Crompton Invents the Spinning Mule

To invent the spinning mule, Crompton drew on the concepts of James Hargreaves and Richard Arkwright in spinning machinery to create a machine that not only vastly increased the output of yarn relative to its predecessors but also was well adapted to the application of mechanical power and the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

Summary of Event

The area around Bolton, in Lancashire, England, was the center of the yarn-spinning industry in the last third of the eighteenth century. It was there that both James Hargreaves and Sir Richard Arkwright were located and carried through their innovative ideas on how to speed up the spinning of yarn from cotton, Cotton industry and it was there that Samuel Crompton, a member of the next generation, created the machine that dominated the British textile industry for the next century. [kw]Crompton Invents the Spinning Mule (1779)
[kw]Mule, Crompton Invents the Spinning (1779)
[kw]Spinning Mule, Crompton Invents the (1779)
[kw]Invents the Spinning Mule, Crompton (1779)
Spinning mules
Spinning technology
Textile industry
Machines;textile manufacturing
Industrial Revolution;textiles
[g]England;1779: Crompton Invents the Spinning Mule[2360]
[c]Inventions;1779: Crompton Invents the Spinning Mule[2360]
[c]Science and technology;1779: Crompton Invents the Spinning Mule[2360]
[c]Manufacturing;1779: Crompton Invents the Spinning Mule[2360]
Crompton, Samuel
Arkwright, Sir Richard
Hargreaves, James
Peel, Sir Robert

Crompton’s mother, a widow when her son was five years old, was a stern disciplinarian who taught her son perseverance. At an early age, he learned to spin yarn, but found the then-prevailing method, the spinning jenny Spinning jennies invented by James Hargreaves, to be a less than satisfactory mechanism. He devoted five years of his life, between 1774 and 1779, to crafting a machine that did not suffer from the defects of the jenny, incorporating into his machine also some of the ideas that had inspired Richard Arkwright in his development of the water frame. Water frames

Crompton’s machine was built initially on a frame somewhat like that used by Hargreaves, who, in turn, had apparently derived it from a loom frame. In addition to mounting multiple spindles on the device and utilizing the more advanced rollers of Arkwright’s water frame to simulate the twisting motion of the spinner’s fingers, Mechanization of labor
Labor;and manufacturing[manufacturing] Crompton’s machine incorporated a movable segment that enabled him to adjust the roving (a loose rope of fibers that was created from the raw cotton once it was cleaned) so that its tension did not vary. By using the movable carriage, Crompton’s machine was able gradually to increase the tension on the roving as it was spun ever tighter. Thus, he was not restricted to the rather loose and easily broken yarn created by the spinning jenny but was rather able to produce tightly woven yarn that withstood all the tensions placed upon it in the weaving process.

Where the jenny had produced yarns that added up to no more than a 20 count (the number of yarns to the inch in the woven fabric) and were of variable thickness, the yarn produced by Crompton’s mule was of uniform thickness and could add up to a 300 count. This method of designating the fineness of a weave is still in use. Crompton’s machine in fact duplicated the work of the finger and thumb of the hand spinner, holding the material tightly and gradually lengthening the fibers as it wound them together.

Crompton did not attempt to patent his new machine, which was ready for use in 1779. Perhaps he was disheartened by the difficulties of Hargreaves and Arkwright in maintaining and enforcing the patents they had initially acquired against the intense copying then going on in the spinning business. Instead, he dedicated his machine to the public and went into the spinning business himself. He turned down an offer from Sir Robert Peel, the first of that name, an active and prosperous manufacturer of yarn using largely Hargreaves’s machines. Crompton, using his machine, became in fact the instructor of others in the business, and those who had had the advantage of being tutored by Crompton were much in demand. Crompton himself was not particularly successful in business, however.

Though Crompton had not sought a patent for his machine, he was inspired by the success of Edmund Cartwright, Cartwright, Edmund inventor of the power loom, Power looms
Steam-powered loom[Steam powered loom]
Steam engines;textile industry to seek payment from the government for his achievement. Parliament had awarded Cartwright £10,000 for his invention in 1809, and Crompton sought a similar reward for his accomplishment. Parliament appointed a committee to investigate Crompton’s claim, and, with the support of many Lancashire businessmen, he was rewarded in 1812 with a grant of £5,000. Crompton used the funds thus acquired to underwrite several businesses in the textile field, but none was financially successful.

A line of spinning mules.

(Library of Congress)

Crompton’s achievement, however, especially combined with Cartwright’s power loom, had profound consequences. Hitherto the production of lightweight cotton fabrics had been almost entirely confined to India, though over the course of the eighteenth century such materials became increasingly popular in Europe. Hargreaves and Arkwright’s inventions had not changed that, because the yarns produced by their machines were too coarse and, in the case of Hargreaves’s jenny, too fragile to be used in weaving the finer, lightweight cotton fabrics. Instead, in weaving such fabrics, the loose yarns produced by the jenny were combined with yarns in which linen fibers were used to strengthen the cotton, or, as in the case of yarns produced by Arkwright’s frame, they were used in the manufacture of stockings. With Crompton’s mule, the English textile industry could take over the manufacture of lightweight cotton textiles.

Moreover, the mule was adapted for use in large factories, requiring, as had Arkwright’s water frame, an outside source of power to move the components of the machine. The mule was not superseded for at least a century in the British textile business, becoming the core piece of equipment not only in Lancashire, the center of textile manufacture, but even in Scotland and in the United States as well, where it was not replaced until at least the middle of the nineteenth century by ring spinning. The factories using Crompton’s mule spread very rapidly in the last decades of the eighteenth century. Between 1788 and 1811, the number of spindles on mules grew from fifty thousand in the earlier year to 4.6 million in 1811. The cost of yarn for weaving dropped to one tenth what it had been in the first half of the eighteenth century, thus revolutionizing the textile industry.


In a sense, Crompton’s mule can be said to have reversed the situation that inspired Hargreaves’s spinning jenny, in which the demand for yarn from the weavers led to his invention. With the mule, the supply of yarn greatly outpaced the demand, leading to the invention of the power loom by Edmund Cartwright, who took out a patent in 1785-1787, but whose patent likewise did not lead to prosperity. Other inventions followed too, including carding machines to replace the laborious process of turning the bulk cotton into usable fibers, new processes for finishing the fabric, and new methods for printing and dyeing. The resulting enormous expansion of the output of textiles in its turn led to the introduction of the steam engine into factories, and the Industrial Revolution began.

Further Reading

  • Cardwell, D. S. L. Turning Points in Western Technology. New York: Neale Watson Science History, 1972. Gives a concise description of the new textile technologies, with some illustrative line drawings.
  • Chapman, S. D. The Cotton Industry in the Industrial Revolution. London: Macmillan, 1972. A compact history of the textile industry.
  • Floud, Roderick, and Paul Johnson. The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain. Vol. 1. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. The best concise description of the new technologies, complete with line drawings of the important machines.
  • Mann, Julia de L. “The Textile Industry: Machinery for Cotton, Flax, Wool, 1760-1850.” In A History of Technology, edited by Charles Singer. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. In this classic multivolume history of technology, a considerable degree of detail about the new textile inventions is provided, also with some line drawings.
  • Mokyr, Joel. The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. A brief section describes, along with a few line drawings, the major innovations of the eighteenth century in textile machinery. In another work Mokyr refers to the spinning inventions as “macroinventions.”

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