First Steam Rolling Mill Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

By the late eighteenth century, steam had begun to replace waterwheels as the source of power for English mills. Applicable to ironworks, textile mills, and grain processing, the steam-powered rolling mills would transform England’s manufacturing industries during the eighteenth century. Steam power resulted in larger mills, greater efficiency, higher production rates at lower cost, and more flexibility in transportation than the small-scale cottage industries could achieve.

Summary of Event

The creation of the steam rolling mill Rolling mills in 1790 was a major technological advance that gave impetus to the Industrial Revolution Industrial Revolution;rolling mill in England during the eighteenth century. The steam-powered roller (or rolling) mill proved useful in iron manufactures, spinning and weaving textiles, and milling of grain—all major industries that placed England in the forefront of Europe’s Industrial Revolution. [kw]First Steam Rolling Mill (1790) [kw]Mill, First Steam Rolling (1790) [kw]Rolling Mill, First Steam (1790) [kw]Steam Rolling Mill, First (1790) Rolling mills Textile industry Machines;textile manufacturing Industrial Revolution;textiles Steam engines;textile industry Textile mills [g]England;1790: First Steam Rolling Mill[2900] [c]Inventions;1790: First Steam Rolling Mill[2900] [c]Science and technology;1790: First Steam Rolling Mill[2900] [c]Manufacturing;1790: First Steam Rolling Mill[2900] [c]Agriculture;1790: First Steam Rolling Mill[2900] Arkwright, Sir Richard Cartwright, Edmund Cort, Henry Hargreaves, James Highs, Thomas Kay, John Newcomen, Thomas Watt, James

The invention of the roller mill was made possible by the development of the steam engine in the early eighteenth century. In 1705, Thomas Newcomen invented a steam engine Steam engines Machines;steam engines that proved useful for pumping water out of flooded coal mines. Though Newcomen’s engine was useful in pumping water from coal mines, however, it could not generate enough power to drive machinery. In the early 1760’s, James Watt designed a rotary steam engine that could generate power by burning coal instead of wood, a scarce resource in England. In 1784, Henry Cort, English ironmaster, developed and patented the first steam-powered grooved-roller mill, which allowed the production of finished iron Iron manufacturing in different shapes and forms. Cort also developed the steam-powered puddling Puddling process process for decarburizing iron. The steam roller mill led to increased production and use of iron in constructing railroads and industrial machinery, thereby generating a revolution in transportation.

The roller mills not only revitalized the iron industry but also led to the development of steam-powered technologies for the textiles industry. In 1733, John Kay had invented the flying shuttle, Flying shuttles which increased the speed of production and generated increasing demand for spun cotton. The market in England was further increased by continental and American factory demands, and faster spinning and weaving technologies became essential to sustain growth of the industry. The steam roller mills answered the need.

In 1763, Thomas Highs teamed with clockmaker John Kay to develop a high-speed spinning Spinning technology machine. They worked secretly in Highs’s house while under threats from hand wheel spinners, who feared that steam-powered machinery would put them out of work. Discouraged by their lack of progress and threats of destruction, Highs and Kay tossed their invention out the window, and Kay walked away. Highs decided not to give up and gathered up the pieces to reassemble what became known as the spinning jenny. Spinning jennies Evidently, Highs gave his machine to James Hargreaves, who received credit for inventing the spinning jenny in 1767. Highs returned to the development of roller-drafting equipment, again enlisting the aid of John Kay.

In 1767, Highs and Kay finished their model of a water frame. Water frames Where the jenny stretched the thread by trapping it in a wooden vice and pulling it out, the water frame achieved a stronger thread by passing the roving through two sets of gripping rollers. The second set of rollers rotated at five times the speed of the first, so the thread was stretched to five times its original length before being twisted by the bobbin and flyer. Kay, at Highs’s request, made a working model of the roller-drafting water frame for demonstration, but in 1767, Sir Richard Arkwright persuaded Kay to make another model, which Arkwright patented as his own invention. By the same devious method, Arkwright stole ideas from other inventors, and in 1775, he patented models of all the different machines used in manufacturing textiles, claiming them as his own inventions. However, in 1785, based on the testimony of Highs, Kay, Kay’s wife, and Hargreaves’s widow, the courts set aside Arkwright’s patents.

In 1785, Watt’s rotary steam engine was adapted for use in spinning machines, and textile mills began to convert to steam power and the use of roller mills. Although Arkwright’s reputation as an inventor was tainted, he is credited with developing the factory system that changed industrial England into a workshop of laborers, Labor;and manufacturing[manufacturing] including children, in automated factories that brought wealth to the owners but impoverished the workers.

