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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made
people:Edmund Cartwright
Born: 24 April 1743, Marnham, Nottinghamshire, England
Died: 30 October 1823, Hastings, Sussex, England


picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Inventor of the first power loom.

Cartwright studied at Oxford and began his career as a clergyman in Leicestershire. In 1784, inspired by what he had seen on a visit to a modern cotton-spinning mill, he began working on a 'power loom', a machine designed to improve the speed and quality of weaving.

Cartwright patented the first version of his loom in 1785. It did not perform well but he gradually improved his design and in 1787 opened a weaving factory in Doncaster. Although he had made a good product, Cartwright had no head for business and went bankrupt seven years later.

A prolific inventor, Cartwright went on to patent a wool-combing machine, a steam engine that used alcohol and a rope-making machine.

Cartwright did not make much money from his power loom despite the fact that by the early 1800s a large number of factory owners were using a modified version. He applied to the House of Commons for compensation and was awarded a sum of £10,000. He retired to a farm in Kent and spent the remainder of his life improving farm machinery.

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