This story shows how some things have never changed in technology - one of the by-products of which is industrial espionage. We think of spies going from one competitor to another, bribing their ways into getting copies of new formulas or processes for their own employers. But the story of Samuel Slater, from the early days of the United States, is just as much a tale of industrial espionage as it's modern counterparts.
Slater (Terry Kilburn here) was born in 1765 in Derbyshire, England. He worked in the textile industry in Great Britain, which is like working in Silicon Valley or the like today in the computer field. Slater found that there was little room for advancement in England, and he heard that the state of Pennsylvania was offering a reward for anyone who could patent a power carding machine. He moved to Pennsylvania, but English law protected the textile trade there by refusing to allow any plans to be brought to the U.S.
Between the U.S. and Britain at this time were lingering bitter feelings from the Revolutionary War, which similar ancestry did not cause to vanish. In fact, there was more and more economic competition (in shipping and agriculture, for example) that intensified the rivalry. There was no such thing as an international copyright standard observed across the globe, and so a clever person with knowledge picked up in one country could use it for his own benefit in the other country. This is what happened with Slater.
Slater discovered better business opportunities in Rhode Island, where he formed a partnership with Moses Brown and William Almy to create a cotton mill. From his own memory Slater created cotton spinning machinery that he used in England. Think of it - all the machinery to create a textile mill! Slater became one of the founding fathers of New England's textile industry, and was to become extremely wealthy before he died in 1835. To his contemporaries he was the founder of American Manufactory.
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