During the last decade of the eighteenth century, the cotton mills Cotton industry in the industrial center of Lancashire more than tripled production using steam-powered machinery at every stage of production. The power scutcher Scutchers was used for opening and preparing the bales of cotton, rotating at high speeds while a fan blew out impurities and mixed the cotton fibers. The cotton lap formed at the back of the scutcher was passed on rollers through the carding machine, then on to the spinning jenny, and then on to the power looms.

In 1787, Edmund Cartwright was granted a patent for the first power loom, Looms Power looms which used drafting rollers to take the cloth off the loom automatically. Cartwright built a factory in Doncaster for his looms, but poor understanding of commerce, patent infringements, and public distrust of the steam engine all led to the failure of that factory. He built a new factory that would house four hundred power looms but had installed only twenty-four when anti-industrial agitators burned down the factory. Industrial sabotage Cartwright abandoned the textile industry in 1793 and moved to London, where he turned his attention to other inventions.

Steam-powered textile machinery boosted England’s production of cotton, linen, and woolen cloth. For example, the eight-storied Murray’s Mills, Murray’s Mills, England[Murrays Mills] established in Ancoats in 1798, included the spinning machinery, warehouses, offices, and a shipping area that linked to the Rochdale Canal Canals via a tunnel beneath the mills. This direct shipping link between the mill and the port at Liverpool was a crucial asset to the success of the mills.

In 1786, James Watt’s rotary steam engine was used successfully to power roller mills in the Albion Corn Mill in London. During 1780-1800, England imported large quantities of grain Grain from North America. The grain merchants decided to build new roller mills beside the docks in order to process these grain shipments as soon as they arrived. With improved transportation systems, the processed grain was moved from the dockside mills to destinations throughout the country. The new steam roller mills were particularly attractive to large merchant millers. At first, traditional millers refused to exchange their millstones for metal rollers for grinding grain into flour. Instead, they tried to improve output by increasing the number of furrows or quarters on the millstones. The roller mills were faster, however, and soon were accepted by progressive millers who wanted to improve the quality and quantity of their product.

In the steam roller mills, grain was broken up between two adjustable metal cylinders. Then, another set of rollers or a pair of millstones would be used to regrind the grain particles into flour. Soon, metal rollers were used exclusively, as millers learned how to extract almost all the bran and produce fine white flour with the roller mills. Not only did the roller mills speed up the process, but they also increased the amount of marketable flour produced. Roller mills and added equipment, such as bolting reels, purifiers, and aspirators, required higher capital investment and therefore were more profitable for large urban mills than for small rural mills. Even after the improved transport systems made commercially milled flour widely available, some small water-powered stone-grinding mills continued to serve the local markets. Even commercial roller mills would retain a pair of millstones for processing marketable stone-ground products.


The invention of the steam roller mill made possible the transportation revolution that was an essential part of the eighteenth century Industrial Revolution in Europe. The steam roller mill was useful in all three of England’s top industries—iron and steel production, textile manufactures, and milling grain: It allowed England to dominate these markets and to become the leading industrial power in Europe.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ashton, T. Iron and Steel in the Industrial Revolution. 3d ed. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1963. Discusses changes in the iron industry brought about by the use of the steam roller mill.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Robert B. Accounting for Steam and Cotton: Two Eighteenth Century Case Studies. New York: Garland, 1997. Provides insight into management, costs of production, and comparative output of steam- and powered cotton mills.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Trevor I. The History of Invention: From Stone Axes to Silicon Chips. New York: Facts on File, 1987. Features brief biographies of inventors and inventions.

Tull Invents the Seed Drill

Newcomen Develops the Steam Engine

Darby Invents Coke-Smelting

Kay Invents the Flying Shuttle

Invention of the Spinning Jenny

Watt Develops a More Effective Steam Engine

Invention of the Water Frame

Crompton Invents the Spinning Mule

Cartwright Patents the Steam-Powered Loom

Slater’s Spinning Mill

Whitney Invents the Cotton Gin

Invention of the Flax Spinner

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Sir Richard Arkwright; James Hargreaves; John Kay; Thomas Newcomen; James Watt; Eli Whitney. Rolling mills Textile industry Machines;textile manufacturing Industrial Revolution;textiles Steam engines;textile industry Textile mills

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