Samuel Slater

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For the New York politician, see Samuel S. Slater.
Samuel Slater
Samuel-Slater.jpg
Samuel Slater (1768–1835) popularly called "The Father of the American Industrial Revolution"
Born June 9, 1768 (1768-06-09)
Belper, Derbyshire, England
Died April 21, 1835(1835-04-21) (aged 66)
Webster, Massachusetts
Resting place
Mount Zion Cemetery, Webster, Massachusetts
Nationality English
Occupation industrialist
Known for bringing the industrial revolution to the U.S. from Great Britain
Home town Belper, Derbyshire, England
Net worth USD $1.2 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/1312th of US GNP)[1]
Signature Samuel Slater signature.svg

Samuel Slater (June 9, 1768 – April 21, 1835) was an early English-American industrialist known as the "Father of the American Industrial Revolution" (a phrase coined by Andrew Jackson), the "Father of the American Factory System" and "Slater the Traitor" (in the UK)[2] because he brought British textile technology to America with a few modifications fit for America. He learned textile machinery as an apprentice to a pioneer in the British industry. He brought the knowledge to America where he designed the first textile mills, went into business for himself and grew wealthy. By the end of Slater's life he owned thirteen spinning mills and had established tenant farms and towns around his textile mills such as Slatersville and Rhode Island.

Early life[edit]

Samuel Slater was born in Belper, Derbyshire, England June 9, 1768, the fifth son of a farming family of eight children. Samuel received a basic education at a school run by a Mr. Jackson in Belper.[2] At age ten he began work at the cotton mill opened that year by Jedidiah Strutt utilising the water frame pioneered by Richard Arkwright at nearby Cromford Mill. In 1782, his father died and his family indentured Samuel as an apprentice to Strutt.[3] Slater was well-trained by Strutt, and by age 21 had gained a thorough knowledge of the organisation and practice of cotton spinning. Hearing of the American interest in developing similar machines, and aware of British laws against exporting the designs, he memorized as much as he could and departed for New York in 1789. This move led to the people of Belper christening him "Slater the Traitor", as they saw his move as a betrayal of the town where many earned their living at Strutt's mills.[4]

American factories[edit]

In 1789, leading Rhode Island industrialist, Moses Brown moved Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in partnership with his son-in-law, William Almy, and cousin, Smith Brown,[2] to operate a mill. Housed in a former fulling mill near to the Pawtucket Falls of the Blackstone River, Almy & Brown, as the company was to be called, set about to make and sell cloth spun on spinning wheels, jennies, and frames, using water power. In August, they acquired a 32 spindle frame "after the Arkwright pattern" but this was no more successful. It was at this point a letter arrived from Slater offering his services.

Slater realized that nothing could be done with the machinery as it stood, convincing Brown of the worth of his opinion. He was able to promise: "If I do not make as good yarn, as they do in England, I will have nothing for my services, but will throw the whole of what I have attempted over the bridge."[5] In 1790 he signed a contract with Brown to replicate the British designs. The deal that was struck allowed Slater the funds to build the water frames and associated machinery, with a half share in their capital value and the profits derived from them. By December the shop was operational with ten to twelve workers. Despite shortages of tools and skilled mechanics, by 1791 Slater had some machinery in operation. In 1793 Slater and Brown opened their first factory in Pawtucket.

Slater knew the secret of Arkwright's success - namely that account had to be taken of varying fibre lengths - but he also understood Arkwright's carding, drawing, and roving machines, plus the experience of blending the whole into a continuous production system. During construction, Slater made some adjustments to the designs to fit local needs. The result was the first successful water-powered roller spinning textile mill in America. Samuel's wife, Hannah (Wilkinson) Slater, also invented a type of cotton sewing thread, becoming in 1793 the first American woman to be granted a patent.[6]

After creating this mill, he put the principles of management in place that he had learned from Strutt and Arkwright. They would lead to success by teaching people to be skilled mechanics.

Management style[edit]

Slater drew on his British village experience to create a factory system called the "Rhode Island System," based upon the customary patterns of family life in New England villages. Children aged 7 to 12 were the first employees of the mill; Slater personally supervised them closely. The first child workers were hired in 1790.[7] In the reference quoted here there is mention of a "whipping room". From his experience in Milford it is highly unlikely that Slater resorted to physical punishment, relying on a system of fines. Slater first tried to staff his mill with women and children from far away, but that fell through due to the closeknit framework of the New England family. He then brought in whole families, creating entire towns.[8] He provided company-owned housing nearby, along with company stores; he sponsored a Sunday School where college students taught the children reading and writing.

