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British Industrial History

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Thomas Highs

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Thomas Highs (1718-1803) was a talented English reed-maker and inventor known for his creation of the Spinning Jenny, the throstle (a machine for the continuous twisting and winding of wool), and the water frame during the Industrial Revolution.

For most of his early life he lived in Leigh, Lancashire, where he married Sarah Moss at the Leigh Parish Church on 23 February 1747.

c.1752 Five years after his marriage, he became interested in cotton-spinning machinery and started to experiment with Lewis Paul and John Wyatt's drafting rollers, which he would later try to perfect with the help of John Kay, a clockmaker from Warrington, Lancashire.

c.1764/5 Highs claimed to have met Richard Arkwright — perhaps through Arkwright's Leigh contacts, his wife and her family, and his assistant, John Dean.

1767 After labouring for months on the roller spinning machine, John Kay eventually left the project while Highs continued to work on the machine. He later rebuilt it as a new device and dubbed it the "Spinning Jenny", possibly after his daughter Jane (according to Thomas Leather, his neighbour). Even so, Highs never finished the Spinning Jenny and left it to James Hargreaves and his assistant John Kay (the same John Kay that had worked with Highs earlier on his life) so that he could return to working on the drafting rollers. After Highs had finished his new invention, the water frame, he gave it to John Kay so that Kay could make a metal version of it. As Kay worked on it, he met Richard Arkwright, a wig-maker at the time.

1771 Highs met Arkwright again in Manchester where he challenged him that he, Arkwright, would never have had the idea of roller-spinning except for him.

Highs was not credited for his inventions during his lifetime due to his lack of both entrepreneurial skills and funding to patent the inventions. Instead, Richard Arkwright discovered the design secrets of both devices from John Kay and patented them without recognition of Highs' work. Arkwright later developed a substantial fortune and reputation in the cotton industry from this invention, while Highs lived the rest of his life in obscurity before he died in 1803.

1908 'Leigh Town Council has decided to perpetuate recollection of the invention the spinning jenny by Thomas Highs, Leigh mechanic, by naming a new thoroughfare Spinning Jenny-street. The new street passes by an old house in whose garret Highs worked his invention, which he named after his daughter.'[1]

The involvement of Thomas Highs in the development of mechanised spinning was addressed in some detail in 1842 by James Bischoff[2]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 17 April 1908
  2. [1] 'A Comprehensive History of the Woollen and Worsted Manufactures' by James Bischoff, 1842
  • [2] Wikipedia
  • Biography of Richard Arkwright, ODNB [3]