Business and Labor

Flashback Photo: Sam Slater Mill, 1870

The Slater Mill in Pawtucket, R.I., is now a National Historic Landmark, but in 1870 it was still in operation.

Sam Slater Mill

Sam Slater Mill, c. 1870. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Sam Slater and his backers opened the mill for business in 1793 to manufacture cotton yarn by waterpower. Slater was born in Belper, England, on June 9, 1768, and went to work in a cotton-spinning factory when he was 10. By the time he was 21 he had memorized how much of the machinery of the mill worked. British law forbade the export of such information, so Slater kept it in his head and emigrated to America. The people of Belper called him Slater the Traitor.

Slater became rich and owned 13 mills. His wife, Hannah, invented a cotton sewing thread, becoming the first American woman to obtain a patent. Sam Slater died on April 21, 1835.

Over the years the mill was used to make tools for the jewelry industry, coffin trimmings, cardboard and bicycles. After the mill stopped operating, a group of businesspeople (including Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler) raised money to restore and preserve the mill. It was one of the first industrial museums in the United States. It is open for visitors on weekends in April and more frequently over the summer.

Here’s a more recent picture of it:

Sam Slater’s mill. first in the U.S. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This story updated in 2022. 

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