1785 Edmund Cartwright invents the power loom
This photograph shows a loom made by Gregson and Monk, Preston.
This type of loom was common in Preston weaving sheds.
This invention made it possible for weaving to become a large-scale factory based industry. Before the invention of the power loom it was handloom weavers who made cloth. These were men who worked in the basements of their homes using wooden hand powered looms to weave cloth.
Power looms were slow to be adopted in Lancashire. In 1813 there were still 212,000 handloom weavers in Britain and only 2,400 power looms. This trend was reversed by the invention of the steam-powered loom by Richard Guest in 1823. Further improvements were made in the 1830's when the Lancashire overpick loom was developed. This was a heavy cast iron loom, which mechanised all the actions previously done by a handloom weaver. One weaver could look after four looms. In 1845 there was 225,000 power looms in factories and only 60,000 handloom weavers. The number of handloom weavers fell to only 7,000 in 1861.
Improvements were made to the design of the loom throughout the 19th century. By 1900 the automatic loom was being developed which tried to increase production by filling the shuttle with new yarn automatically instead of by hand. It was this invention which greatly increased production and reduced the number of weavers needed in the factory.
For more information on the weaving process go to the cotton process activity.