Cartwright, Revd Edmund

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b. 24 April 1743 Marnham, Nottingham, England
d. 30 October 1823 Hastings, Sussex, England
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English inventor of the power loom, a combing machine and machines for making ropes, bread and bricks as well as agricultural improvements.
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Edmund Cartwright, the fourth son of William Cartwright, was educated at Wakefield Grammar School, and went to University College, Oxford, at the age of 14. By special act of convocation in 1764, he was elected Fellow of Magdalen College. He married Alice Whitaker in 1772 and soon after was given the ecclesiastical living of Brampton in Derbyshire. In 1779 he was presented with the living of Goadby, Marwood, Leicestershire, where he wrote poems, reviewed new works, and began agricultural experiments. A visit to Matlock in the summer of 1784 introduced him to the inventions of Richard Arkwright and he asked why weaving could not be mechanized in a similar manner to spinning. This began a remarkable career of inventions.
Cartwright returned home and built a loom which required two strong men to operate it. This was the first attempt in England to develop a power loom. It had a vertical warp, the reed fell with the weight of at least half a hundredweight and, to quote Gartwright's own words, "the springs which threw the shuttle were strong enough to throw a Congreive [sic] rocket" (Strickland 19.71:8—for background to the "rocket" comparison, see Congreve, Sir William). Nevertheless, it had the same three basics of weaving that still remain today in modern power looms: shedding or dividing the warp; picking or projecting the shuttle with the weft; and beating that pick of weft into place with a reed. This loom he proudly patented in 1785, and then he went to look at hand looms and was surprised to see how simply they operated. Further improvements to his own loom, covered by two more patents in 1786 and 1787, produced a machine with the more conventional horizontal layout that showed promise; however, the Manchester merchants whom he visited were not interested. He patented more improvements in 1788 as a result of the experience gained in 1786 through establishing a factory at Doncaster with power looms worked by a bull that were the ancestors of modern ones. Twenty-four looms driven by steam-power were installed in Manchester in 1791, but the mill was burned down and no one repeated the experiment. The Doncaster mill was sold in 1793, Cartwright having lost £30,000, However, in 1809 Parliament voted him £10,000 because his looms were then coming into general use.
In 1789 he began working on a wool-combing machine which he patented in 1790, with further improvements in 1792. This seems to have been the earliest instance of mechanized combing. It used a circular revolving comb from which the long fibres or "top" were. carried off into a can, and a smaller cylinder-comb for teasing out short fibres or "noils", which were taken off by hand. Its output equalled that of twenty hand combers, but it was only relatively successful. It was employed in various Leicestershire and Yorkshire mills, but infringements were frequent and costly to resist. The patent was prolonged for fourteen years after 1801, but even then Cartwright did not make any profit. His 1792 patent also included a machine to make ropes with the outstanding and basic invention of the "cordelier" which he communicated to his friends, including Robert Fulton, but again it brought little financial benefit. As a result of these problems and the lack of remuneration for his inventions, Cartwright moved to London in 1796 and for a time lived in a house built with geometrical bricks of his own design.
Other inventions followed fast, including a tread-wheel for cranes, metallic packing for pistons in steam-engines, and bread-making and brick-making machines, to mention but a few. He had already returned to agricultural improvements and he put forward suggestions in 1793 for a reaping machine. In 1801 he received a prize from the Board of Agriculture for an essay on husbandry, which was followed in 1803 by a silver medal for the invention of a three-furrow plough and in 1805 by a gold medal for his essay on manures. From 1801 to 1807 he ran an experimental farm on the Duke of Bedford's estates at Woburn.
From 1786 until his death he was a prebendary of Lincoln. In about 1810 he bought a small farm at Hollanden near Sevenoaks, Kent, where he continued his inventions, both agricultural and general. Inventing to the last, he died at Hastings and was buried in Battle church.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Board of Agriculture Prize 1801 (for an essay on agriculture). Society of Arts, Silver Medal 1803 (for his three-furrow plough); Gold Medal 1805 (for an essay on agricultural improvements).
Bibliography
1785. British patent no. 1,270 (power loom).
1786. British patent no. 1,565 (improved power loom). 1787. British patent no. 1,616 (improved power loom).
1788. British patent no. 1,676 (improved power loom). 1790, British patent no. 1,747 (wool-combing machine).
1790, British patent no. 1,787 (wool-combing machine).
1792, British patent no. 1,876 (improved wool-combing machine and rope-making machine with cordelier).
Further Reading
M.Strickland, 1843, A Memoir of the Life, Writings and Mechanical Inventions of Edmund Cartwright, D.D., F.R.S., London (remains the fullest biography of Cartwright).
Dictionary of National Biography (a good summary of Cartwright's life). For discussions of Cartwright's weaving inventions, see: A.Barlow, 1878, The History and Principles of Weaving by Hand and by Power, London; R.L. Hills, 1970, Power in the Industrial Revolution, Manchester. F.Nasmith, 1925–6, "Fathers of machine cotton manufacture", Transactions of the
Newcomen Society 6.
H.W.Dickinson, 1942–3, "A condensed history of rope-making", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 23.
W.English, 1969, The Textile Industry, London (covers both his power loom and his wool -combing machine).
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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