POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Time for a New Industrial Revolution

by David Trumbull

December 18, 2009

On December 20th, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes our textile heritage by honoring Samuel Slater (1768-1835).

“The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart December twentieth as Samuel Slater Day, in recognition of the beginning of America’s Industrial Revolution along the banks of the Blackstone River where Samuel Slater established his first mill and later relocated and established the town of Webster, and in further recognition of the contribution of countless working men and women to America’s national greatness, and recommending that said day be observed in an appropriate manner by the people.”
—Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 6 Section 15PPP.

How we came to have a Massachusetts textile industry is a story worthy of spy-novel, for it was, literally, the result of industrial espionage. For a brief version of how the textile industry was established in America in 1790 I quote from the records of the 1925 Semi-Annual Meeting of The National Association of Cotton Manufacturers—

“[In England] Mr. Slater was apprenticed to Jeddidiah Strutt, who worked with Richard Arkwright. When young Slater came to this country, he did not bring any plans, any models, any patterns of any kind, on account of the prohibition of the exporting of cotton machinery by Parliament. He sought financial support, which he received from Moses Brown, who was in need of mechanical assistance...Brown took Slater out to Pawtucket and showed him some machinery which he had purchased somewhere. Slater immediately said the principle was wrong, discarded it, and then from his own mind started to manufacturer machinery on the Arkwright plan.”

There you have it. Prohibited by English law from bringing to American any drawings or notes on how to build a textile mill, Slater, observed closely how English machines were constructed and committed the plans to memory!

There is another story, one that is all too familiar—that is of the loss of jobs, not just in textiles, but all types of manufacturing jobs, in the U.S.

The Democrats in Washington are spending us into a hole that may take generations to get out of. What do we have to show for it? Reports of jobs “created” or “saved” which, upon investigation, turn out to have widely inflated numbers or are just thorough-going fictions. What jobs have been created are nearly all in government, not the private sector. They are jobs that do not create wealth. Where are the manufacturing jobs that make possible the middle class that made America great? If a Samuel Slater showed up in America today with a terrific new technology that would put millions to work, would our elected officials embrace him? Or would they tax and regulate his innovations out of business?

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]