Samuel Slater

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For the New York politician, see Samuel S. Slater.
Samuel Slater
Samuel Slater industrialist.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]
Website Industrial Slater
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) and the "Father of the American Factory System." In the UK he was called "Slater the Traitor" [2] because he brought British textile technology to America, modifying it for United States use. He learned textile machinery as an apprentice to a pioneer in the British industry. Immigrating to the United States at the age of 21, he designed the first textile mills, and later went into business for himself, developing a family business with his sons. A wealthy man, he eventually owned thirteen spinning mills, and had developed tenant farms and company towns around his textile mills, such as Slatersville, Rhode Island.

Early life[edit]

Samuel Slater was born in Belper, Derbyshire, England on 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 Jedediah Strutt using 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. By age 21 he 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. Some people of Belper called him "Slater the Traitor", as they considered his move as a betrayal of the town where many earned their living at Strutt's mills.[4]

American factories[edit]

Slater Mill

In 1789, leading Rhode Island industrialist, Moses Brown moved to 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 the Pawtucket Falls of the Blackstone River, Almy & Brown, as the company was to be called, planned to manufacture cloth for sale, with yarn to be spun on spinning wheels, jennies, and frames, using water power. In August, they acquired a 32-spindle frame "after the Arkwright pattern," but could not operate it. At this point, Slater wrote to them offering his services.

Slater realized that nothing could be done with the machinery as it stood, and convinced Brown of his knowledge. He promised: "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. Their deal provided 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. He also had the experience of working with all the elements as 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, invented a type of cotton sewing thread, and in 1793 was the first American woman to be granted a patent.[6]

After developing this mill, Slater instituted principles of management which he had learned from Strutt and Arkwright to teach workers to be skilled mechanics.

Management style[edit]

Main article: Rhode Island System

Slater created the "Rhode Island System," factory practices based upon the 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 instead on a system of fines. Slater tried to recruit workers from other villages, but that fell through due to the closeknit framework of the New England family.

He brought in whole families, developing entire villages.[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.


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 reduced the labor in processing cotton. It also enabled profitable cultivation of short-staple cotton, which could be grown in the interior uplands, resulting in a dramatic expansion of cotton cultivation throughout the Deep South in the antebellum years. The New England mills and their free labor depended on southern cotton, which was based on slave labor. 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, forming Samuel Slater & Company in partnership with his father-in-law Oziel Wilkinson. They developed 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, he had spent time studying the latest English developments and might well have gained experience of the spinning mule.[2] Samuel put John Slater in charge of a large 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 also built factories to make the 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. But Slater spread himself too thin, and was unable to coordinate or integrate his many different 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. Slater & Company became 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 advertised to attract more families for the mills.


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 prior to the War of 1812. That war resulted in speeding up the process of industrialization in New England. By war's end in 1815, within 30 miles of Providence there were 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 have mills using 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 which he had founded in 1832, naming it for his friend Senator Daniel Webster). At the time of his death, he owned thirteen mills and was worth one million dollars.

Legacy and honors[edit]

His original mill, known today as Slater Mill, still stands. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is operated as a museum dedicated to preserving the history of Samuel Slater and his contribution to American industry. Slater's original mill in Pawtucket and the town of Slatersville are both part of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, which was created to preserve and interpret the history of the industrial development of the region.


  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 his being apprenticed at "New Mills in the Parish of Duffield" - present day Milford, Derbyshire
  4. ^ "Samuel Slater: American hero or British traitor?", BBC, 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", PBS
  7. ^ "Samuel Slater and Moses Brown Change America"
  8. ^ No. 384: Samuel Slater
  9. ^ Tucker (1984)
  10. ^ Tucker (2008), p. 102
  • 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]