When the Industrial Revolution first began, inventors from all over the world were making a difference by creating innovations and ideas that helped to not only improve the way that products and goods were developed but also they greatly assisted in reducing prices by creating an efficient way to develop goods significantly lowered the cost of production. This moment in the history of the planet developed over about a hundred-year period of time before virtually every country on the planet was involved in the transformation to some degree.
While virtually every country went through some kind of industrial development during the 1700s and 1800s, those in Europe saw the revolution occur years ahead of virtually every other continent on the earth. Because of their advanced development already they were able to more easily transform themselves into this golden age of automation than other spots on the earth. This included the United States.
For the most part, inventors who created automated and semi-automated looms came from Europe, especially the United Kingdom and France. These were the leaders in many of the innovations that were developed, often leaving people in the United States far behind. This was especially true in the garment and textile industries inventors which helped to change the way that garment and tapestry production developed through ideas that significantly transform the way that the loom was used.
Those in the United States found themselves having to purchase looms and other devices from Europe, failing to develop their own inventions to further along the development within the textile industry. However, this changed in 1895 when James Henry Northrop created a shuttle charging mechanism, which later became known as the Northrop Loom, which helped to shuttle the industry into an even greater age of weaving and textile production.
Born in West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom in 1865, Northrop moved to Boston in 1881. Before coming to the United States, he had long been involved in the textile industry but sought to create his own inventions and ideas thus prompting his emigration to America.
When reaching his new homeland, Northrop began working for George Draper and his sons. It began a long process of creating new innovations and inventions that aided his new partners in their own endeavours. The first one of these was a spooler guide which helped to speed up the efficiency of the looms that were being used by the company.
For a brief time, the inventor decided that he wanted to get involved in chicken farming, but this clearly was not his area of expertise. In a very short period of time, Northrop decided that this was not the endeavour for him, and returned to inventing a little over a year later.
At the time of his return, Otis Draper was already working on a form of shuttle charger that he had seen prior to Northrop’s return. He showed his ideas to Northrop hoping that together the two of them could come up with some kind of way to create their own model. Draper was unsuccessful in doing so, however, Northrop had ideas and by July 1889, he had created a working model for the Rhoades Loom.
In October of that year, the first Northrop device was put into place at the Seaconnect Mills. It worked to perfection, and mass production of the device began.
While pleased with his new invention, James Henry Northrop was never satisfied and continue to develop other inventions. A short time later he created a self-threading shuttle and added shuttle spring jaws which would hold the bobbin in place by means of specially developed rings on the butt.
His work with these other inventions helped to pave the way for his greatest invention of all – Northrop Loom. This was to be his greatest masterpiece and help to make him one of the most significant inventors within the garment industry.
While automated looms had been in operation to some degree for nearly 50 years, there was clearly in need for greater efficiency, especially within the diversity that was provided to the loom itself. With the prior inventions of the self-threading shuttle in the shuttle spring jaws, Northrop was able to soon develop a filling-changing battery which became the basic feature of his new invention.
The battery was revolutionary for several reasons. First of all, many here the word battery and assume that this had something to do with power. That is not the case at all. What this new design did was make it so that one loom could contain several hundred different design patterns that enabled it to easily move from one kind of design to another with minimal loss of productivity.
Using the two shuttle features that he had created as well as a workable warp stop that had been created by his partners at the Draper organization, his new battery made it so that the punch cards and shuttle mechanisms that were used to create patterns could be interchanged in a matter of a minute or so, so that a loom could quickly be made to take on the new pattern that the operator wishes to employ.
This made it so that productivity was enhanced and made more efficient by leaps and bounds. It was a significant invention for the industry which helped to make Northrop a huge financial success. In fact, two years after creating Northrop loom he was able to move to California and retire at the age of 42.
In 1894, the Northrop loom began to be marketed. The loom was working so well within the Draper organisation that the company decided that it was time to take their invention to market. In no time at all the machine was a huge success. By 1900, over 60,000 of the Northrop Looms had been sold throughout the country. The company was doing so well that 1,500 of these looms were being sold every month, and the company had increased the number of employees to 2,500.
It was clear that the economic success of the Northrop Loom was making James Henry Northrop a huge financial success. By 1914, 700,000 of these looms had been sold, including 40% in the United States. It was a huge deal in the country.
However, it was not long before Great Britain began to have their own model that went to production. The British Northrop Loom Company, which was established in 1902 looked to take the invention created by their former countryman and turn it into a boon for the British industry. That is exactly what they did.
Because labour costs were significantly cheaper in Great Britain than they were in the United States, this allowed the British company to rapidly climb in terms of productions and profit. By the time that World War I started, over 10,000 of the British version of the Northrop Loom had been sold and the company was employing 3,000 workers. This helped to change the economics of the Draper organisation but did not stop the success.
Northrop remained in his self-imposed retirement, enjoying the fruits of the royalties of his invention until he passed away in 1940. He was 84.
It is not often that a man can retire at age 42, but James Henry Northrop was able to do so because his invention helped to revolutionise the textile industry by making it significantly more productive than it had ever been. His power loom not only made it so that thread could be spooled more quickly, but it also made it so that the designs in garments and tapestries could be changed without any kind of significant loss in production.
He helped to make the garment industry one that was a lot more efficient, but he wound up so doing something that none of his counterparts had been able to do – not cost people their jobs. With each invention that helped to automate the loom over the previous 80 years, the need for operators decreased until a large number of people found themselves out of jobs. This often leads to massive demonstrations and many of the inventors had to live in secluded areas or hire security to protect themselves and their families from those who saw the inventors as the reason they were unemployed.
Northrop’s invention had no impact on employment and, as a result, he is often held in higher regard for his invention than most of the other innovators who helped to change the garment industry. His invention made things a lot more efficient, even for employees.
The Northrop Loom is still the basis for many of the garment looms that are used today. His invention was years ahead of its time, some would say a century ahead of its time, and still continues to be the primary means that many organisations use to create garments and tapestries. While the inventor was able to retire at an early age, his power loom continues to thrive today.