Spinning Mule

Few inventions on innowiki have inspired as much social unrest at the spinning mule. The mule is a minor innovation compared to most others on the list. However, it caused a massive freak-out. The Luddite movement, that still exists to this day, if often wrongly credited to the printing press but actually began with the mule.


The spinning mule transformed raw wool into fabric. It was a vastly more efficient spinning wheel. Like many jobs threatened by automation, spinning was dull, repetitive, and time-consuming. It created jobs but they were terrible jobs.

Rather than one at a time, the mule wove together dozens. Following a pattern that both pre and postdated the mule, children were often employed to operate the machine.

Whereas spinning wheels had 2-5 spindles, mules typically had 1,320. They were vastly less expensive to operate while producing a more consistent yarn.

Before the mule, weaving was usually a family business. Mom and the children would break up and clean the raw fibers then spin them into thread. Dad wove their thread into fabric. The mule reduced the cost of thread, sending dad to factories and leaving mom and the kids unemployed with no marketable skills.


The whole family reacted predictably, violently breaking up mules. They named their movement, the Luddites, after Ned Ludd who most historians agree is a fictional character invented to create labor unrest. Luddites still exist to this day, opposing countless types of automation all the while enjoying the lower costs the machines provide. For example, modern Luddites talk to one another over mobile phones. They don’t realize technology powering their phones eliminated countless jobs, especially switchboard operators, and vastly lowered costs.

The mule itself was a combination of Arkwright’s water frame and Hargreaves’ spinning jenny. Basically, it did both functions. The offspring of a horse and a donkey is a mule, the origin of the name for Crompton’s invention.

Like countless inventors, Crompton could not afford to patent and commercialize the rights to his work. Finances forced him to sell the rights to industrialist David Dale for a pittance. That man went on to make a fortune from Crompton’s work.

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