Samuel and the Mule

Can one idea from one man change the world?

In our darker moments I am sure many of us wish that the industrial revolution had never happened. Certainly if it hadn’t, the survival of mankind and over half of the worlds species we share this planet with would have much higher odds.

But it did happen, and it happened because people were seeking to improve the quality of their lives.

Now we have the awareness that we can’t carry on with the same unbridled boundaries, that we know there is a limit to our consumer ways, either through choice or imposed on us by impending ecological and climatic disaster.

Samuel Crompton is one such person who we can take inspiration from during these troubled times.

Just 10 miles from my home, in Bolton in the mid 18th Century, Samuel was born into a tenant farming family. Like many farming families, they also supplemented their income through spinning cotton. His father died when he was five years old and he, like so many children in those days started work when he was just a small child. It was an idea from this young man, when he reached his early twenties, that led to the industrial revolution. Hard to believe isn’t it, that one idea from one young man can have the power to change the world beyond what our minds can possibly imagine.

Samuel invented the Spinning Mule when he was 25 years old. This machine meant that high grade cotton could be spun by machine, to the same quality that was spun by hand.



The tiny room where Samuel though up his idea… with views over the West Pennines

He didn’t invent the Spinning Mule for the corporations – in those days the mill owners – he invented it to improve the lives of the spinners who worked from their homes. He invented it to better the lives of his kind.

The mill owners couldn’t figure out how he had done it. They would come and try to peer through the window of his home where the Spinning Mule was housed. Several offered him partnership but he refused, instead setting up his own workshop with apprentices so they could learn and take the technology back to their homes. Sadly, these apprentices were poached by the mills with lucrative bait, and his idea was stolen, mass reproduced and it led to Britain’s fortune as the leader of the industrial revolution. Eventually after taking up his plight with the government he managed to get £5,000 compensation for his service to the country.

It took him 5 years of hard work and repeated modifications, in time squeezed between farming and spinning, but he cracked it.



Samuel Cromptons Spinning Mule

The reason why I take such inspiration from this story, is that I can see that one idea from one man led to a complete world transformation.

The green revolution needs to happen at a similar rate to the industrial revolution. The rate of change needs to be quick if we are to prevent catastrophic world disaster and ultimately the extinction of the human race, and many of the worlds species with us.

When I found out about the story of Samuel Crompton, I immediately thought ‘this is possible’. One idea then led to the industrial revolution, and so surely with so many of us working on bring about the green revolution now, there is a possibility of it happening to the same scale and the same speed.

Those people who were at the front line of the industrial revolution didn’t have the answers for the future in their back pocket. They couldn’t have possibly imagined what the future would look like in 200 years time. They just focused on the next step, seeking a solution to a problem that they faced in their immediate lives. One that if solved would improve their outlook and prospects for the future.

So is it as simple as each of us holding that vision of a better future and working on what is in our sphere of influence to change? My answer to this is yes, and no.

Yes we need to choose something to work on, to bring about in creating the new Earth. But we also need to bring others with us. The difference I guess between the industrial revolution 200 years ago, and the green revolution now is the difference in political will and economic will. People back then wanted industry because they wanted to improve their lives. Now, we need to hope that enough people will move across and want, demand that they want the green revolution. That they too want to improve their lives, and in particular the lives of their sons and daughters, grandsons and grand daughters.

So it comes back again to having a vision and the will, and working to bring others along to influence our government. I truly believe that if enough of us do this, change will happen. After all, if we look at all major revolutions in the past they have happened because the common folk demanded it. I guess this is no different. It’s just with this revolution time is against us, and we can’t dawdle. We have to act now. We need to act as if out lives depend on it.



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