James Hargreaves (1720-1778)
For many centuries, wool and flax (used to make linen) had been changed from fibers (the raw material) to thread, or yarn, using a spinning wheel. The wheel was turned by hand or, in some cases, by using a foot peddle. The motion of the wheel turned a spindle which pulled on the fibers. This caused the fibers to be drawn out and twisted to make yarn.
James Hargreaves was a weaver who lived in Stanhill, near Blackburn in Lancashire. He was poor, uneducated and had a large family. It is said that, in 1767, one of his daughters accidentally knocked over his spinning wheel. As Hargreaves watched the overturned machine, he noticed that the spindle continued to spin, even though it had now been turned over by the fall. It occurred to him that the same wheel might
be used to turn many spindles at the same time. He set about making a machine with eight spindles connected to one wheel. He called his machine the Spinning Jenny, after his daughter.
Hargreaves made a number of Spinning Jennies and started to sell them in the area. However, since each machine was capable of doing the work of eight people, other spinners were angry about the competition. In 1768, a group of spinners broke into Hargreaves' house and destroyed his machines. Hargreaves decided to move his family away from Blackburn and they settled in Nottingham. Here Hargreaves found a partner,
Thomas James, and together they set up a small spinning mill.
Although he patented his invention in July 1770, Hargreaves had already given away its secrets during the six years since its conception. The Spinning Jenny had already been duplicated by others. Hargreaves never earned very much in the way of royalties and continued to work in his spinning mill until his death in 1778.