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Operation of Slater's Spinning Frame

Powered by a water-wheel, the spinning frame made 48 lengths of yarn simultaneously and did so without any human skill having to be applied. The operator's job was to keep the machine running, keep it supplied with roving yarn, and fix it whenever a length of yarn broke or any other breakdown occurred.

 


Technology Transfer

The personal immigration of an individual familiar with a new technology was the means by which most textile technology was transferred to the United States in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Between 1773 and 1775, more than 500 British immigrants told customs officers that they worked in textile trades. Between 1824 and 1831, ten times that number reported these trades, among them 153 textile machine makers.

 


Slater and Child Labor

Samuel Slater transferred not only the machinery and the general arrangement of the mill but the labor pattern as well. In the United States it was not usual for children to work formally until the age of 14, when they could be engaged as apprentices. In England, younger boys and girls were introduced into textile mills as operatives, and Slater initially applied that pattern. His first mill used eight children between the ages of seven and twelve to operate both carding and spinning machines. These boys and girls were not apprentices but worked for wages--low wages.

When Slater expanded his operations, as he did into other towns, he ran into resistance. It was hard to find the children needed. Some families opposed the spinning mill in general, seeing it as an importation of the evils of the English factory system and as a threat to American liberties. Others objected to the low wages, believing their children more valuable on the farm or better served by waiting until they could learn a trade as an apprentice. Only the poorest farmers and the landless urban poor let their children work in a mill. That situation made it necessary to try approaches more in conformity with the American scene, such as the employment of young women and recent immigrants. Child labor never became as widespread in the United States as in England, but it was not eliminated.

 


"Spinning Room Blues"

"Spinning Room Blues" from the recording entitled Tipple, Loom, & Rail, Folkways FH 5273, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1966. Used by permission.

Partial Lyrics:
"…About the old spinning room I’m a-going to tell a tale.
You have to keep your end up and brush off your rail.

Take your roller, clean your lapstick, and run out your guide,
If you don’t, I’ll put another spinner on your side.

Say wait a minute, fellow, now tell me where you’re going,
Don’t you hear the doggone spinning room a-roaring?

You can’t fool me cause I’m on the scout,
Get back on the job, you ain’t a-going to slip out...... "

 



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