Why Did Samuel Slater Risk His Life to Smuggle Industrial Plans to America?


Quick Answer

Samuel Slater, an apprentice to cotton miller Jedidiah Strutt, defied a British law forbidding textile workers to travel to the United States in order to sell his knowledge to American mill owners, says the BBC. Desperate American industrialists were unable to compete with superior British technology, so they offered bribes to any British millers who would share their knowledge.

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Full Answer

British industrialists developed water-powered cotton mills beginning with Cromford Mill in 1771, leading to a boom in the production of cotton cloth and thread. When Britain started producing vast amounts of cloth at low prices, cotton cloth and thread manufacturers in New England could not compete. They offered large bounties to any British mill apprentice willing to come to the U.S. and share the British technology. Britain, however, recognizing the value of this technology, had forbidden the export of mill plans and prohibited travel to the U.S. by anyone trained in mill machinery.

Samuel Slater accepted the challenge, memorizing as much as he could about the machinery in his workplace, Strutt's Mill in Belper, England. He sent a letter to mill owner Moses Brown of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, offering his services. Upon arrival in the United States, he realized Brown's mill was useless for the new technology. A new mill, the first water-powered roller-spinning textile mill, would have to be built. His sponsors agreed. In 1793, this mill, in conjunction with Eli Whitney's cotton gin, triggered a new era of American industrialism.

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