|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
22 Mr Satterfield’s customers were generally of the upper middle class. Our living was good, and I continued at his shop in St Ann’s Square until I was eighteen  years of age. We sold wire frames for ladies’ bonnets, made by a Mr Jones. He told me of the new and curious machinery being introduced into Manchester for spinning cotton. He had seen these machines at work, and he was sure he could make them, but he had no capital. He said that if I would advance one hundred pounds and join him in partnership, I should have one half of the great profits that were to result.
My brother William advanced me the one hundred pounds, 23 and Jones leased a large machine shop. We shortly had forty men at work, making "mules" for spinning cotton, and we obtained wood, iron and brass on credit. I soon found that Jones had no idea how to manage workmen or how to conduct business. I knew that the men’s wages must be paid, or it would end in our ruin. I therefore undertook to keep the accounts. I had not the slightest idea of the new machines, but I looked very wisely at the men. By intensely observing everything, I maintained order and regularity throughout the establishment.
We had not been in business many months when a capitalist applied to Jones to join him. They offered me for my share of the business six mule machines, a reel, and a making up machine with which to pack the yarn. I did not hesitate to accept their proposal.
24 I rented a large new factory in Ancoats Lane, 25 and I commenced business for myself in a small part of this, and let the remainder to tenants who paid my whole rent. I received three of the six mules promised, and engaged three men to work them, that is, to spin cotton thread or yarn from rovings, 26 for which I gave 12s. per pound. 25 I made it up upon the reel into hanks, and then made these hanks into bundles and wrapped them up neatly in paper. I sold them to a Mr Mitchell 26 at 22s. per pound, 25 and he sold the yarn to muslin weavers. 26 I made about six pounds of profit each week and deemed myself doing well for a young beginner.
A Mr Drinkwater had built a mill for finer spinning, and was beginning to fill it with machinery, but his manager left him, 27 and he had to advertise for another. When I heard of it, I proceeded straight to Mr Drinkwater’s counting house and asked him for the situation. He said immediately, "You are too young. How old are you?" "Twenty  in May this year", was my reply. "How often do you get drunk in the week?" "I was never", I said, blushing scarlet, "drunk in my life." "What salary do you ask?" "Three hundred a year." "Three hundred a year!" "I cannot take less. I am making that sum by my own business."
We went to my factory and I proved my statement to his satisfaction. He said, "I will give you the three hundred a year, as you ask, 28 and I shall require you to take over the management of the mill, and of the work people, immediately."
When I arrived at the 35 "Bank Top Mill", 28 I found myself in the midst of five hundred men, women and children, busily occupied with machinery, much of which I had scarcely seen. I said to myself, "How came I here? How can I manage these people and this business?" 29 I determined to do the best I could and began to examine what was in progress. I looked grave – inspected everything minutely –examined the drawings and calculations of the machinery. I continued this silent inspection for six weeks, saying merely yes or no to questions, and did not give one direct order until I felt myself master of my position.
I soon perceived the defects in the various processes and improved the quality of our manufacture. 30 I had acquired a knowledge of human nature which enabled me to gain the confidence of others and draw forth only their good qualities, and 31 after six months I had the most complete influence over the work people. Their regularity and sobriety none could imitate.
At this time, Mr Drinkwater sent for me. I was yet but an ill-educated awkward youth, speaking ungrammatically a kind of Welsh English spoken in Newtown. I felt uncertain at Mr Drinkwater’s summons. However he said, "I am well pleased with all you have done. 32 If you will consent to remain with me, I will give you four hundred for the next year, five hundred for the third, and in the fourth year you shall join in partnership with a fourth of the profits." I willingly agreed.
34 In about a year, I had improved the accuracy of the machinery used and gained the means to increase the fineness of the finished thread from 120 to upwards of 300 hanks in the pound. 35 I was now known as the first fine cotton spinner in the world.
The celebrated 36 Dr Dalton the philosopher and a Mr Winstanley were intimate friends of mine, and we often met in the evenings for interesting discussions upon religion, morals and similar subjects. Here Dalton first broached his atomic theory. I acquired the name of "the reasoning machine", because they said I made man a mere reasoning machine, made to be so by nature and society.
