Samuel Slater was born in Derbyshire, England, the son of a successful farmer and landowner. As a youth, Slater was apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, a partner of the noted British inventor Sir Richard Arkwright. Learning all aspects of the cotton manufacturing industry, Slater worked his way up to supervisor of the Strutt mill.
Britain naturally wanted to maintain its monopoly on textile production and prohibited the exportation of machinery and the emigration of mechanics or engineers with knowledge of those machines. Slater recognized that his information had great value and left England in disguise for New York City in 1789. He later met Moses Brown, a prominent Quaker merchant in Rhode Island. With Brown providing the capital and Slater the carefully memorized specifications for the equipment, the two opened a small mechanized mill in Providence in 1790. In 1793, they moved their operation to Pawtucket, a venture that became the first profitable water-powered mill in America.
Slater eventually owned mills in several states and became one of the country’s leading industrialists. He was also responsible for introducing what was called the “Rhode Island Method” — the practice of hiring entire families, including children, to work in his mills; workers lived in company-owned housing, shopped at company-owned stores, and studied in company-run schools.