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How did James Hargreaves die?

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May 19, 2009 5:54PM

James Hargreaves (c. 1720-1788), an inventor and self-taught weaver from Blackburn, England, is credited with inventing the Spinning Jenny, a cotton thread-spinning machine that could fill eight spools simultaneously. The Spinning Jenny is one of the earliest examples of technology that helped revolutionize manufacturing, leading to the first Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.

Hargreaves initially operated the machine from his home, selling the weak thread as weft (the horizontal threads in a piece of fabric) because it wasn't strong enough to weave as whole cloth. At some point, Hargreave's family fell upon hard times, and he was forced to build and sell replicas of the Jenny to local textile mills.

Because the equipment was more efficient than hand-spinning, Hargreave's neighbors felt it threatened their livelihoods. The workers mobbed the inventor's home, destroying his Jennies and gutting the house.

Frightened and discouraged, Hargreaves moved to Nottingham and opened his own mill, supplying thread to the booming hosiery industry in that area.

Seeking to protect his invention, Hargreaves applied for a patent for the Spinning Jenny in 1770. When the courts learned he had sold duplicates of the machine years earlier, and that his competition had already copied and improved upon the design, they denied the patent, ruling the Jenny ineligible for legal protection.

Hargreaves died in 1778. Contrary to popular belief, he did not die penniless, but left an estate of £4,000 (approximately $17,760 U.S.), the equivalent of about $187,000.00 U.S. today.

There appears to be no official death record for Hargreaves on the internet, and no historical footnotes about the potential cause of his demise. It is important to note that Hargreaves was 58 years old when he died, while the average life expectancy in 18th century England was about 37 years. This supports the notion that Hargreaves died of natural causes associated with age and poor nutrition.

View a picture of the Spinning Jenny by clicking the Related Link, below.