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Webisode 4: Wake up, America
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Samuel Slater
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Machinery made factories possible. But the English had no intention of sharing their technology. They planned to keep the Industrial Revolution for themselves. Americans wanted those machines. Some people offered a big reward to anyone who could build a cotton-spinning machine in the United States Check The Source - "The Golden Age of this Trade": William Radcliffe on the Textile Industry. In England, no one who worked in a cotton factory was allowed to leave the country. A cotton spinner's apprentice named Sam SlaterSee It Now - Samuel Slater was one of the many who signed binding agreements with their employers called indentures. Sam's read this way: Hear It Now - Sam Slater "This indenture witnesseth that Samuel Slater doth put himself apprentice to Jedediah Strutt for the term of six years and a half. During which time he faithfully shall serve his secrets, and keep his loyal commands."

Young Sam Slater had a remarkable memory. He memorized the way the spinning machines in Jedediah Strutt's cotton factory were built and operated. Then, in 1784, he ran off to London, pretended to be a farm worker, and sailed for America. He had the key to the Industrial Revolution with him—in his head. In 1790, Sam built a small cotton-spinning factory next to a waterfall on the Blackstone River at Pawtucket, Rhode Island See It Now - Slater's Mill. It was the first true American factory. Waterpower turned the machines that spun cotton fibers into yarn. Soon there were spinning mills—and, later, weaving machines—beside many New England streams See It Now - A Mill in New Jersey.

Now that factories could turn cotton into yarn quickly and easily, there was a great demand for raw cotton. Anyone who could grow cotton would make a lot of money. But the cotton that would grow in most of America—short-staple cotton—has lots of dark seeds, and those seeds stick to the cotton balls. It took a worker all day to remove the seeds from just one pound of cotton See It Now - A Cotton Plantation. So cotton was very expensive.

Eli Whitney See It Now - Eli Whitney, a New Englander with an inventive mind, had just graduated from Yale when he arrived in Savannah, Georgia, to take a job as a teacher. He heard about the cotton problem. He said, Hear It Now - Eli Whitney "If a machine could be invented that would clean cotton, it would be a great thing." In 1793, he came up with a simple machine that removed seeds from cotton. He called it a "cotton engine"—the name was soon shortened to "cotton gin." See It Now - A Cotton Gin A worker with a cotton gin could clean fifty pounds in one day—instead of just one pound.

Eli Whitney's cotton gin did a lot more than just supply cotton to northern mills; it transformed the whole economy of the South. It made the cotton pickers—who were slaves—essential. Slavery, which had been dying out, again became important economically. Whitney never expected that.


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Did You Know?
Before the industrial revolution spread to the United States, the process of making clothing took many days. First, you had to turn the wool into yarn by carding, or combing, it. Then, if you wanted the wool to have color you had to dip it in dye. You could knit the wool yarn, but if you want to make cloth, the yarn must be fed into a loom for weaving. Then the cloth had to be cut into a pattern and sewn into an article of clothing.


Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?



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