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Leaders Of Industry - Inventors And Producers

( Originally Published 1884 )

Industry of the English People.—Poverty and Toil not Insurmountable Obstacles.-Working-men as Inventors.—Invention of the Steam-engine. —James Watt: His Industry and Habit of Attention.—The Cotton Manufacture.—The Early Inventors.—Arkwright: His Early Life.—Barber, Inventor and Manufacturer.—His Influence and Character.

" Deduct all that the humbler classes of men have done for England in the way of invention only, and see where she would have been but for them."—ARTHUR HELPS.

ONE of the most strongly marked features of the English people is their spirit of industry, standing out prominent and distinct in their past history, and as strikingly characteristic of them now as at any former period. It is this spirit, displayed by the commons of England, which has laid the foundations and built up the industrial greatness of the empire. This vigorous growth of the nation has been mainly the result of the free energy of individuals, and it has been contingent upon the number of hands and minds from time to time actively employed within it, whether as cultivators of the soil, producers of articles of utility, contrivers of tools and machines, writers of books, or creators of works of art. And while this spirit of active industry has been the vital principal of the nation, it has also been its saving and remedial one, counteracting from time to time the effects of errors in our laws and imperfections in our constitution.

The career of industry which the nation has pursued, has also proved its best education. As steady application to work is the healthiest training for every individual, so is it the best discipline of a state. Honorable industry travels the same road with duty; and Providence has closely linked both with happiness. The gods, says the poet, have placed labor and toil on the way leading to the Elysian fields. Certain it is that no bread eaten by man is so sweet as that earned by his own labor, whether bodily or mental. By labor the earth has been subdued, and man re-deemed from barbarism; nor has a single step in civilization been made without it. Labor is not only a necessity and a duty, but a blessing: only the idler feels it to be a curse. The duty of work is written on the thews and muscles of the limbs, the mechanism of the hand, the nerves and lobes of the brain the sum of whose healthy action is satisfaction and enjoyment. In the school of labor is taught the best practical wisdom; nor is a life of manual employment, as we shall hereafter find, incompatible with high mental culture.

Hugh Miller, than whom none knew better the strength and the weakness belonging to the lot of labor, stated the result of his experience to be, that Work, even the hardest, is full of pleasure and materials for self-improvement. He held honest labor to be the best of teachers, and that the school of toil is the noblest of schools save only the Christian one that it is a school in which the ability of being useful is imparted, the spirit of independence learnt, and the habit of persevering effort acquired. He was even of opinion that the training of the mechanic by the exercise which it gives to his observant faculties, from his daily dealing with things actual and practical, and the close experience of life which he acquires better fits him for picking his way along the journey of life, and is more favorable to his growth as a Man, emphatically speaking, than the training afforded by any other condition.

The array of great names which we have already cursorily cited, of men springing from the ranks of the industrial classes, who have achieved distinction in various walks of life in science, commerce, literature, and art shows that at all events the difficulties inter-posed by poverty and labor are not insurmountable.

As respects the great contrivances and inventions which have conferred so much power and wealth upon the nation, it is unquestionable that for the greater part of them we have been indebted to men of the hum-blest rank. Deduct what they have done in this particular line of action, and it will be found that very little indeed remains for other men to have accomplished.

Inventors have set in motion some of the greatest industries of the world. To them society owes many of its chief necessaries, comforts and luxuries; and by their genius and labor daily life has been rendered in all respects more easy as well as enjoyable. Our food, our clothing, the furniture of our homes, the glass which: admits the light to our dwellings at the same time that it excludes the cold, the gas which illuminates our streets, our means of locomotion by land and by sea, the tools by which our various articles of necessity and luxury are fabricated, have been the result of the labor and ingenuity of many men and many minds. Man-kind at large are all the happier for such inventions,. and are every day reaping the benefit of them in an in-crease of individual well-being as well as of public enjoyment.

