Espionage, Piracy, and Weaving

The story of how the power loom came to America is one of espionage and intellectual piracy. It all started in 1810 with a man named Francis Cabot Lowell. He believed that in order for the still-young United States to become truly independent, it needed to manufacture more goods at home rather than import them from the Britain. He believed Americans needed to build mills and manufacture their own cloth, but doing so was easier said than done.

Up to this point, the inner workings of the power loom were a closely guarded secret in Britain. and it was a serious crime to try to steal these designs. While on a two-year trip to Scotland and England, Lowell was able to use his status as an important businessman and  importer of British goods to get access to British cotton plants and was able to carefully—and secretly—observe the machinery.

On the way back to the United States, the boat on which Lowell and his family were travelling was intercepted by the British Navy who searched his belongings to make sure no plans or models of the equipment had been stolen. Fortunately, Lowell knew the risks and had committed the designs to memory. Once back in the U.S., Lowell had mechanic and weaver Paul Moody build him power looms based on his plans, established the Boston Manufacturing Company, and gave birth to the American power-loom textile industry.

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