is from a women who lived from 1820 – 1906. Modern technology allows us to pursue many new vocations, but there are times when we all look back and give thanks who came before.

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    • Thank you so much! Isn’t is interesting that when we “get there first” we find that someone has been there before us. We forget that we are participating in a world that has past and future – the only thing that belongs to us is the present.

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      • Yes, it’s fascinating. I recall the Darwin story—all of his work on the origin of the species was proved to have been done before—he was just the guy who got it published and thereby got the credit.
        Your comments re past / future / present chime 🙂

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  10. Thank you for that interesting piece of history – very troubled history it seems! I shall never see material or clothes in the same way now! It’s shocking to know how much argument, pain and loss of friendship and business partners went on behind in the history of the production of material. It’s not something we give a lot of thought to today, of how it became what is now. Patents have a terrible history of being challenged, sometimes in the most ruthless of ways, often the one who put all the thought and hard work in had it all stolen from them. Anything that involves a lot of money seems to attract the worst kind of vultures. But I guess sometimes there may have been coincidental inventions by more than one inventor – tricky business! I wonder if patents today are a lot more straight forward or maybe not?

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    • Ah, the business of inventions!!! It is indeed a tricky business. Consider the incandescent light-bulb. Thomas Edison’s name comes up as the inventor – he patented the first commercially successful one in 1879. But there were others that contributed to our ability to see in the darkness: Alessandro Volta, Humphrey Davy, Warren de la Rue, William Staite, Joseph Swan, Charles Francis Brush, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans.

      I share your thoughts on material – I will never look at a cotton blouse the same again. Perhaps that is the best way to honour those who worked in the textile industry. The technology was new, but the real work was done by human effort.

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  11. Hi Rebecca! I missed your posts and am happy to see you back here 🙂 It’s intriguing how different ideas seem to happen together, seemingly coming from different sources. Great to learn more about Richard Arkwright and to see you are already planning the next post! Hugs!

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    • It is wonderful to be back. I was in the Scottish Highlands for a few weeks travelling with my family. We were following the bagpipes….

      I agree – there is a synchronicity that appears throughout history, which makes living all the more distinctly unique. Always a joy to have you join the dialogue. 🙂

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  12. Hi dear Rebecca!… How great to read a new post here!. And this one is particularly interesting and clever. I really enjoyed to learn more about Arkwright and his major contribution to Industry. All these twists and turns on the story made me think about the Industrial Revolution and its effects, particularly the way it has changed the labor structure, mainly entraining division of work and specialization.
    Wonderful post!. Hugs and best wishes to you, Aquileana 😀

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    • I agree wholeheartedly! The Industrial Revolution was all about the restructure of labour, a foreshadowing of what we are experiencing in the age of technology. With every invention, it seems that we must reinvent ourselves and the way we in which approach new ideas and ways of doing things. The Arkwright story is “our story.” Hugs coming right back to you… 🙂

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  13. What an interesting story! It’s fascinating to think about who actually invented what, especially when people work in collaboration. And one can’t help thinking of all the women in history who are never given credit either.

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    • Thank you for checking in, Cindy! Have been away for a few weeks and am catching up on everything. I’ve been enjoying reading everyone’s posts, and now it is time to start blogging again! Life is so good! 🙂

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  14. This happen often in Science too, the famous one would be James Watson and Rosalind Franklin on the discovery of helix DNA. Also in the Nobel prize in physics laureates Yang and Lee part their way after sharing the prize. Thanks for the interesting story!

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  15. Dear Rebecca: like many of your readers, i have been waiting and looking for your posts and glad you are back. i have not been writing regularly but I did try to check out all fellow blogger friends’ posts. Excited to know that you just came back from Scotland, as Scotland is in our mind near year.

    Thank you for posting such an intriguing piece of the story. As always your posts always stimulated my interest to look up more information, to return to read more, to reflect, to understand, to contemplate …and it will never end!

    Even the comments and your replies are so well thought and stimulating. Do you know it is hard to find any space on this post to write to you? Hee hee…see you again soon.

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  16. Very good post about the textile mills. It reminds me of a novel written by Claude Fournier: “Les tisserands du pouvoir” about the migration of Quebec people in the textile mills of New England States, the power of the Church, and the economic rules of industrial research.

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    • Thank you so much for bringing up Claude Fournier’s book “Les tisserands du pouvoir”. Canada had a thriving textile industry at one time, but the hardships experienced cannot be forgotten. I understand that there was a miniseries based on this book. Your visit is very much appreciated. 🙂

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  17. Great article Rebecca, and yes, indeed as Marianne points out, via Claude Fournier’s book, the exodus of French speaking Quebecers, that also makes up part of the Two Solitudes book by Hugh MacLennan’s, were a people looking for financial survival, and had to migrate to the New England States to do so, as in the Quebec province then controlled by the narrow minds of the entrenched Roman Catholic church, fighting to keep out industry of any kind, to prevent the starving farmers from working for the wealthy anglophones, as they would loose their in their RC god, and by extension, would loose them control over their parishioners. Which it eventually did.

    By the way, a by-product of that exodus created the most famous of all the strongest men in the world, Louis Cyr, born in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville Quebec, a title he holds, which has never beaten to this very day. Louis, the eldest of the Cyr siblings had moved with his family, to later return to Canada, to become the world wide famous strongest man.

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    • Thank you Jean-Jacques for the recommendation. I have located “Two Solitudes” on Amazon.ca (via Kindle) and via the Vancouver Public Library. Progress has always been a difficult journey because of the challenge to the prevailing power structures. Your words, “which it eventually did…” is a testament to the nature of change. Migrations, technology, science, education – hard to control, and even harder to predict. The other day I came across a thought by Zhuangzi when I was looking for thoughts on autumn. I think you will appreciate this:

      “We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.” What was once considered an absolute in no longer viable.

      I have heard of Louis Cyr, but I didn’t know his background. How interesting.

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  18. Maybe the difference between Arkwright and the others was determination, passion or obsession. Sometimes this make a person achieve greatness, it’s sad that the others were not credited for what they did, but it the end something useful and beautiful was created.

    Pablo Picasso once said “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”

    but a friendship is worth more than any money in the world

    good post like always, they always make me think, thank you for that
    looking forward for the next one

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    • I agree – there was something about Richard Arkwright that was different. His genius was how to bring together the various parts of the puzzle. What I found most fascinating and challenging about this narrative was the way in which we view success. We see the world in terms of winners and losers, which misses the point altogether. The quote by Pablo Picasso is so appropriate for this discussion. An idea belongs to all of us – not only a select few. Thank you so much for stopping by – always a joy to hear from you.

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    • I am so glad that we connected! Your creative spirit brings together artistry and drama, with compassion and hope. Every one of your posts are truly remarkable. The poetry shirt was especially meaningful to me.

      http://artgowns.com/2014/01/06/robyns-poetry-shirt/

      My greatest takeaway from the Arkwright story was the passion and determination that went into the textile industry. And how design and art were essential to the emergence of the factory system. The story is not over – it really is a continuing saga.

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      • Thank you for your kind words!
        I would love for my Art Gowns to do more than just have pet charities. Hopefully this will evolve with time.

        Robyn’s Poetry Shirt means a lot to me as well. I also believe it means a lot to Robyn.

        I look forward to the next installment of the Arkwright story.
        History is very revealing. I do think knowing about the past helps to build a better future.
        Take care, and keep writing!

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      • I agree wholeheartedly – looking back helps us recognize the value of the moment, of choices made. One of my most favourite quotes and one that I considered when I started this blog was:

        “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard

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