Samuel Slater, a British-born American industrialist, has been lauded as the founder of the first American Industrial Revolution. He came to America dreaming of creating a booming textile industry like that of his native Britain. With his entrepreneurial and inventive spirit, he was highly successful and became a very important figure in our nation's early history.
Slater was born into a large farming family in Derbyshire, England, on June 9, 1768. He was educated at a local school and, similar to what many young children did at the time, he began working in a local cotton mill at the age of 10. At the young age of just 14 years old, he lost his father after he fell from a cart.
After his father's death, Slater was indentured as an apprentice to Jedediah Strut, the owner of the cotton mill he worked at. At the time, Strut was using water frame technology that was created by Richard Arkwright, a pioneer of the British textile industry. Slater, who eventually became mill superintendent, continued working for Strut until his apprenticeship ended on his 21st birthday.
Faced with the prospect of a new beginning after his apprenticeship, Slater was intrigued by the idea of forging his way in America, where businessmen were offering bounties of $100 to those with knowledge of British textile technologies. Although he risked being charged with treason for breaking British emigration laws attempting to keep British technology secrets safe at home, Slater departed for New York on September 1, 1789, and arrived there 66 days later.
Upon arriving in America, Slater found employment at a local cotton-spinning workshop. This proved to be a dead-end job but confirmed what he had suspected: the American textile industry was in dire need of his valuable knowledge.
After much inquiry and research in the American textile industry, Slater managed to meet the right people. With his know-how and ability to create the latest textile machines, he was funded by Rhode Island investors and opened his first water-powered textile mill in Pawtucket, R.I. in 1793. He designed new machines by memory and intuition, including the first American-built spinning machine. Unlike his predecessors, who were still making their products to order, Slater's goal was to maximize output and create a demand in the marketplace for all the yarn he could produce. It worked. His mill became the first successful cotton-spinning mill in the United States.
In 1803, Slater enlisted the help of his brother to find a site for a new mill. After much searching, they chose Buffum's Mill, R.I., a small settlement on the banks of the Branch River. The brothers bought up land and water rights and the new mill was built and opened in 1807. With so many new employees, there was a need for housing. This need was the beginning of Slatersville: a place where the Slaters built homes, company stores, and churches for their workers. The town became a model for other mill towns that were built along the Blackstone River in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. By 1809, sixteen years after Slater opened his first mill, the U.S. textile industry had grown to include 62 mills, with 25 more being planned or built.
As the father of the American textile industry, Samuel Slater's ingenuity and ambition paid off, not only for him but for all Americans. He mechanized the textile industry and created inventive production methods that would shape American factories across the country. His work paved the way for the development of this American industry as we know it today.