Mighty Machines

Shop Floor

The Shop Floor, Masson Mills

Mark Frauenfeder, Editor-in-chief, Make, wrote the “The spinning wheel made England into a powerhouse.”  The spinning wheel in question, however, was not a home-style spinning wheel that resided in a rustic cottage in the country. The textile machines of the eighteenth century transformed a nation.  Great Britain’s dominance in the textile industry was safeguarded because of laws that prohibited the export of textile machinery and anything that could lead to another country gaining a competitive advantage. These inventions belonged to Britain. No machinery, machinery drawings or written specifications were to leave the country.

These mighty machines were complicated, noisy, and extremely dangerous to operate.  The two main “mighty machines” were the power-loom, a steam-powered, mechanically operated version of a regular loom for weaving. And the spinning frame which produced stronger threads, quickly and efficiently.

Beyond the borders of Great Britain, rumours of what these mighty machines could do stirred up envy in other countries. In 1786, the secret left the country with two Scots who immigrated to the United States.   Claiming to be well-versed in Richard Arkwright’s spinning frame, the U.S. government invested a goodly sum into their inventing endeavours. Alas, the machines were sub-standard.  But the race for a home-grown American textile industry was set in motion.

Richard Arkwright’s factory system would be exported to America. A young man from Milford, England would become known as the Founder of American Industrial Revolution.  Progress cannot be contained, despite all attempts to limit possibilities.   John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga) once wrote, “Men are in fact, quite unable to control their own inventions; they at best develop adaptability to the new conditions those inventions create.” 

Next posts:

  • All the Children
  • The Man from Wales
  • Coming to America

70 thoughts on “Mighty Machines

  1. “Progress cannot be contained, despite all attempts to limit possibilities.” Sometimes the attempts can be quite sinister. Every so often I hear a story of yet another inventor’s (usually of an alternative fuel source) mysterious suicide. And yet there are those who continue the search.

    Nice to see a new post from you. 🙂

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    • Thank you, LaVagabonde! It is good to be back to blogging on a regular basis. I agree, there are those who continue to search, working on projects that may or may not come to fruition. They see a future that no one else can understand or envision. They must endure skepticism, even ridicule. In the end, they are the ones who change the world – not the doubters or naysayers. My grandfather once said to me, I lived in a time that saw automobiles replace the horse and cart; and I saw a man walk on the moon. So many changes in the space of a lifetime. Ideas are powerful; perhaps that is why we hesitate to embrace them.

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    • I had no idea that they would start up the machines. They are still operational after all these years. The noise was deafening, with only a few looms running. At its peak, Masson Mills had hundreds of looms, which made it impossible to shout over the noise. The weavers, ever inventive, developed their own sign language. I understand that they were able to communicate with each other using lip reading. Thank you so much or stopping by – very much appreciated.

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    • I agree – these machines were creative and beautifully crafted. After all, it was the clock-makers who applied their skills with small gears, flywheels and sprockets to fashion them on a larger scale. The workmanship was precise. Perhaps the greatest achievement was how all of the pieces came together. The more I ventured into the textile world, the more it seemed like a big jigsaw puzzle that somehow mysteriously came together. Perhaps it all had something to do with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  2. It’s amazing that they were able to contain it for as long as they did. I wonder if there’s anything as powerful an invention as this that has been contained. Great post and while I’m here wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season. It’s been such a pleasure meeting and getting to know you, Rebecca. Love, Paulette ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree – I don’t think inventions can been contained. This one was out within a few short years. I had a chance to look up what inventions are coming within the next 10 years. Most are linked to creating new power options from next generation bio-fuels to ocean-driven hydropower. The advances in nanotech medicine will bring hope for those with cancer. Communication and social media applications will bring us ever closer; ideas will be shared in seconds. My gratitude to all those who choose to be inventors. 🙂

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    • Thank you for your encouraging comments. I agree wholeheartedly – profit and glory are indeed tempting. The great Adam Smith, the Scottish moral philosopher who lived in the time of Richard Arkwright agrees with you. He said: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” But his always said, and I know that you will agree with him: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

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  3. Good evening Rebecca, I am glad to read and think about your interesting post concerning the noisy spinning wheel, which I am trying to compare with the first computer and its enormous changes it brought, for the better or the worse! All the best:)

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    • Oh, the computer! I remember when the Commodore 64’s came out. Now we walk about with smart phones that can help us find an address, phone a friend on the other side of the world, listen to music, play video games, book a flight to Rome. And more is on the horizon. Our inventions challenge us because they take us to where we have never been before. Thank you for your comments and presence – very much appreciated. 🙂

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      • You listed up many things that show us the changes of the world like when spinning wheel become a mighty power. Doesn’t this also show us that, in fact, few men can induce the world to change the system? Many thanks for all the interesting questions that your post provokes.:)

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      • How very insightful, Martina. I agree – it only takes an idea that understands and responds to a need or demand. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” has some thoughts in this regard.

        “In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.” Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

        Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas – very much appreciated.

