Water frame

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Model of a Water frame in the Historical Museum in Wuppertal.

The water frame is the name given to a water-powered spinning frame developed by Richard Arkwright, who patented the technology in 1769. The design was partly based on a spinning machine built for Thomas Highs by clock maker John Kay, who was hired by Arkwright.[1]

Principle of operation

For each spindle, the water frame used a series of four pairs of rollers, each operating at a successively higher rotating speed, to draw out the fibre, which was then twisted by the spindle. The roller spacing was slightly longer than the fiber length. Too close a spacing caused the fibers to break while too distant a spacing caused uneven thread. The top rollers were leather covered and loading on the rollers was applied by a weight. The weights kept the twist from backing up before the rollers. The bottom rollers were wood and metal, with a flute along the length.[1]

The water frame was originally powered by horses at a factory built by Arkwright and partners in Nottingham. In 1770 Arkwright and partners built a water powered mill in Cromford, Derbyshire.


In 1771, Arkwright installed the water frame in his cotton mill at Cromford, Derbyshire, on the River Derwent, creating one of the first factories that was specifically built to house machinery rather than just bringing workers together. It was one of the first instances of the working day being determined by the clock instead of the daylight hours, of people being employed rather than just contracted. In its final form, combined with his carding machine, it was the first factory to use a continuous process from raw material to finished product in a series of operations.[2]

Arkwright played a significant part in the development of the factory system as he combined water power, the water frame, and continuous production with modern employment practices.


  1. 1.0 1.1 McNeil, Ian (1990). An Encyclopedia of the History of Technology. London: Routledge. pp. 827–30. ISBN 0415147921.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The blast furnace, often considered the first continuous process, was a single process. The water frame, or more specifically the cotton mill of which it was a part, embodied a whole series of processes in one continuity, from raw cotton bale to the spun thread.

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