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founder of the American textile industry
Samuel Slater was born in Derbyshire, England, on June 9, 1768. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a factory that made textile machines, was promoted to supervisor of machinery and mill construction in his third year, and by his seventh year knew all that there was to know about textile manufacturing.
Learning that prizes were being offered in America to inventors of textile machines, and knowing that the textile industry in England had reached its peak, Slater emigrated to the United States in 1789. He had to leave England in secrecy, because the British were not eager to allow anyone with experience in the English textile industry to leave the country. And, since he was not allowed to take any drawings or information about textile machinery with him, he had to commit everything he knew about those machines to memory.
He got a job in New York City, and then began inquiring about men who were interested in textile machinery. He soon heard that Moses Brown, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was looking for good textile machinery. Brown and his partner, William Almy, had built a cotton-spinning factory, but their machines broke down when they were run by the mill's water wheel. Slater wrote to Brown, offering to make spinning machines. Brown responded immediately, and offered Slater a share in the profits of the business if he succeeded.
Slater went to work with helpers, and part by part he made Arkwright spinning machines, designing each part from memory. When the water power was turned on, the wheels turned, the spindles whirled, and the cotton was spun into thread. By 1790 the factory was running. By the end of 1792, the mill was so successful that Almy and Brown, now Slater's partners, decided to construct a new mill, one built expressly for the purpose of textile manufacture.
In 1801, Slater built a factory in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. He began the manufacture of woolen cloth in 1815-1816 at Oxford (now Webster), Massachusetts. In his later years he was interested in other textile mills, and in iron foundries in Rhode Island.
Slater also introduced the factory town concept to America. Often called the Rhode Island System, it began when Slater enlisted entire families, including children, to work in his mills. These families often lived in company-owned housing located near the mills, shopped in company-owned stores, and attended company-owned schools and churches. The first of these factory towns was Slatersville, Rhode Island, established by Samuel and his brother John in 1806.
Samuel Slater died in Webster, Massachusetts, on April 21, 1835.
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This page was last updated on April 20, 2017.