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      • Your “Tipping Point” is really the dot on the I and undermines my idea the the single person can also do a lot to make important changes. I wonder only why he doesn’t do it! Thank you very much, as always, for your help to understand certain things better.:)

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      • I believe in the power of the individual. We can make a difference. As we enter a New Year, may we continue to seek positive outcomes for all. Thank you for adding so much to my understanding. 🙂

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      • I am very much of your opinion, each of us can contribute to this change!
        By the way, I have already made researches about Malcom Galdwell.
        Looking forward to the deepening of our very precious relationship in 2015:)

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      • Me too!!! The adventure continues….and the best of times are those that are shared. I think you will enjoy Malcolm Gladwell. Even though he speaks a great deal about research, he is a wonderful storyteller…

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  4. And so those “mighty machines” would come to be known for getting the wheels of the American Revolution churning! It’s great the way you give a thorough overview of the steps taken. That last quote about being unable to control inventions is interesting and it reminds me of how creative people cannot control what they produce in general, finding it an urge to create art… That came to mind as I read the quote. Wonderful post, my friend!

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    • Thank you for adding depth to this conversation. Creativity thrives on possibilities. Books, art, dance, poetry – they act as guideposts and bring us to a new understanding of our place in the world. We all participate in transfer of knowledge from our generation to the next. One of my favourite books when I was a child was “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved her thoughts on writing:

      “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

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      • Thank you, Christy! I agree – somewhere along our timeline, we forget that we were once children, that the moment was now, not tomorrow or yesterday. We must remember to head towards the “second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”

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    • It is indeed! Think of the printing press and all of the dramatic changes that flowed from that singular invention. Now we have the computer and internet. The more we invent, the more complex and interesting our world becomes. Always a challenge. Thank you so much for your comments and for connecting. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Polly, for stopping by and adding to the conversation. The machines were big, but many of the tasks could only be completed by children. Everything about the Industrial Revolution brought us closer to an understanding of how to interact with mechanization. We continue to learn…. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Marlene. My thoughts and ideas on cloth and clothing changed considerable once I visited the textile mills. Clothing has become a ubiquitous commodity, which makes it easy to forget all of the hard work and effort that went into the making of the textile industry. 🙂

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  5. I enjoyed seeing the moving machines–too fast for me–show motion would be good. These machines were so relevant at the time and, I believe they are still being improved. I wonder where the current relevant invention will come from. I have read a little about machines that clean our oceans. Could that be the newest that would make a big change in the way things are done? accomplished.

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    • Ah, you would have been there at the birth of photography. Can you imagine visiting Joseph Nicéphore Niépce! There was so much happening during this age! Merry Christmas! Your Christmas photo post was marvelous. 🙂

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  6. Great post my friend… I much enjoyed your approach over here … Particularly when you highlight that
    the textile machines of the eighteenth century transformed a whole nation which led to Great Britain’s dominance as there were also restrictive laws that prohibited the export of textile machinery…
    As I read your words above I thought about Monopoly and its effects… Plus Great Britain’s supremacy in the seas… Your post provides us a through explanation of facts and causes and I much enjoyed the interesting reading. Al the best to you and happy weekend ahead. Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Aquileana, for your encouraging comments – very much appreciated. Looking back has given me greater appreciation for what was accomplished during a relatively short period of time. The technological advancement were remarkable; but what was even more memorable were the social changes that occurred during that same period. The interesting thing about competitive advantage is that it is fleeting and unpredictable. Progress is about new ideas, new discoveries that benefit our world, not only humanity.

      “Ever since the Industrial Revolution, investments in science and technology have proved to be reliable engines of economic growth. If homegrown interest in those fields is not regenerated soon, the comfortable lifestyle to which Americans have become accustomed will draw to a rapid close.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

      All the very best of the season! 🙂

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  7. Es erstaunt mich nicht, dass die Engländer ihre Kenntnisse über den Bau dieser Webstuhl Maschinen nicht so lange geheim halten konnten. Es war ja die Zeit, in der Europäer aus wirtschaftlichen Gründen in die Vereinigten Staaten auswanderten. Ich glaube, da wanderten viele Ideen und Kenntnisse mit aus.
    Ein sehr interessanter Bericht mit informativen Bildern über diese Ungetüme von Maschinen. Danke. Liebe Grüsse. Ernst
    I’m not surprised that the English could not keep secret for so long their knowledge of the construction of this loom machines. It was the time in which Europeans emigrated for economic reasons in the United States. I think that a lot of ideas and knowledge emigrated with.
    A very interesting report with informative images on these behemoths of machines. Thank You. Best regards.

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    • Ideen sind sehr schwierig, geheim zu halten, denn sie scheinen eine starke Kraft, um die Tat umgesetzt. Erfinder sehen die Zukunft, wie es sein könnte und sich nicht mit dem Status quo. Die Vorhersagen für die Zukunft sind der Stoff, der Science-Fiction. Aber durch all das, wir müssen unsere Menschlichkeit zu halten. Denn am Ende ist alles, was wichtig werden die Verbindungen, die wir in unserem Leben gemacht haben. Familie und Freunde sind der größte Schatz. Alles Gute von der Ferienzeit!

