Edmund Cartwright

Edward (Edmund) Cartwright (24 April 1743 - 30 October 1823) was an English clergyman and inventor of the power loom.

Life and work

Born in Nottinghamshire, England, Cartwright was taught at University College, Oxford and became a clergyman of the Church of England. Cartwright began his career as a clergyman, becoming, in 1779, rector of Goadby Marwood, Leicestershire; in 1786 he was a prebendary in Lincoln (Lincolnshire) cathedral.

He addressed the problem of mechanical weaving. Mechanical spinning and the factory system, were already in place. He designed the first power loom in 1784 patented it in 1785, and it proved to be incredibly valueable and useful and special. In the 1786, he patented another loom which served as the model for later inventors to work upon. For a mechanically driven loom to become a commercial success, either one person would have to attend several machines, or each machine must have a greater productive capacity than one manually controlled.

He added parts to the loom, namely a positive let-off motion, warp and weft stop motions, and sizing the warp while the loom was in action. He commenced to manufacture fabrics in Doncaster using these looms,and discovered many of the shortcomings. He attempted to remedy these by: introducing a crank and eccentrical wheels to actuate the batten differentially; by improving the dicking mechanism; by a device for stopping the loom when a shuttle failed to enter a shuttle box; by preventing a shuttle from rebounding when in a box; and by stretching the cloth with temples that acted automatically. The mill was repossessed by creditors in 1793.

In 1792 Dr Cartwright obtained his last patent for weaving machinery; this provided the loom with multiple shuttle boxes for weaving checks and cross stripes. But all his efforts were unavailing; it became apparent that no mechanism, however perfect, could succeed so long as warps continued to be sized while a loom was stationary. His plans for sizing them while a loom was in operation, and also before being placed in a loom, both failed. These were resolved in 1803, by William Radcliffe, and his assistant Thomas Johnson, by their inventions of the beam warper, and the dressing sizing machine.

In 1790 Robert Grimshaw, of Gorton Manchester, erected a weaving factory at Knott Mill which he was to fill with 500 of Cartwright's power looms, but with only 30 in place, the factory was burnt down probably as an act of arson inspired by the fears of hand loom weavers. The prospect of success was not sufficiently promising to induce its re-erection.

In 1809 Cartwright obtained a grant of GBP 10,000 from parliament for his invention.

He also patented a wool combing machine in 1789 and a cordelier (machine for making rope) in 1792. He also designed a steam engine that used alcohol instead of water.

He died in Hastings, Sussex and was buried at Battle.

  • His daughter Juliet (1780-1837) wrote novels under the pseudonym of Mrs Markham.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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