Pollard (1968) in his classic work on the rise of Factory, mentions three large plants, all employing over 500 employees before 1750. Perhaps the most “modern” of all industries was silk throwing. The silk mills in Derby built by Thomas Lombe in 1718 employed 300 workers and was located in a five-story building. After Lombe’s patent expired, large mills patterned after his were built in other places as well. Equally famous was the Crowley ironworks, established in 1682 in Stourbridge in the midlands (not far from Birmingham) and which employed at its peak 800 employees.
Richard Arkwright’s works in Cromford employed about 300 workers; he also helped found the New Lanark mills in Scotland which employed a workforce of 1600 in 1815 (most of which were indoor). Such huge firms were unusual, perhaps, but by 1800, there were in Britain around 900 cotton-spinning factories, of which a third were “mills” employing over 50 workers and the rest small sheds and workshops, with a handful of workers – though even those by that time were larger than households.
Cyfarthfa ironworks in Wales which employed 1500 men in 1810 and 5,000 in 1830.
The first factory in the United States was begun after George Washington became President. In 1790, SAMUEL SLATER, a cotton spinner's apprentice who left England the year before with the secrets of textile machinery, built a factory from memory to produce spindles of yarn.
The factory had 72 spindles, powered by by nine children pushing foot treadles, soon replaced by water power. Three years later, JOHN AND ARTHUR SHOFIELD, who also came from England, built the first factory to manufacture woolens in Massachusetts.
From these humble beginnings to the time of the Civil War there were over two million spindles in over 1200 cotton factories and 1500 woolen factories in the United States.