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    • So glad that you stopped by and added your thoughts. The blue man in the photo was a life-size photograph of a worker at his post. What was most significant for me was seeing a child’s figure at work – usually in the most dangerous place. Looking back gave me a great deal of insight into our timeline. We can learn so much from the past, but most times we are busy just keeping up with the present. 🙂

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  8. An interesting post. Not too far from where I live is Manchester’s Amoskeag Manufacturing Company here in New Hampshire. It was once one of the largest textile factories in the world. One day I need to go to the museum created there.

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    • I had to look up Amoskeag Manufacturing Company! What an amazing place – I have placed it on my bucket list. What I found most fascinating about my Industrial Revolution adventures centred on the people who made the museums come alive. Most were volunteers eager to share their knowledge. We lead busy lives, which do not give us much time to look back. But when we do – oh, what stories we find. Thank you so much for stopping by! Very much appreciated. 🙂

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  9. I had the chance, on Thursday December 4th 2014, to participate to a lunch, organised by a French consulting company named Weave. This lunch was led by Frédéric Simottel from BFM Business and Gilles Babinet invited to the lunch.
    Gilles Babinet is the Digital Champion, representing France to the European Commission. Gilles was the first president of the National Digital Council, French organization set up by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France at that time. As part of this lunch, Gilles Babinet, developed themes of his book “The digital era, a new age of humanity“.

    If you are interested, I have posted an article about The third revolution and the digital age that you can read here:
    http://worldofinnovations.net/2014/12/23/the-third-industrial-revolution-and-the-digital-age/

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  10. Oh so wonderful to find a post by talented Rebecca! I have been missing you. This is fascinating and informative as is always the case with your posts. The Forsyte Saga is so brilliant I keep going back to it and Galsworthy’s quote is likewise.
    The Happiest & Healthiest New Year to you and your family Rebecca!

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    • Dear Cindy, we started blogging together just a few years ago and look at all of the adventures that we have shared together. You bring such joy and excitement to our community with your amazing travels and photographs. I seriously think that you are a National Geographic photographer. Your determination to live life to the absolute fullest is an inspiration to us all. Looking forward to our travels in 2015.

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  11. Typically, a little late to the party …

    You commented above about children who worked in mills. Among them was David Livingstone (b1813) who began work in a cotton mill at the age of 10, small enough to get about under the machines and reattach the thread when it broke. And despite working 14-hour days he and a few of the other mill children attended a village night school. He finally started at medical school in 1836.

    His childhood tenement home in Shuttle Row is now part of the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, Scotland, which also celebrates his work in Africa.
    http://www.visitscotland.com/en-nz/info/see-do/david-livingstone-centre-p254921

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  12. Thank you for an inspiring post Rebecca! 🙂 I hadn’t really thought of this kind of technology beginning in Britain and ending up in America or that Scottish men took technology ideas with them. I’ve grown up with a view that countries like America or Japan are ahead of us in technology and also some household products too. But obviously it’s not always been like that! I remember a few years ago I was watching an old 70’s US movie and the main character was shopping in a local supermarket, they picked up a pack of baby nappies called Pampers. I was a little shocked as I’d never seen them in films or TV programmes in that era and Pampers disposable baby nappies were not seen in Britain until the early 80’s. So a lot has changed and continues to change as to what countries are forging ahead of everyone else. It feels like Japan is way ahead and at the top when it comes to technology at this present time, but that might just be the way it appears. They certainly like their robots – I find them fascinating, but slightly nervous of the thought of having one in the home. Although with all this blogging and social media I could do with a housekeeper/maid/cook!! 😉

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    • Our future technology borders on science fiction. The last two days, I have been working on installing a WD My Cloud that will allow me to listen on my iPhone to music from my home computer. What next – “beam me up, Scottie.” I do love the technology, but I also think that we must keep traditions alive. This year, I have set my time to make tea in the afternoon (having it right now). Thank you for stopping by and adding depth to the dialogue. Very much appreciated. 🙂

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  13. Starting to get updated 🙂

    I love this type of machines, but never read anything about them in context. I find it very interesting, as you say, that they transformed England. Can’t help to think in some current industries that are making a change in the way we live (Skype? Online Banking?).

    Also, did you have another blog?

    Cheers!

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    • Congratulations on your amazing achievement. Looking forward to hearing about the next stage in your life. Just today I was having a discussion with a dear friend about progress. Frank Zappa’s thought came to mind. “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” Deviations are quite spectacular because they not only change the way we live, but how we think and act. It sets the stage for the next movement. That is why I’m fascinated by the Industrial Revolution. In looking back, we can gain insight into how to respond to transformations.

      My other blogs are on the side/bottom links. I have been engaged in work projects myself of late.

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    • I will be coming back to blogging soon! I have been busy with several projects, but my first love it to blog. So glad that we have the means to share experiences. Thank you for your wonderful comments.

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