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posted on 16 March 2016

Industrial Piracy and America

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Hello from China!

One big American accusation against China is "industrial piracy". While there is some truth to it, it is important for Americans to better understand its own history, especially the part on “industrial piracy”.

Below is an excerpt from a well-known book on American history, which explains how "industrial piracy" is not new, (“A People and A Nation – 8th Edition”, pages 246-247):

Although Americans pride themselves on inventiveness and hard work, their start in industrial development depended on importing technology, sometimes by stealth. Great Britain, which in the late eighteenth century had pioneered the invention of mechanical weaving and power looms, knew the value of its head start in the industrial revolution and prohibited the export of textile technology. But the British-born brothers Samuel and John Slater, their Scottish-born power-loom-builder William Gilmore, and Bostonians Francis Cabot Lowell and Nathan Appleton evaded British restrictions and patents to establish America's first textile factories.

As an apprentice and then a supervisor in a British cotton-spinning factory, Samuel slater had mastered the machinery and the process. Britain forbade the export of textile technology, so Slater emigrated to the United States disguised as a farmer. In 1790 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, he opened the first water-powered spinning mill in America on the Blackstone River, rebuilding the complex machines from memory. With his brother John and their Rhode Island partners - Moses and Obadiah Brown and William Almy - Slater later built and oversaw mills in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In 1815 he hired a recent immigrant, William Gilmore, to build a water-powered loom like those used in Britain. Later in the 1820s, the Slaters introduced British steam-powered looms. Spinning and weaving would now be done in New England factories organized along British models.

In 1810 Francis Cabot Lowell had the same idea as the Slaters: to build modern mills with mechanical, water-powered looms. Lowell took a family vacation to Britain, and in Edinburgh, Scotland, he met fellow Bostonian Nathan Appleton. Impressed by the textile mills they had seen in Britain, they laid plans to introduce water-powered mechanical weaving into the United States. They knew they had to acquire the "improved manufactures" from Britain that had made Manchester famous as a textile center. Lowell went to Manchester, during the day visiting and observing the factories, and meeting the factory managers. At night he returned to his hotel to sketch from memory the power looms and processes that he had seen. Back in the United States, he and others formed the Boston Associates, which created the Waltham-Lowell Mills based on Lowell's industrial piracy. Within a few years, textile would be a major American industry, and the Boston Associates would dominate it.

Thus the modern American industrial revolution began with international links, not home-grown American inventions. Ingenuity and industrial piracy put the United States on the road to industrial advancement.

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