Though the invention of the working steam-engine the king of machines belongs, comparatively speaking, to our own epoch, the idea of it was born many centuries ago. Like other contrivances and discoveries, it was effected step by step one man transmitting the result of his labors, at the time apparently useless, to his successors, who took it up and carried it forward an-other stage the prosecution of the inquiry extending over many generations. Thus the idea promulgated. by Hero of Alexandria was never altogether lost; but like the grain of wheat hid in the hand of the Egyptian mummy, it sprouted, and again grew vigorously when. brought into the full light of modern science. The steam-engine was nothing, however, until it emerged from the state of theory, and was taken in hand by practical mechanics; and what a noble story of patient, laborious, investigation, of difficulties encountered and overcome by heroic industry, does not that marvellous machine tell of ! It is indeed, in itself, a monument of the power of self-help in man. Grouped around it we find Savary, the military engineer; Newcomen, the Dartmouth blacksmith; Cawley, the glazier; Potter, the engine-boy; Smeaton, the civil engineer; and, towering above all, the laborious, patient, never-tiring James Watt, the mathematical-instrument maker.

Watt was one of the most industrious of men; and the story of his life proves, what all experience confirms, that it is not the man of the greatest natural vigor and capacity who achieves the highest results, but he who employs his powers with the greatest industry and the most carefully disciplined skill the skill that comes by labor, application, and experience. Many men in his time knew far more than Watt, but none labored so assiduously as he did to turn all that he did know to useful practical purposes. He was above all things, most persevering in the pursuit of facts. He cultivated carefully that habit of active attention on which all the higher working qualities of the mind mainly depend. Indeed, Mr. Edgeworth entertained the opinion, that the difference of intellect in men depends more upon the early cultivation of this habit of attention, than upon any great disparity between the powers of one individual and another.

Even when a boy, Watt found science in his toys.

The quadrants lying about his father's carpenter's shop led him to the study of optics and astronomy; his ill health induced him to pry into the secrets of physiology; and his solitary walks through the country attracted him to the study of botany and history. While carrying on the business of a mathematical-instrument maker, he received an order to build an organ; and, though without an ear for music, he undertook the study of harmonies, and successfully constructed the instrument. And, in like manner, when the little model of Newcomen's steam-engine, belonging to the University of Glasgow, was placed in his hands to repair, he forthwith set himself to learn all that was then known about heat, evaporation, and condensation at the same time plodding his way in mechanics and the science of construction-the results of which he at length embodied in his condensing steam-engine.

For ten years he went on contriving and inventing —with little hope to cheer him, and with few friends to encourage him. He went on, meanwhile, earning bread for his family by making and selling quadrants, making and mending fiddles, flutes, and musical instruments; measuring mason-work, surveying roads, super-intending the construction of canals, or doing any thing that turned up and offered a prospect of honest gain. At length Watt found a fit partner in another eminent leader of industry Matthew Boulton, of Birmingham; a skillful, energetic, and far-seeing man, who vigorously -undertook the enterprise of introducing the condensing-engine into general use as a working power; and the success of both is now matter of history.

Many skillful inventors have from time to time added new power to the steam-engine; and, by numerous modifications, rendered it capable of being applied to nearly all the purposes of manufacture driving machinery, impelling ships, grinding corn, printing books, stamping money, hammering, planing, and turning iron; in short, of performing every description of mechanical labor where power is required. One of the most useful modifications in the engine was that devised by Trevithick, and eventually perfected by George Stephenson and his son, in the form of the railway loco-motive, by which social changes of immense importance have been brought about, of even greater consequence, considered in their results on human progress and civilization, than the condensing engine of Watt.

