If a man does not know to what port he is sailing, no wind is favourable. — Seneca

James Hargreaves

Civilization: British — England
   Field of Renown:  inventor — Spinning Jenny
Era:  Foundation

James Hargreaves is credited with inventing the Spinning Jenny, which was one of the earliest inventions that launched the industrial revolution in England. In the eighteenth century, spinning and weaving were very largely home-based industries employing thousands of women that spun yarn, or wove cloth in their homes. The town of Blackburn, where Hargreaves and his family lived was something of a textile center, and Hargreaves' wife spun yarn for the local weavers. One day her spinning wheel fell on the floor, and Hargreaves realized that a contraption could be made in such a way that eight or ten wheels could be spun simultaneously by a single spinner.

It took Hargreaves some time to build an working machine, which he called the "spinning jenny". He took pains to keep his invention a secret but word eventually leaked out that such a marvelous machine existed. Instead of being pleased, the local spinners were angry, because they feared that mechanization would destroy their livelihoods. An irate mob of spinners broke into his home and destroyed his workshop, forcing Hargreaves and his family to leave town. He soon set up a new shop in Nottingham, and obtained a patent in 1770.

Hargreaves was not however a successful businessman, and many other manufactures stole his idea without giving him any benefit. He died a few years later, neither wealthy nor destitute, leaving the task of founding an industry based on automated spinning to Richard Arkwright.

Key events during the life of James Hargreaves:

Birth of Hargreaves
Invented spinning Jenny when wife's spinner fell on the floor.
Completed first spinning Jenny for commercial use.
Forced to leave Blackburn after a mob of irate spinners attacks shop.
Obtains patent and moves to Nottingham.
Death of Hargreaves

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Invention of the Spinning Machines  in  Great Inventors and Their Inventions  by  Frank P. Bachman
Industrial and Social Changes  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding

Image Links

Hargreaves Discovers the Spinning Jenny
 in Great Inventors and Their Inventions

Hargreaves' Spinning Jenny
 in Great Inventors and Their Inventions

Short Biography
Richard Arkwright Inventor of the spinning frame, which allowed water or steam power to spin cloth.
Thomas Highs Inventor credited along with Hargreaves, for inventing the spinning jenny.