Workers at a cotton mill manage the machinery that assembles the threads into fabric on automated looms.
Photograph by Underwood and Underwood, courtesy National Geographic

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  • On December 20, 1790, the first American cotton mill began operations in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. An English immigrant named Samuel Slater used an English design to create the mill, which turned raw cotton into textiles. The water-powered mill vastly accelerated the production process. For this contribution, Slater is nicknamed the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution.”

    The cotton mill helped make textile production the center of the American economy in the 19th century. Many mills throughout the Northeast developed his management style into the “Lowell system” of industry. In the Lowell system, a company employed children as young as 7 years old, incorporated different phases of production in one factory, and provided housing for entire families in company towns.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    accelerate Verb

    to increase speed or velocity.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    employ Verb

    to hire or use.

    factory Noun

    one or more buildings used for the manufacture of a product.

    immigrant Noun

    person who moves to a new country or region.

    incorporate Verb

    to blend or bring together.

    Industrial Revolution Noun

    change in economic and social activities, beginning in the 18th century, brought by the replacement of hand tools with machinery and mass production.

    industry Noun

    activity that produces goods and services.

    mill Noun

    machine used for grinding or crushing various materials.

    phase Noun

    stage in a process or transformation.

    town Noun

    human settlement larger than a village and smaller than a city.