Expansion[edit]

In 1793, now partners with Almy and Brown, Slater constructed a new mill for the sole purpose of textile manufacture under the name Almy, Brown & Slater. It was a 72-spindle mill; the patenting of Eli Whitney's cotton gin in 1794 ensured ample supplies of cotton from the South. Slater also brought the Sunday School system from his native England to his textile factory at Pawtucket, and hence to America.

In 1798 Samuel Slater split from Almy and Brown and formed Samuel Slater & Company in partnership with his father-in-law Oziel Wilkinson to develop other mills in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.[9]

In 1799 he was joined by his brother, John Slater, from England, a wheelwright who had spent some time studying the latest English developments and might well have gained experience of the spinning mule.[2] He put him in charge of his own larger mill which he called the White Mill.[10]

By 1810 Slater held part ownership in three factories in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In 1823, he bought a mill in Connecticut. He then built factories that made textile machinery used by many of the region's mills, and formed a partnership with his brother-in-law to produce iron for use in machinery construction. Slater spread himself too thin, and was unable to coordinate or integrate his many different, spread out business interests. He refused to go outside his family to hire managers and after 1829 he made his sons partners in the new umbrella firm of Samuel Slater and Sons. His son Horatio Nelson Slater completely reorganized the family business, introduced cost-cutting measures, and gave up old-fashioned procedures, thereby making the firm one of the leading manufacturing companies in the United States.

Slater also hired recruiters to search for families willing to work at the mill. He also used means of advertisement to get more families into his business.

Industrialization[edit]

Grave site of Samuel Slater, Webster, Massachusetts

By 1800 the success of the Slater mill had been duplicated by other entrepreneurs; by 1810 Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin reported the U.S. had some 50 cotton-yarn mills, many of them started in response to the Embargo of 1807 that cut off imports from Britain. The War of 1812 sped up the process of industrialization; when it ended in 1815 there were within 30 miles of Providence 140 cotton manufacturers employing 26,000 hands and operating 130,000 spindles. The American textile industry was launched.

In the 1810s, Francis Cabot Lowell built a profitable cotton-to-cloth textile mill in Waltham, Massachusetts. By 1826, although Lowell had died, the Waltham System had proven so successful that the town of Lowell, Massachusetts, the first to use the system on a large scale, was founded by his partners in his honor. Lowell would be the model for textile towns for many decades to follow.

Slater died on April 21, 1835 in Webster, Massachusetts (a town that he founded and had become a town three years earlier in 1832 and was named after his friend Senator Daniel Webster). At the time of his death, he owned thirteen mills and was worth a million dollars. His original mill, known today as Slater Mill, still stands and operates as a museum dedicated to preserving the history of Samuel Slater and his contribution to American industry.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  2. ^ a b c d Everett et al. (Slater Study Group) (2006) "Samuel Slater - Hero or Traitor?" Milford, Derbyshire: Maypole Promotions
  3. ^ A possible cause of confusion may be that some old British textbooks record that Slater was at New Mills in Cheshire, now in Derbyshire. His indentures, however, are in the possession of the Arkwright Society and clearly record him being apprenticed at "New Mills in the Parish of Duffield" - present day Milford, Derbyshire
  4. ^ Samuel Slater: American hero or British traitor? bbc.co.uk, 22 September 2011.
  5. ^ White, G.S., (1836) Memoir of Samuel Slater, Philadelphia:reprinted Augustus M. Kelly, 1967 in Everett et al. (Slater Study Group)
  6. ^ History Detectives: Women inventors
  7. ^ Samuel Slater and Moses Brown Change America
  8. ^ No. 384: Samuel Slater
  9. ^ Tucker (1984)
  10. ^ Tucker (2008) p 102
Bibliography
  • Cameron, Edward H. Samuel Slater, Father of American Manufactures (1960) scholarly biography
  • Conrad, Jr., James L. "'Drive That Branch': Samuel Slater, the Power Loom, and the Writing of America's Textile History," Technology and Culture, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 1–28 in JSTOR
  • Everett et al. (Slater Study Group) (2006) "Samuel Slater - Hero or Traitor?" Milford, Derbyshire: Maypole Promotions. Formative years in Derbyshire.
  • Tucker, Barbara M. "The Merchant, the Manufacturer, and the Factory Manager: The Case of Samuel Slater," Business History Review, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 297–313 in JSTOR
  • Tucker, Barbara M. Samuel Slater and the Origins of the American Textile Industry, 1790-1860 (1984)
  • Tucker, Barbara M. and Kenneth H. Tucker. Industrializing Antebellum America: The Rise of Manufacturing Entrepreneurs in the Early Republic (2008)
  • White, George S. Memoir of Samuel Slater: The Father of American Manufactures (1836, repr. 1967)

External links[edit]