Richard Arkwright (1732-1792)

Portrait of Richard Arkwright, by Joseph Wright of Derby. Credits: Derby Museum & Art Gallery

British inventor and cotton manufacturer.

Arkwright, the thirteenth child in a poor Preston family, began life as a barber. Prior to his experiments in spinning he had some success through an invention for dyeing hair aimed at the wig trade.

When his first wife died, he married a woman from Leigh, a spinning town, in 1761, and it is said that this association first turned his thoughts to the spinning industry. Unfortunately Mrs Arkwright was less than pleased with his obsessive interest - at one point she destroyed his models in a vain attempt to return him to hairdressing. He persevered however and in 1769 took out a patent for his spinning machine.

The immense profitability of the design attracted numerous imitators, and patent disputes eventually led to trials in which Arkwright's claims of invention were disputed. Nevertheless the perfected machine - performing everything from the carding to the spinning (effected by rollers) of the cotton - was by and large Arkwright's invention, and one which marked the start of the golden age of the British cotton industry.

Arkwright set up various mills, becoming immensely wealthy despite the retraction of his patents towards the end of his life. Before his death in 1792 he was made sheriff of Derbyshire.