One of the first grand results of Watt's invention which placed an almost unlimited power at the command of the producing classes was the establishment of the cotton-manufacture. The person most closely identified with the foundation of this great branch of industry was unquestionably Sir Richard Arkwright, whose practical energy and sagacity were perhaps even more remarkable than his mechanical inventiveness. His originality as an inventor has indeed been called in question, like that of Watt and Stephenson. Arkwright probably stood in the same relation to the spinning-machine that Watt did to the steam-engine and Stephenson to the locomotive. He gathered together the scattered threads of ingenuity which already existed, and wove them, after his own design, into a new and original fabric. Though Lewis Paul, of Birmingham, patented the invention of spinning by rollers thirty years before Arkwright, the machines constructed by him were so imperfect in their details, that they could not be profitably worked, and the invention was practically a failure. Another obscure mechanic, a reed-maker of Leigh, named Thomas High, is also said to have invented the water-frame and spinning jenny; but they, too, proved unsuccessful.

When the demands of industry are found to press upon the resources of inventors, the same idea is usually found floating about in many minds; such has been the case with the steam-engine, and safety-lamp, the electric telegraph, and other inventions. Many ingenious minds are found laboring in the throes of invention, until at length the master-mind, the strong practical man, steps forward, and straight-way delivers them of their idea, applies the principle successfully, and the thing is done. Then there is a loud outcry among all the smaller contrivers, who see themselves distanced in the race; and hence men such as Watt, Stephenson, and Arkwright, have usually to defend their reputation and their rights as practical and successful inventors.

Richard Arkwright, like most of our great mechanicians, sprang from the ranks. He was born in Preston in 1732. His parents were very poor, and he was the youngest of thirteen children. He was never at school;. the only education he received he gave to himself; and to the last he was only able to write with difficulty. When a boy, he was apprenticed to a barber, and after learning the business, he set up for himself in Bolton, where he occupied an underground cellar, over which he put up the sign, " Come to the subterraneous barber he shaves for a penny." The other barbers found their customers leaving them, and reduced their prices to his standard, when Arkwright, determined to push his trade, announced his determination to give " A. clean shave for a halfpenny." After a few years he quitted his cellar, and became an itinerant dealer in hair. At that time wigs were worn, and wig-making formed an important branch of the barbering business. Arkwright went about buying hair for the wigs. He was accustomed to attend the hiring-fairs throughout Lan cashire resorted to by young women, for the purpose of securing their long tresses; and it is said that in negotiations of this sort he was very successful. He also dealt in a chemical hair-dye, which he used adroitly, and thereby secured a considerable trade. But he does not seem, notwithstanding his pushing character to have done more than earn a bare living.

The fashion of wig-wearing having undergone a change, distress fell upon the wig-makers; and Arkwright, being of a mechanical turn, was consequently induced to turn machine inventor or " conjurer," as the pursuit was then popularly termed. Many attempts were made about that time to invent a spinning-machine, and our barber determined to launch his little bark on the sea of invention with the rest. Like other. self-taught men of the same bias, he had already been devoting his spare time to the invention of a perpetual motion machine; and from that the transition to a spinning-machine was easy.. He followed his experiments so assiduously that he neglected his business, lost the little money he had saved, and was reduced to great poverty. His wife for he had by this time married was impatient at what she conceived was a wanton waste of time and money, and in a moment of sudden wrath she seized upon and destroyed his models, hoping thus to remove the cause of the family privations. Arkwright was a stubborn and enthusiastic man, and he was provoked beyond measure by this conduct of his wife, from whom he immediately separated.

