Slater's Mark: Samuel Slater and the Founding of Webster  


Slater's Early Career

Portrait of Samuel Slater (Courtesy of Macek and Morrison, p. 205)Samuel Slater was born on June 9, 1768 in Belper, Derbyshire, England. At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, a mill owner in nearby Milford. There, Slater learned both how to manage a factory and how to maintain and repair the machines. It was Strutt who had financed Richard Arkwright’s work in inventing the water frame, the technology on which Strutt’s Milford factory was built. This enabled the young Slater to learn first-hand the ins and outs of operating such machinery. From Strutt, Slater also learned a paternalistic management style; Strutt had built a church and a Sunday school for his workers. The Sunday school also provided a rudimentary education for his child laborers, whom he preferred to hire since they were less expensive than adult workers.

Slater continued to work for Strutt for a short time after his apprenticeship ended in January 1789. Sometime during that summer, Slater saw an advertisement from a Philadelphia newspaper promising “a reward to anyone introducing English textile technologies into the United States.”2 Slater took the bait and in mid-September, defying the laws prohibiting the emigration of trained textile machinists, he left Belper for the United States.

Slater arrived in the United States two months later at the age of twenty-one. His intention was to go to Philadelphia and collect the reward, but a ship captain recommended he contact Moses Brown, who had unsuccessfully been trying to reproduce Arkwright’s machines with his partner, William Almy. Brown was a wealthy merchant and manufacturer in Providence, Rhode Island, and brother of John Brown, who would first propose the construction of the Blackstone Canal from Providence to Worcester. Slater and Brown exchanged letters before Slater decided to forego Philadelphia for Pawtucket. Slater was able to manufacture working cotton carding and spinning machines within four months of his arrival in Pawtucket. For his hard work, Slater was able to negotiate a business partnership with Almy and Brown under the name Almy, Brown, & Slater. By 1791, the Old Slater Mill was spinning cotton.

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