Wednesday December 16, 2020 Smile of the Day: Cotton Carding Machine

On this Day:

Sir Richard Arkwright (23 December 1732 – 3 August 1792) receives a patent for his carding machine for use in cotton mills

Sir Richard was an English inventor and a leading entrepreneur during the early Industrial Revolution. He is credited as the driving force behind the development of the spinning frame, known as the water frame after it was adapted to use water power; and he patented a rotary carding engine to convert raw cotton to ‘cotton lap’ prior to spinning. He was the first to develop factories housing both mechanised carding and spinning operations.

Arkwright’s achievement was to combine power, machinery, semi-skilled labour and the new raw material of cotton to create mass-produced yarn. His organizational skills earned him the accolade “father of the modern industrial factory system,” notably through the methods developed in his mill at Cromford, Derbyshire (now preserved as part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site).

In 1768, Arkwright and John Kay, a clockmaker, went to Preston, England, renting rooms in a house on Stoneygate (now called Arkwright House), where they worked on a spinning machine. In 1769 Arkwright patented the spinning frame, a machine which produced twisted threads (initially for warps only), using wooden and metal cylinders rather than human fingers. This machine, initially powered by horses, greatly reduced the cost of cotton-spinning, and would lead to major changes in the textile industry.

Lewis Paul had invented a machine for carding in 1748. Arkwright made improvements to this machine and in 1775 took out a patent for a new carding engine, which converted raw cotton to a continuous skein prior to spinning. The machine used a succession of uneven rollers rotating at increasingly higher speeds to draw out the roving, before applying a twist via a bobbin-and-flyer mechanism. It could make cotton thread thin and strong enough for the warp threads of cloth.

Arkwright instigated novel and highly-disciplined working arrangements at Cromford. Work was organised in two 13-hour shifts per day, including an overlap for the change of shift. Bells rang at 5 am and 5 pm and the gates were shut precisely at 6 am and 6 p.m.: anyone who was late was excluded from work for the rest of the day and lost an extra day’s pay. Arkwright encouraged weavers with large families to move to Cromford. Whole families were employed, including large numbers of children as young as seven (subsequently increased to ten); and towards the end of his tenure, nearly two-thirds of the 1,150 employees were children. He allowed employees a week’s holiday a year, on condition that they did not travel beyond the town (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Two boll weevils grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and never amounted to much. The second one, naturally, became known as the lesser of two weevils.

Second, a Song:

“Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)” is a song written by American blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, who made the first recording of the song in 1940.

“Cotton Fields” was introduced into the canon of folk music via its inclusion on the 1954 album release Odetta & Larry which comprised performances by Odetta at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco with instrumental and vocal accompaniment by Lawrence Mohr: this version was entitled “Old Cotton Fields at Home”. The original lyrics, written by Lead Belly, state that the fields are “down in Louisiana, just ten miles from Texarkana”. Later versions (e.g., Creedence Clearwater Revival’s) say the fields are “down in Louisiana, just about a mile from Texarkana”. Both are geographically impossible; Texarkana (the part in Texas as well as the part in Arkansas) is about 30 miles north of the Arkansas–Louisiana border.

The song has been covered by dozens of artists including Johnny Cash, The Carter Sisters, Charlie Pride, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Elton John and many others.  This version is by Creedence Clearwater Revival and is one of my favourites.  The song is set to a video taken from the Footloose 2011 film.

Footloose is a 2011 American musical film co-written and directed by Craig Brewer. It is a remake of the 1984 film of the same name and stars Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Miles Teller, Andie MacDowell and Dennis Quaid. The film follows a young man who moves from Boston to a small southern town and protests the town’s ban against dancing (per Wikipedia).

The Cotton Field song does not appear in the film but this mashup version is still entertaining.  The dancing is fabulous, even if it isn’t to Cotton Fields. Here is Creedence Clearwater Revival performing “Cotton Fields” to a mashup of images from Footloose. I hope you enjoy this! 


Thought for the Day:

“I used to work in the cotton fields a lot when I was young. There were a lot of African Americans working out there. A lot of Mexicans – the blacks and the whites and the Mexicans, all out there singing, and it was like an opera in the cotton fields, and I can still hear it in the music that I write and play today.” – Willie Nelson


Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2020 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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