What Was the Importance of the Water Frame?

The invention of the water frame in the late 1760s transformed the textile industry and helped usher in the Industrial Revolution. Originally called the spinning frame and patented by Richard Arkwright in 1769, the device was renamed the water frame when it became powered by a flow of water instead of horses. Arkwright's invention replaced the handloom with a power loom and brought about a major change in the English working class by altering the relationship between human labor and production output.

Arkwright's water frame not only changed the way that cloth and textiles were produced from the raw materials of wool and cotton, it also gave rise to the factory system that was one of the primary components of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1771, after the new device became powered by water, Arkwright and two business partners established their first textile mill in the village of Cromford. Entire families were employed in the new factory and the number of employees grew to 1,500, including children, who represented about one third of the workforce.

Arkwright's ability to combine his machinery with a large, highly disciplined semi-skilled workforce in an effective and profitable manner earned him the recognition of having created the factory system. His factories operated on a 12-hour workday and his employees were trained to match the speeds of the machines they operated. Arkwright's water frame represented the first successful attempt at large-scale mechanized production, and by the later years of his life, Arkwright was being called "the Father of the Industrial Revolution."