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A spinning wheel is a machine utilized for the conversion of fiber into yarn or thread, which is then used to make cloths (McCloskey, 1981). Its main functions are to combine fibers into a thread or yarn and then gather it in a bobbin so that it may be used as thread for the loom. It works on the principle that if you hold a bunch of fibers together and you pull a few out, the few will separate from the rest. These are pulled while being twisted at the same time hence forming a thread (Redford, 1931).
The spinning wheel was invented between 500 and 1000 AD. However, the years 1400- 1800 are the ones referred to us the era of the spinning wheel (Jefferson, 1972). Unfortunately, no real spinning wheels survive from medieval times hence the only reliable evidence comes from images and records written during that time (McCloskey, 1981; North, 1979). It improved from the spindle, which was barely a stick with some weight attached. However, somewhere between 500 and 1000 A.D., An inventor turned the spindle sideways and added a pulley, which he then connected to the drive wheel. With this, the spinning wheel was ready for the work a head. Unfortunately, the merchants vehemently opposed the wheel when it hit the Western Europe markets blaming it for producing lumpy and uneven thread hence lowering the quality (Redford, 1931).
There still rages a controversy about the development of this invention with some arguing that it was made in China for silk and ramie spinning while others believe that it was made later in India in order to cater for its cotton industry (McCloskey, 1981). However, spinning technology had been around for quite sometime before majority of the people embraced it and this makes it very hard to pinpoint a specific year or time and claim that is when specific improvements were done to it (Hurt, 1954).
Come the 18th century the industrial revolution brought about a very big shift in the spinning industry and the mechanization of the spinning wheel began (McCloskey, 1981). One of the highly acclaimed inventors of the spinning wheels is Mr. James Hargreaves. Noticing an overturned spinning wheel which continued turning while the spindle was vertical, gave him the idea that several spindles could be organized to function at the same time from that position (Jefferson, 1972). Later he developed a model, which had eight spindles hence leading to increased output by his family members. News of his inventions caused his house to be attacked by jealous spinners and in the process all his machines were destroyed.
Later, Mr. Hargreaves named his invention the spinning Jenny and patented the device in 1770. The spinning wheel led to higher output per person. In thread making, output increased by a factor of more than 10. With that, the production of rags and subsequently cheap paper revolutionized the printing industry (Hayek, 1954).
The faster rate of spinning led to increased demand for the spinning wheels and with this agriculture was well on the way to being mechanized (Ashton, 1957). Later, Richard Arkwright’s new invention, a water- frame spinning roller was out in the year 1968.Eleven years Later in 1979, Samuel Crompton came up with a ‘spinning mule’ which was a combination of Arkwright’s water frame and Hargreaves Jenny (Hayek, 1954).
During the same period, Edmund Cartwright came up with a power loom but it took another 25 years before its mechanical aspects were perfected. As a result, women who at first toiled from morning to dusk were now less occupied with manual work enabling them to go on with other family endeavors. Within a short period, one had overtaken the traditional agrarian economy, which was so much mechanized, with manufacturing beginning to take root. Inventions like the spinning wheel created another class of the urban working class who did not need to work the farm for livelihood.
These inventions led to the advent of the factory system. Capitalists equipped factories and hired people to undertake manufacturing. This led to rural urban migration as people sought better lifestyles in the towns. With this, problems of housing and sanitation arose because of increased population (Williamson, 1985). With this, a spinning wheel operated only by one person was doing a job, which could be done manually by several people. This led to underemployment and later poverty. The first batch of urban workers had to condition themselves to the life of slums and being commanded by a whistle on when to report for job, as the majority did not own watches (Ashton, 1957).
There being no organized labour unions, workers who were composed of very many young children were subjected to very harsh living conditions most of the time having to put up several hours of work (Vester, 1995). Disease outbreaks were very common and people usually lost their lives during such epidemics. Soon there was division of labor, which greatly increased the output of workers (Ashton 1957). For example instead of a person starting with the raw material up to the weaving of the cloth, many people were involved in the process with each one of them doing a small part hence due to specialization there was increased efficiency (Hurt, 1954). In addition, towns where these factories were based grew into cities and there was need for more improved security and infrastructure.
These inventions were the precursor to the industrial revolution and with it came capitalism and the working class emerged. Although it has been an issue of much controversy, new evidence shows that wages of the workers actually increased as a result of the industrial revolution and the average worker was much better off financially in any decade starting from the 1830s than on any other decade priors to 1820 (Williamson, 1985, p. 18). Once the initial problems like with sanitation, housing, and the working hours were sorted out, the standards of living actually improved. Per capita consumption of items like meat, sugar, tea, eggs and beer all increased. Another indicator of improved standards of living is a newly found penchant for imported foreign items like cocoa, cheese, coffee tobacco, sugar, and rice. By 1850s, Vegetables, meat and fruits that had long been taken to be the rich man’s diet were a common feature in the working class people’s kitchens (Hartwell, 1971). The English diet of 1855 of thirty ounces of meat, fifty -six ounces of potatoes, five ounces of butter and sixteen ounces of fruits and vegetables is quite similar to today’s English diet (Hartwell, 1971, p. 331).
Due to improved medical care, the death rate reduced and population increased swiftly. Although during earlier European history increase in population resulted to people having to eat much less, throughout the industrial revolution there was much more food per person. This was despite the increased number of consumers (Redford, 1931). This can be accounted for by increased productivity of land and also large scale food production as a result of mechanization of the farms. Within a few years after the arrival of these inventions, yarn was now fully industrialized and by the year 1814 the cost of making yarn had effectively dropped by eight tenths and the number of workers needed to convert wool into yarn had been reduced by three-fifths (Hurt, 1954).
These additional inventions in the work force moved the stress from the production to the supply of cotton and within just a 35-year period more than 100000 power looms were working within England and Scotland (Vester, 1995). Within no time, Britain was importing cotton from the Americas hence helping it get safe caution against the excess demand (Redford, 1931). In a few more years the demand was high enough to inspire invention of one of the most celebrated inventions in history, the steam engine (Hurt, 1954). Currently there are several kinds of the spinning wheel by different manufacturers in the market. Apart from the portable wheels, which are the exact reproductions of the early pieces, we find variations on the traditional spinning wheels, which are sometimes referred to us the Saxony wheels. Unlike their medieval counterparts, these wheels are made up of up to 150 different parts.
In conclusion, due to the introduction of the spinning wheel, many slaves were released. This was because their services were not in very high demand because of the introduction of the spinning wheel and other forms of mechanization, which highly increased efficiency. We realize that earlier, Northern European peasants used to where cloths only in winter and then they would do without them over the summer because they were very expensive (North, 1979). However, the introduction of new technologies like the spinning wheel made them cheaper and accessible to the common person. Also we find that in countries like India the spinning wheel is a national symbol, this goes on to show how the Indians esteem the spinning wheel probably due to the millions of their lot it lifted from poverty (Vester, 1995). On the side of art, the development of the spinning wheel has been one great artistic leap to the other. Although it has maintained its antique basic look, it has come in more varieties and it is now more complex.
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