Lister, Samuel Cunliffe, 1st Baron Masham

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. 1 January 1815 Calverly Hall, Bradford, England
d. 2 February 1906 Swinton Park, near Bradford, England
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English inventor of successful wool-combing and waste-silk spinning machines.
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Lister was descended from one of the old Yorkshire families, the Cunliffe Listers of Manningham, and was the fourth son of his father Ellis. After attending a school on Clapham Common, Lister would not go to university; his family hoped he would enter the Church, but instead he started work with the Liverpool merchants Sands, Turner \& Co., who frequently sent him to America. In 1837 his father built for him and his brother a worsted mill at Manningham, where Samuel invented a swivel shuttle and a machine for making fringes on shawls. It was here that he first became aware of the unhealthy occupation of combing wool by hand. Four years later, after seeing the machine that G.E. Donisthorpe was trying to work out, he turned his attention to mechanizing wool-combing. Lister took Donisthorpe into partnership after paying him £12,000 for his patent, and developed the Lister-Cartwright "square nip" comber. Until this time, combing machines were little different from Cartwright's original, but Lister was able to improve on this with continuous operation and by 1843 was combing the first fine botany wool that had ever been combed by machinery. In the following year he received an order for fifty machines to comb all qualities of wool. Further combing patents were taken out with Donisthorpe in 1849, 1850, 1851 and 1852, the last two being in Lister's name only. One of the important features of these patents was the provision of a gripping device or "nip" which held the wool fibres at one end while the rest of the tuft was being combed. Lister was soon running nine combing mills. In the 1850s Lister had become involved in disputes with others who held combing patents, such as his associate Isaac Holden and the Frenchman Josué Heilmann. Lister bought up the Heilmann machine patents and afterwards other types until he obtained a complete monopoly of combing machines before the patents expired. His invention stimulated demand for wool by cheapening the product and gave a vital boost to the Australian wool trade. By 1856 he was at the head of a wool-combing business such as had never been seen before, with mills at Manningham, Bradford, Halifax, Keighley and other places in the West Riding, as well as abroad.
His inventive genius also extended to other fields. In 1848 he patented automatic compressed air brakes for railways, and in 1853 alone he took out twelve patents for various textile machines. He then tried to spin waste silk and made a second commercial career, turning what was called "chassum" and hitherto regarded as refuse into beautiful velvets, silks, plush and other fine materials. Waste silk consisted of cocoon remnants from the reeling process, damaged cocoons and fibres rejected from other processes. There was also wild silk obtained from uncultivated worms. This is what Lister saw in a London warehouse as a mass of knotty, dirty, impure stuff, full of bits of stick and dead mulberry leaves, which he bought for a halfpenny a pound. He spent ten years trying to solve the problems, but after a loss of £250,000 and desertion by his partner his machine caught on in 1865 and brought Lister another fortune. Having failed to comb this waste silk, Lister turned his attention to the idea of "dressing" it and separating the qualities automatically. He patented a machine in 1877 that gave a graduated combing. To weave his new silk, he imported from Spain to Bradford, together with its inventor Jose Reixach, a velvet loom that was still giving trouble. It wove two fabrics face to face, but the problem lay in separating the layers so that the pile remained regular in length. Eventually Lister was inspired by watching a scissors grinder in the street to use small emery wheels to sharpen the cutters that divided the layers of fabric. Lister took out several patents for this loom in his own name in 1868 and 1869, while in 1871 he took out one jointly with Reixach. It is said that he spent £29,000 over an eleven-year period on this loom, but this was more than recouped from the sale of reasonably priced high-quality velvets and plushes once success was achieved. Manningham mills were greatly enlarged to accommodate this new manufacture.
In later years Lister had an annual profit from his mills of £250,000, much of which was presented to Bradford city in gifts such as Lister Park, the original home of the Listers. He was connected with the Bradford Chamber of Commerce for many years and held the position of President of the Fair Trade League for some time. In 1887 he became High Sheriff of Yorkshire, and in 1891 he was made 1st Baron Masham. He was also Deputy Lieutenant in North and West Riding.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Created 1st Baron Masham 1891.
Bibliography
1849, with G.E.Donisthorpe, British patent no. 12,712. 1850, with G.E. Donisthorpe, British patent no. 13,009. 1851, British patent no. 13,532.
1852, British patent no. 14,135.
1877, British patent no. 3,600 (combing machine). 1868, British patent no. 470.
1868, British patent no. 2,386.
1868, British patent no. 2,429.
1868, British patent no. 3,669.
1868, British patent no. 1,549.
1871, with J.Reixach, British patent no. 1,117. 1905, Lord Masham's Inventions (autobiography).
Further Reading
J.Hogg (ed.), c. 1888, Fortunes Made in Business, London (biography).
W.English, 1969, The Textile Industry, London; and C.Singer (ed.), 1958, A History of Technology, Vol. IV, Oxford: Clarendon Press (both cover the technical details of Lister's invention).
RLH

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

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