Inventor of the Spinning Jenny
Little is known of Hargreaves’s early life. He was born about 1720 in Blackburn, England, and worked as a carpenter and hand loom weaver at nearby Standhill from 1740 to 1750. He is not known to have received any formal education. In 1760, he designed an improved carding machine that prepared fiber to be spun into thread.
About 1764 Hargreaves noticed that the spindle of an overturned spinning wheel, tipped over by his daughter Jenny, continued to revolve in a vertical position. The observation led him to posit that several spindles could be placed upright and side by side, and might be able to spin a number of threads at once. He designed and built a spinning machine that incorporated this innovation, naming it the “spinning jenny” after his daughter. At first, he and his family alone used spinning jennies, but soon he built and sold several machines to help support his many children.
In 1768 a number of local spinners became worried that the spinning jenny would put them out of work, and they angrily broke into Hargreaves’s house and destroyed his machines. Hargreaves moved to Nottingham, where he and his new business partner, Thomas James, opened a mill and spun cotton with spinning jennies.
Hargreaves and James obtained a patent for the jenny in 1770 and soon brought legal action against local manufacturers that were using spinning jennies. Before the cases were settled, the partners’ lawyer learned that Hargreaves had earlier sold several jennies in Blackburn, and he withdrew his services; all legal action ceased.
Hargreaves continued his moderately successful business until his death in Nottingham on April 22, 1778.
James Hargreaves’s Legacy
Hargreaves’s spinning jenny increased the output of spinners eightfold. It contributed to the transformation of the textile trade from a cottage industry to a factory industry.
The history of spinning is obscure, but it is known that in the thirteenth century, the invention of the first spinning wheel somewhat improved the ancient spindle and whorl spinning method. Two hundred years later, the Saxon Wheel (an improved wheel) appeared and made spinning more efficient. In the eighteenth century; weaving had received a boost with the invention of the flying shuttle, but prior to the invention of the jenny, spinning remained much the same as it had been for centuries. When the spinning jenny was introduced, its advantages were immediately recognized. It was valued particularly for its wool spinning capability; by 1785, 20,000 jennies were in use in England.
The spinning jenny introduced several improvements to spinning. It enabled spinners to produce 16, rather than two, threads or yams at once, and it was simple and could therefore be operated by children. This latter benefit was, of course, a mixed blessing. By the end of the 1700s, the exploitation of children in the textile trade and other industries was a social problem that would soon give rise to major reform efforts, such as Britain’s Factory Act in 1833, which, among other measures, placed some restrictions on child labor.
The spinning jenny led to the invention of the spinning mule, which revolutionized the textile industry. In 1769, Richard Arkwright patented a water powered spinning machine. Then Samuel Crompton combined Arkwright’s invention with the spinning jenny and designed the spinning mule, an automatic machine that could easily spin any kind of yarn.
By 1785, steam power had been introduced to the textile industry, and the processes of carding, spinning, and weaving had moved into factories in order to centralize power sources. In Manchester, England, from 1782 to 1802, the number of textile factories increased from two to 52. And from 1780 to 1800, the amount of fabric produced in England multiplied tenfold.
James Hargreaves – c. 1720-1778