“That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”Slater was born in Derbyshire, England, and at the age of 10 began to work at a cotton mill of Jedidiah Strutt, whose device used the water frame that had been developed by legendary inventor Richard Arkwright. At the age of 16 and upon the death of his father, Slater was indentured as an apprentice to Strutt. It is said that, by the age of 21, Slater had thoroughly learned both the management and technical requirements of cotton spinning. Instead of staying with Strutt, however, Slater chose to move to the newly created United States of America, having seemingly heard that there was great interest in developing such machines there as well. The problem was that British law forbade exporting the designs of the machines (recalling the Chinese attempt, hundreds of years before, to prevent information about the silk trade to leave the country).
It appears that Slater did not contravene that law. Instead, he committed to memory as much as he could about the machine and its operations. Armed with this knowledge, he set out for New York in 1789. There, he made contact with a group of industrialists in Rhode Island, who sought to manufacture cloth using spinning wheels, spinning jennies, and frames with the aid of water power. To this end, they had acquired a 32-spindle frame described as “after the Arkwright pattern”, but they did not succeed in operating it. Enter Slater, who in 1970 who made the following claim before the industrialists –
“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.”Slater went about to make good on his promise, as described in Wikipedia as follows:
“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. “His brother, John Slater, joined him in the US in 1799, having worked as a wheelwright in England. One can surmise that John Slater had acquired knowledge and know-how in this field and perhaps directly regarding the spinning wheel. Slater also applied principles of management that he had learned from Strutt and Arkwright to institute the company-town approach to industrial organization, based on utilizing the family as the basic unit of manufacture (children from 7-12 years of age were the factory’s first employees).
As a result of Slater’s efforts, he established several factories and his net worth reached $1.2 million at the time of his death in 1835 (this amount was estimated to be 1/1312 of the entire GNP of the country). At the national level, Slater’s efforts spawned numerous adapters. As a result, despite the Embargo of 1807, which cut-off imports from England, and the effects on trade due to the War of 1812 between England and the US, by the end of the war in 1815, within 30 miles of Providence, Rhode Island, it is estimated that there were 140 enterprises engaged in cotton manufacture, employing 26,000 workers and having over 130,000 spindles in operation. Due in material part to Slater’s efforts in the early 1790s, by 1815 it is fair to say that the industrial revolution had taken hold in the US.