(born April 24, 1743, Marnham, Nottinghamshire, Eng.—died Oct. 30, 1823, Hastings, Sussex) British inventor. On visiting Richard Arkwright's cotton-spinning mills, he was inspired to construct a power-driven machine for weaving. He invented a power loom and set up a weaving and spinning factory in Yorkshire. In 1789 he patented a wool-combing machine. In 1809 the House of Commons voted to reward him for the benefits his loom had conferred on the nation. His other inventions included a cordelier (machine for making rope) and a steam engine that used alcohol instead of water.
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More fortunate than his predecessors, he attacked the problem of mechanical weaving after much initial work had been done, especially that relating to mechanical spinning and the factory system, for without these no power loom could succeed. He designed the first power loom in 1784 patented it in 1785, but it proved to be valueless. In the following year, however, he patented another loom which has served as the model for later inventors to work upon. He was conscious that for a mechanically driven loom to become a commercial success, either one person would have to attend several machines, or each machine must have a greater productive capacity than one manually controlled. The thought and ingenuity bestowed by Dr Cartwright upon the realization of his ideas were remarkable. He added parts which no loom, whether worked manually or mechanically, had previously been provided with, namely, a positive let-off motion, warp and weft stop motions, and sizing the warp while the loom was in action. With this machine he commenced, at Doncaster, to manufacture fabrics, and by so doing discovered many of its shortcomings, and these he attempted to remedy: by introducing a crank and eccentrical wheels to actuate the batten differentially; by improving the picking mechanism; by a device for stopping the loom when a shuttle failed to enter a shuttle box; by preventing a shuttle from rebounding when in a box; and by stretching the cloth with temples that acted automatically.
In 1792 Dr Cartwright obtained his last patent for weaving machinery; this provided the loom with multiple shuttle boxes for weaving checks and cross stripes. But all his efforts were unavailing; it became apparent that no mechanism, however perfect, could succeed so long as warps continued to be sized while a loom was stationary. His plans for sizing them while a loom was in operation, and also before being placed in a loom, both failed. Still, provided continuity of action could he attained, the position of the power loom was assured, and means for the attainment of this end were supplied in 1803, by William Radcliffe, and his assistant Thomas Johnson, by their inventions of the beam warper, and the dressing sizing machine.
In 1809 Cartwright obtained a grant of £10,000 from parliament for his invention. He also created a wool combing machine and an alcohol-driven engine.