The evolution of the spinning machine came to its fruition in 1779 with the invention of the spinning mule. This device borrowed from James Hargreaves ' spinning jenny and Richard Arkwright's water frame. Textile industries worldwide used the mule for almost two hundred years, during which time the machine's design was modified only slightly. Despite the overwhelming success of thespinning mule, however, its inventor, Samuel Crompton, enjoyed little prosperity. In fact, the last half-century of his life was spent fighting the industry that had effectively stolen his machine.
Crompton was born near Bolton, England, in 1753. His father died when he wasfive, and he learned at an early age to help his mother with all the household tasks. Among these was working with a spinning jenny, the yarn from which was sold at a local market. Crompton's mother was a stern woman with a short temper, a temper which flared every time the jenny broke its yarn. Realizing this was the fault of a flaw in the jenny's design, Crompton set out to construct his own spinning machine.
The building of the spinning mule took five years and all the money Cromptonhad earned as a fiddler at a local theater. He worked in secrecy, usually atnight; the noises coming from his workshop led many neighbors to believe thebuilding was haunted. The final product--crude, but very efficient--was finished in 1779, just after Crompton's twenty-seventh birthday.
The spinning mule used the two most important elements of the water-frame andthe spinning jenny. From Arkwright's water frame it borrowed a set of rollers to draw out the cotton fibers; from the jenny, a moving carriage that gently stretched the roving. Added to this was Crompton's own spindle carriage, which insured that no tension was applied to the yarn before it had been completely spun. The yarn spun by this machine was strong and smooth, able to be used in materials such as muslin, and did not break as easily as that spun by the jenny. Though it was originally called the Hall-in-the-Wood wheel (after Crompton's birthplace), it soon became known as the spinning mule because of its hybrid nature.
For a short time, Crompton's family took the mule's yarn to the local market,selling it at a considerable profit. Soon, however, the demand for muslin yarn rose dramatically. Fortuneseekers hounded Crompton to reveal his secret, some resorting to attempted burglary (one story claims that Arkwright himselftried to break into Crompton's workshop). After a few months Crompton could bear no more: to preserve his own sanity he decided to sell the spinning muleto the public. Still too poor to afford the price of a patent, he agreed to sell the machine's design for a subscription of seventy pounds each year.
As soon as the textile industry gained possession of the spinning mule they reneged on their agreement. Crompton collected just six pounds in the ten years following the invention of the mule. He was able to successfully appeal toa number of manufacturers, who granted him a subscription of 400 pounds--a nominal amount, considering that the mule had replaced both the jenny and the water frame, and was responsible for the employment of more than 200,000 people. Crompton received a grant in the amount of 5000 pounds in 1812 from the House of Commons; still, this was not enough to rescue him from poverty. He attempted twice to establish his own business, failing each time. In 1824 a group of friends anonymously donated to Crompton an annuity of 63 pounds--enoughto live on, but little else. He died in Bolton in 1927.
In contrast to Crompton's financial decline, the spinning mule became the most important machine in British manufacturing. In 1827 the British engineer Richard Roberts introduced the self-acting mule, which no longer required any manual labor.