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James Hargreaves (1720 – 22 April 1778) was a weaver, carpenter, and an inventor in Lancashire, England. He is credited with inventing the spinning jenny in 1764.
Along with Richard Arkwright, Hargreaves is one of the most famous names of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, yet little is known of him as a person.
1720 Born at Stanhill in Oswaldtwistle in Lancashire, he lived at Blackburn, then a town with a population of about 5000, known for the production of Blackburn Greys, cloths of linen warp and cotton weft. They were usually sent to London to be printed. The demand for cotton yarn outstripped supply, and the crude one-thread spinning wheel could not keep up.
1760 The flying shuttle, invented by John Kay, first came into general use in cotton manufacture around 1760. It doubled the productive power of the weaver, while that of the worker on the spinning-wheel remained much the same. Thus the opportunity was set for the spinning jenny which multiplied eightfold the productive power of the spinner and, because of its form, could be worked much more easily by children than by adults.
c.1762 Hargreaves helped his neighbour, Robert Peel (1723-1795), the calico printer and grandfather of the future prime minister, to construct an improved carding machine.
c.1766 The idea for the jenny is said to have come from the inventor seeing a one-thread wheel overturned upon the floor, when both the wheel and the spindle continued to revolve. He realised that if a number of spindles were placed upright and side by side, several threads might be spun at once. This idea may have come from Hargreaves, or perhaps from Thomas Highs, who had a daughter called Jenny: the sources are in conflict. Whoever the inventor was, he designed a frame, in one part of which he placed eight rovings in a row; Hargreaves certainly developed the idea from its crude beginnings.
The machine enabled Hargreaves to dispense with hand spinners. This aroused the interest of his employers, Jonathan Howarth and Robert Peel, who were allowed to inspect the machine and were keen to exploit it.
Opposition to the machine caused Hargreaves to become a bookkeeper for Peel but within a year he accepted an invitation to make jennies in Nottingham for the merchant hosiers Shipley, Rawson, Heath, and Watson. Nottinghm was a centre of the cotton hosiery industry; this industry greatly benefited from the increased provision of suitable yarn. Arkwright also ended up in the town.
1770 Hargreaves took out a patent, which enabled him to take legal action against the Lancashire manufacturers who had begun using the Spinning Jenny. Although he failed in this, Hargreaves' business was carried on until his death in 1778, the year before that in which Samuel Crompton invented the spinning mule.