The first automatic machine of the world: Water Frame

Image: Replica of water frame

Madhu Lamichhane
Mechanical Engineering Final Year

The world was not always this industrial. Besides, the concept of products and consumers was not this wide, as there were no companies and factories. And, Europe, the pioneer land of industries, used to export textile from Asia and Africa back in 15th century. It was only until mid-17th century that people worked on their houses, made things and sold them. By early 17th century, just few machines were made that were used to spin threads used in making textiles. Then in 1959, Richard Arkwright invented Water-Frame, the first fully automatic machine of the world that used water jet to spin the machine that rolled threads in a yarn, thus beginning the concept of factories.

Image: Richard Arkwright
Richard Arkwright, born in Preston, England in 1732 was a son of a tailor, and as a tailor himself, he worked well with sewing machines and threads and as a barber too. He made a lots of money travelling all over England, and making and selling wigs. But, having it in mind that wigs was a fashion industry that could go down anytime, he used to explore new inventions in textile industry.

The few machines in textile industry were spinning machines were being invented, but they were too large and could only spin few threads per minute. Spinning Jenny was one of the machines invented and it collected popularity for few years; but, it was too large and used to be driven by hand. Then, with a colleague, Arkwright made a spinning machine that was horse-driven, and could spin threads in a yarn in a very fast rate. He then moved to Cromford, England and made a mill in which his spinning machine was powered by water. It was the time, the first in history, that a factory was made.

Water frame was the fastest machine that could spin more than 100 threads at a time and was as efficient as 50 workers. Water frame, as its name suggests, used the flow of water to power the shaft of the machine. The shafts consisted of wheels and belts that transmitted the power and the rotary motion to the rollers and thus to the spindles and the reels. Cotton from the top reel was drawn out by the action of the machine which spun the cotton threads tight and gathered the yarn in the bottom reels. It spun the thread around the reel just like a hand would do, yet faster.

Image: The first model of water frame
After the invention of water frame, the clothes could be manufactured wholly of cotton. Since strong threads of warp was possible from water frame, its use increased rapidly throughout Europe. With the abundant supply of raw cotton, a fair amount of clothes could be produced, quickly and efficiently. Resourceful mass production was possible and it reduced a large time spent in manufacturing threads.

The industrial revolution was ignited with the establishment of many other water-powered mills. Industries became the new source of economy. Women and men used to work on industries all day long, and the number of jobs increased making the lifestyles of people stronger. Urbanisation became one of the prominent consequences since people from villages migrated to urban areas in pursuit of better employments.

By the end of the century, water frame was began to be used all across the Europe. More advanced machines like steam powered mills were invented and used in industries. Since the world was now an industry-empowered world, the needs of humans were gradually increasing accordingly. The invention of other machines that could make things easier was a need of the time then, and engineers and scientists worked on the tools that could save time and effort.

So, along the way of industrialisation, people have come up to a modern world, a world that always longs for advancements. It has also given people the concept of standard and entertainment, and the main purpose of today’s world – comfort in every aspect. And all this, just from a simple thread-spinning machine.

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