3 August 1792: Richard Arkwright, ‘Father of the Industrial Revolution’, dies

Richard Arkwright, barber turned textiles magnate, died on this day in 1792, having revolutionised the manufacture of cloth in England.

Richard Arkwright was born in 1732, the 13th child of a Preston tailor. He never went to school, but was taught by his cousin, became apprenticed to a barber, and set up shop in Bolton.

Then, thinking there would be more money in it, he started making wigs. He travelled around the country, doing deals and making contacts, and invented a waterproof wig dye that gave him enough money to get out of the wig game just as gentlemen's hairpieces went out of fashion.

At the time, an awful lot of people were trying to work out how to automate the manufacture of textiles. There were plenty of riches on offer to the man (or woman!) who could crack it. So Arkwright turned his attention to doing just that.

He and a man called John Kay came up with a machine – the water frame – that could spin cotton in industrial amounts, cheaply and quickly, using unskilled labour. He built a water-powered mill in Cromford, a Derbyshire village, where he employed whole families, children included, housed in company accommodation. He expanded rapidly, and made extra money by licensing his patents to other manufacturers.

However, despite being credited with all sorts of inventions, he was dragged through the courts, accused of stealing the work of others.

Thomas Highs of Leigh (and others) sued him for infringing his patents. Highs claimed, among other things, that he had given John Kay his plans for a spinning machine for him to make a model, only for Kay to betray him and sell them to Arkwright.

Many of Arkwright's patents were overturned, but nevertheless, Highs died in obscurity and poverty in 1803, while Arkwright was knighted and entered the history books as the inventor of the modern factory system. He died on this day in 1792, leaving a fortune of £500,000.

Recommended

UK inflation is at a 30-year high and it hasn’t peaked yet
Inflation

UK inflation is at a 30-year high and it hasn’t peaked yet

UK inflation has hit 5.4% - its highest in 30 years. And it could be heading higher. John Stepek explains what it means for you and your money.
19 Jan 2022
Index fund
Funds

Index fund

Index funds (also known as passive funds or "trackers") aim to track the performance of a particular index, such as the FTSE 100 or S&P 500.
18 Jan 2022
Model Y: Tesla has nailed it once again
Cars

Model Y: Tesla has nailed it once again

The electric carmaker’s new SUV crossover, the Model Y, sets the benchmark in the sector.
18 Jan 2022
The UK jobs market is booming – but wages are struggling to keep up with prices
UK Economy

The UK jobs market is booming – but wages are struggling to keep up with prices

Britain’s jobs market is booming, with wages rising and plenty of of vacancies. But inflation is rising faster than wages can keep up. John Stepek loo…
18 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Five unexpected events that could shock the markets in 2022
Stockmarkets

Five unexpected events that could shock the markets in 2022

Forget Covid-19 – it’s the unexpected twists that will rattle markets in 2022, says Matthew Lynn. Here are five possibilities
31 Dec 2021
US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?
Inflation

US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?

US inflation is at 7% – the last time it was this high interest rates were at 14%. But instead of panicking, markets just shrugged. John Stepek explai…
13 Jan 2022
Tech stocks teeter as US Treasury bond yields rise
Tech stocks

Tech stocks teeter as US Treasury bond yields rise

The realisation that central banks are about to tighten their monetary policies caused a sell-off in the tech-heavy Nasdaq stock index and the biggest…
14 Jan 2022