Robert Owen

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Robert Owen was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire (Wales) on May 14, 1771, the sixth of seven children. His father was a sadler and ironmonger who also served as local postmaster; his mother came from one of the prosperous farming families of Newtown. Owen attended the local school where he developed a strong passion for reading. At the age of ten he was sent to seek his fortune in London with his eldest brother, William. After a few weeks, Owen found a position in a large drapery business in Stamford (Lincolnshire) where he served as an apprentice. After three years he returned to London where he served under another draper. Then, in 1787 or 1788, he moved to Manchester in the employ of Mr. Satterfield, a wholesale and retail drapery merchant. Owen now found himself in what would soon become the capital city of the English Industrial Revolution on the eve of that event as factories were built and textile manufacture expanded.. He was a serious, methodical young man who already possessed an extensive knowledge of the retail aspect of his chosen trade. In late 1790 he borrowed £100 from his brother William and set up independently with a mechanic named Jones as a manufacturer of the new spinning mules. After a few months he parted with Jones and started business on his own with three mules as a cotton spinner. During 1792, Owen applied for and was appointed manager of Peter Drinkwater's new spinning factory, the Piccadilly Mill, where he quickly achieved the reputation as a spinner of fine yarns, thanks to the application of steam power to the mule. One of Drinkwater's most important clients was Samuel Oldknow, maker of fine muslins. Drinkwater had intended Owen to become a partner in his new business by 1795, but a projected marriage alliance between Drinkwater's daughter and Oldknow caused the cancellation of the agreement with Owen. Hurt and unwilling to remain a mere manager, Owen left Piccadilly Mill in 1795. Owen was approached by Samuel Marsland who intended to develop the Chorlton estate in Manchester, but instead he found partners in two young and inexperienced businessmen, Jonathan Scarth and Richard Moulson, who undertook to erect cotton mills on land bought from Marsland, and the three partners were assisted by Marsland. In 1796, the financial basis of the company was broadened with the inclusion of Thomas Atkinson, thus constituting the Chorlton Twist Company, which in 1799 negotiated the purchase of David Dale's New Lanark mills.
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