Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2


Show Summary
ESPINASSE, Lancashire Worthies (London, 1874), pp. 321 sqq. World History


The Industrial Revolution

Section 54.

Invention of Machinery for Spinning and Weaving


Hargreaves’s invention of the spinning jenny (Condensed)

In the first decade of the second half of the eighteenth century James Hargreaves was a weaver at Standhill, near Blackburn. He is sometimes described as a carpenter, and probably he combined both trades. He was "a stout, broad-set man, about five feet ten inches high, or rather more"; and this is all that is known of him personally. The Blackburn of the well-to-do Peel and of the humble Hargreaves was a town of some 5000 inhabitants. It was noted for the production of "Blackburn greys," cloths of linen warp and cotton weft, which, before the introduction of calico printing into Lancashire by the first Robert Peel and others, were generally sent to London to undergo that decorative operation. Doubtless, in the district of the "Blackburn greys," Hargreaves must have seen and heard much about the demand for cotton yarn outstripping the supply, and about schemes to supersede or improve the rude and sluggish old one-thread spinning wheel.

How Hargreaves contrived the jenny

Hargreaves is said to have received the original idea of his machine from seeing a one-thread wheel overturned upon the floor, when both the wheel and spindle continued to revolve. The spindle was thus thrown from a horizontal into an upright position; and the thought seems to have struck him that if a number of spindles were placed upright, and side by side, several threads might be spun at once. He contrived a frame, in one part of which he placed eight rovings in a row, and in another part a row of eight spindles. The rovings, when extended to the spindles, passed between two horizontal bars of wood, forming a clasp, which opened and shut somewhat like a parallel ruler; when pressed together this clasp held the threads fast. A certain portion of roving being extended from the spindles to the wooden clasp, the clasp was closed and was then drawn along the horizontal frame to a considerable distance from the spindles, by which the threads were lengthened out and reduced to the proper tenuity. This was done with the spinner’s left hand, and his right hand at the same time turned a wheel which caused the spindles to revolve rapidly, and thus the roving was spun into yarn. By returning the clasp to its first situation, and letting down a presser wire, the yarn was wound upon the spindle.1

The jenny causes rapid increase in productive power

All, and more than all, that Kay’s shuttle2 had done for the weaver, the jenny did for the spinner. If the fly shuttle doubled the productive power of the weaver, the jenny at once octupled the spinner’s. The number of spindles in the jenny was at first eight; when Hargreaves obtained a patent it was sixteen; it soon rose to be twenty or thirty; and no less than one hundred and twenty have since been used. The jennies could be worked by children as well as, nay, better than, by adults. The awkward posture required to spin on them was discouraging to grown-up people, who saw with surprise children from nine to twelve years of age manage them with dexterity, whereby plenty was brought into families overburdened with children, and the poor weavers were delivered from the bondage in which they had lain from the insolence of spinners.

Limitations of Hargreaves’s jenny

Nevertheless the usefulness of the jenny was of a restricted kind. It did not make the rovings, which had still to be spun on the ordinary wheel, and to be supplied to the jenny for conversion into yarn. Above all, the yarn spun by the jenny was fit only for weft, and unless a yarn hard enough for warp had been produced in other ways afterwards, there would have been no cotton manufacture strictly so called. But the revolution which the spinning jenny produced in the manufacture as it then existed was, of course, immense.

Hargreaves’s machine broken up by his neighbors

Hargreaves is supposed to have invented the jenny about 1764, and certainly by 1767 he had so far perfected it that a child could work eight spindles at once with it. When first invented it was doubtless a rude machine, and Hargreaves is said to have kept it a secret, and to have used it merely in his own family and his own business, to supply himself with weft for his looms. It was, of course, a secret which could not long be kept. If the jenny came into general use, the weaver would no longer be at the mercy of the spinner; the production of yarn would be multiplied, and its price would fall. The spinsters of Blackburn, their fathers, brothers, sweethearts, were not students of political economy, and did not reflect that increased supply at a lower price would produce an increased demand. They looked only to the probable immediate effect of the jenny on the number of the persons employed in spinning and on the price of yarn. The very weavers Were dissatisfied, being afraid, it seems, "lest the manufacturers should demand finer weft woven at the former prices." The Black-burners rose upon Hargreaves, broke into his house, destroyed his jenny or jennies, and made the town and neighborhood too hot for him.

Hargreaves migrates to Nottingham

Hargreaves shook the dust from off his feet and fled the ungrateful district. He made for Nottingham, as a chief seat of the manufacture of silk and worsted stockings, and where that of cotton hosiery, though much valued, had languished for the want of suitable yarn.

Richard Arkwright’s invention

This Hegira of Hargreaves took place in 1767, in which very year Mr. Richard Arkwright, barber, of Bolton, had his earliest conferences with one Kay, a clock maker at Warrington, respecting the bending of some wires and the turning of some pieces of brass for a spinning machine he was building. Two years later, warned by the fate of Hargreaves, Mr. Arkwright, too, quietly migrated to Nottingham, and in the July of 1769 he "enrolled" the specification of his famous first patent for spinning by rollers.

Hargreaves patents his jenny (1770); Lancashire manufacturers make use of the jenny

Poor Hargreaves was to have no such successful career as that of the Bolton barber. After his arrival in Nottingham he worked for a while in the employment of Mr. Shipley, for whom he made some jennies secretly in his house. It was probably with the assistance of a Nottingham joiner by the name of James that Hargreaves was enabled, in the July of 1770, to take out a patent for his spinning jenny. Finding that several of the Lancashire manufacturers were using the jenny, Hargreaves gave notice of actions against them. The manufacturers met, and sent a delegate to Nottingham, who offered Hargreaves £3000 for permission to use the machine; but he at first demanded £7000, and at last stood out for £4000. The negotiations being broken off, the actions proceeded; but before they came to trial Hargreaves’s attorney was informed that his client, before leaving Lancashire, had sold some jennies to obtain clothing for his children (of whom he had six or seven); and in consequence of this, which was true, the attorney finally gave up the action in despair of obtaining a verdict.

Moderate Success of Hargreaves

Hargreaves, however, did not, like Kay, die in a foreign land, and in misery or poverty. The partnership business was carried on "with moderate success" until the death of Hargreaves on the 22d of April, 1778, the year before that in which Samuel Crompton invented the mule.

1 See illustration in Development of Modern Europe, Vol. II, p. 35.

2 Ibid. p. 34.


Related Resources

Industrial Revolution

Download Options

Title: Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: "Invention of Machinery for Spinning and Weaving," Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2 in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, ed. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), 45–48. Original Sources, accessed April 17, 2024,

MLA: . "Invention of Machinery for Spinning and Weaving." Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2, in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, edited by James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard, Vol. 2, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1908, pp. 45–48. Original Sources. 17 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Invention of Machinery for Spinning and Weaving' in Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2. cited in 1908, Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.45–48. Original Sources, retrieved 17 April 2024, from