First American Cotton Mill

On December 20, 1790, water-powered machinery for spinning and carding cotton was set in motion in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Based on the designs of English inventor Richard Arkwright, the mill was built by Samuel Slater, a recent English immigrant who apprenticed Arkwright's partner, Jebediah Strutt.

Slater had evaded British law against emigration of textile workers in order to seek his fortune in America. Considered the father of the United States textile industry, he eventually built several successful cotton mills in New England and established the town of Slatersville, Rhode Island.

Prior to the Civil War, textile manufacture was the most important American industry. The first American power loom was constructed in 1813 by a group of Boston merchants headed by Francis Cabot Lowell. Soon textile mills dotted the rivers of New England transforming the landscape, the economy, and the people. Initially, mill work was performed by daughters of local farmers. In later years, immigration became the source of mill "hands."

A cotton mill is a factory that houses spinning and weaving machinery. Typically built between 1775 and 1930, mills spun cotton which was an important product during the Industrial Revolution.

Cotton mills, and the mechanisation of the spinning process, was instrumental in the growth of the machine tool industry, enabling the construction of larger cotton mills. The requirement for water helped stimulate the construction of the canal system, and the need for power the development of steam engines. limited companies were developed to construct the mills. This led to the trading floors of the cotton exchange of Manchester, which in its turn created a vast commercial city. The mills also created extra employment, leading to the expansion of local populations and the need for extra housing. In response, mill towns with municipal governments were created. The mills provided independent incomes for girls and women. Child labour was used in the mills, and the factory system led to organised labour. Poor conditions in cotton mills became the subject of exposes and the Factory Acts were written to regulate them. The cotton mill was originally a Lancashire phenomenon that then was copied in New England and later in the southern states of America. In the twentieth century, North West England lost its supremacy to the United States, then India and then China. In the twenty-first century redundant mills have been accepted as part of a country's heritage and re-developed for other uses.

I was just nine years old when we moved to a cotton mill in Darlington, South Carolina, and I started to work in the mill. I was in a world of strangers. I didn't know a soul. The first morning I was to start work, I remember coming downstairs feelin' strange and lonesome-like. My grandfather, who had a long, white beard, grabbed me in his arms and put two one-dollar bills in my hand. He said, "Take these to your mother and tell her to buy you some pretty dresses and make 'em nice for you to wear in this mill." I was mighty proud of that.”

— "I'm Not Lonesome," December 1, 1938. American Life Histories, 1936-1940