In travelling about the country, Arkwright had become acquainted with a person named Kay, a clock-maker at Warrington, who assisted him in constructing some of the parts of his perpetual-motion machinery. It is supposed that he was informed by Kay of the principle of spinning by rollers; but it is also said that the idea was first suggested to him by accidentally observing a red-hot piece of iron become elongated by passing between iron rollers. However this may be, the idea at once took firm possession of his mind, and he proceeded to devise the process by which it was to be accomplished, Kay being able to tell him nothing on this point. Arkwright now abandoned his business of hair-collecting, and devoted himself to the perfecting of his machine, a model of which, constructed by Kay under his directions, he set up in the parlor of the Free Grammar-school at Preston. Being a burgess of the town, he voted at the contested election at which General Burgoyne was returned; but such was his poverty, and such the tattered state of his dress, that a number of persons subscribed a sum sufficient to have him put in a state fit to appear in the poll-room. The exhibition of his machine in the town where so many work-people lived by the exercise of manual labor proved a dangerous experiment; ominous growlings were heard outside the school-room from time to time, and Arkwright remembering the fate of Kay, who was mobbed and compelled to fly from Lancashire because of his invention of the fly-shuttle, and of poor Hargreaves, whose spinning-jenny had been pulled to pieces only a short time before by a Blackburn mob wisely deter-mined on packing up his model and removing to a less dangerous locality. He went accordingly to Notting-ham, where he applied to some of the local bankers for pecuniary assistance; and the Messrs. Wright consented to advance him a sum of money on condition of sharing in the profits of the invention. The machine, however, not being perfected so soon as they had anticipated, the bankers recommended Arkwright to apply to Messrs. Strutt and Need, the former of whom was the ingenious inventor and patentee of the stocking-frame.

Mr. Strutt at once appreciated the merits of the invention, and a partnership was entered into with Arkwright, whose road to fortune was now clear. The patent was secured in the name of " Richard Arkwright, of Nottingham, clockmaker," and it is a circumstance worthy of note, that it was taken out in 1769, the same year in which Watt secured the patent for his steam-engine. A cotton-mill was first erected at Notting-ham, driven by horses; and another was shortly after built, on a much larger scale, at Cromford, in Derby-shire, turned by a water-wheel, from which circumstance the spinning-machine came to be called the water-frame.

Arkwright's labors, however, were, comparatively, speaking, only begun. He had still to perfect all the working details of his machine. It was in his hands the subject of constant modification and improvement, until eventually it was rendered practicable and profit-able in an eminent degree. But success was only secured by long and patient labor; for some years in-deed, the speculation was disheartening and unprofitable, swallowing up a very large amount of capital without any result. When success began to appear more certain, then the Lancashire manufacturers fell upon Arkwright's patent to pull it in pieces, as the Cornish miners fell upon Boulton and Watt to rob them of the profits of their steam-engine. Arkwright was even denounced as the enemy of the working people; and a mill which he built near Chorley was destroyed by a mob in the presence of a strong force of police and military. The Lancashire men refused to buy his materials, though they were confessedly the best in the market. Then they refused to pay patent-right for the use of his machines, and combined to crush him in the courts of law. To the disgust of right-minded people, Arkwright's patent was upset. After the trial, when passing the hotel at which his opponents were staying, one of them said, loud enough to be heard by him, " Well, we've done the old shaver at last;" to which he coolly replied, " Never mind, I've a razor left that will shave you all." He established new mills in Lancashire, Derbyshire, and at New Lan-ark, in Scotland. The mills of Cromford also came into his hands at the expiry of his partnership with Strutt, and the amount and the excellence of his pro-ducts were such, that in a short time he obtained so complete a control of the trade, that the prices were fixed by him, and he governed the main operations of the other cotton-spinners.

Arkwright was a man of great force of character, indomitable courage, much worldly shrewdness, with a business faculty almost amounting to genius. At one period his time was engrossed by severe and continuous labor, occasioned by the organizing and conducting of his numerous manufactories, sometimes from four in the morning till nine at night. At fifty years of age he set to work to learn English grammar, and improve himself in writing and orthography. After overcoming every obstacle, he had the satisfaction of reaping the reward of his enterprise. Eighteen years after he had constructed his first machine, he rose to such estimation in Derbyshire that he was appointed High Sheriff of the county, and shortly after George III. conferred upon him the honor of knighthood. He died in 1792. Be it for good or for evil, Arkwright was the founder in England of the modern factory system, a branch of industry which has unquestionably proved a source of immense wealth to individuals and to the nation.

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