However heterodox my opinions, I was solicited to become a member of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, 35 under the Presidency of the late highly respected Dr Percival. 37 At one sitting of the Society, the subject of cotton was introduced. To my surprise and great confusion, Dr Percival said: "Mr Owen can, I am sure, give us some valuable information upon the subject". I blushed and stammered out some few incoherent sentences, and felt quite annoyed at my ignorance and awkwardness being thus exposed.
Had it not been for this incident, it is probable I should never have attempted to speak in public. I knew more of cotton then any who spoke, and this induced me to write a paper upon this subject, which was read and discussed at the following meeting. 38 I continued a regular member, and wrote a paper for each session, but on what subjects I do not now recollect.
41 In the third year, Mr Drinkwater sent for me again. He said "Unexpected changes have taken place lately in my family. The celebrated Mr Oldknow is to become my son-in-law. He wishes the entire business to be retained in the family, but you are entitled by our agreement to become a partner in my mills next year. If you will give up your claim to the partnership, you may name your own salary." I said – "I have brought the agreement with me, and I now put in the fire. Under these circumstances I cannot remain your manager with any salary you can give." He then said – "I hope you will remain until another manager can be procured to take your place." 42 To this I agreed.
After I left Mr Drinkwater’s concern, I formed a partnership with two rich old-established houses, Messrs Borrodale and Atkinson of London and Messrs Barton of Manchester, to build mills on the Chorlton estate, near Manchester, under my management. I had to superintend the building, get the machinery made, and set the whole in action. Two or three years later, 44 the Chorlton Twist Company was proceeding prosperously.
Having many customers in and around Glasgow, it became necessary for me to go to see them. 45 One day on my first visit to Glasgow, 46 I was introduced to Miss Dale, 45 the daughter of a most extraordinary man – an extensive manufacturer, cotton spinner, merchant, banker, and preacher. 46 She asked me if I had seen the falls of the Clyde and her father’s mills. She gave me an introduction to her uncle, and I visited and inspected the New Lanark Mills under his guidance. They then consisted of a primitive manufacturing Scotch village and four mills for spinning cotton. I said as I stood in front of the establishment, "of all places I have yet seen, I should prefer this in which to try an experiment I have long contemplated."
On returning to Glasgow I called upon Miss Dale to thank her. She was just going to walk with her younger sisters on the banks of the Clyde and said perhaps I should like to accompany them. I readily assented. We met there once or twice after. At parting she said, when I came again to Glasgow she would be glad to see me.
47 Upon my arrival the second time at Glasgow I called on Miss Dale, and walked with her and her sisters often again. 50 On my third visit to Glasgow the morning walks continued. By degrees I ventured to ask Miss Dale if her affections were engaged, and she frankly said they were not. But when I asked her permission to become her suitor, 51 she said, whatever her own feelings, she had little expectation that her father could be induced to give his consent.
I had never seen Mr Dale. Having heard that he wished to retire from business and to sell the New Lanark establishment, I called upon him at his counting house. He received me coldly. I asked if the report were true, and if so, on what terms he would offer the mills. "I would recommend you," he said, "to go and examine the establishment, and make your report to your partners, and if they should have any desire to become the owners of it, I shall be prepared to enter into a negotiation with them".
52 On returning to Manchester, I informed my partners. Two of them immediately accompanied me to New Lanark and were much pleased with the establishment. By this time, Mr Dale had been informed by his daughter of what had passed between us, but he was very adverse to our views. He said I was a stranger of whom he knew nothing. He wished to have an honest Scotchman to succeed him.
My partners and I waited on Mr Dale and explained our object. He was evidently 53 taken by surprise, and said he would make the necessary enquiries and see us again the next day. We called at his hour of appointment and he said, "I am willing to treat with you for the land, village and mills at New Lanark, with everything as it stands." We enquired the price at which he valued this property. He said, "Mr Owen knows better than I do the value of such property, and I wish that he would name what he considers to be a fair price."
I was somewhat surprised and non-plussed, but I said, "It appears to me, that sixty thousand pounds, payable at the rate of three thousand a year for twenty years, would be an equitable price." Mr Dale, to the surprise of my partners, replied, "if you think so, I will accept your proposal, if your friends also approve of it." Equally to my surprise, they said they were willing to accept the terms. This occurred in the summer of 1797 [1799?].