Because of the dominance of Manchester in the textile industry throughout the 19th century, the city became known as Cottonopolis. English cotton mills first appeared around 1776, using water wheels powered by nearby rivers and streams. The first large mill was built along the Thames river, followed by the construction of similar mills throughout the north and east parts of the city.7 Because of the vast amount of waterways around Manchester, the city was an excellent place for textile production.

Richard Arkwright owned one of the first mills in Manchester in 1783. Being destroyed in WWII, much of its history was lost, yet historians speculate that a Newcomen atmospheric engine powered the mill.

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Yet with the improvements to the steam engine made by James Watt, productivity in textile mills skyrocketed. By 1816 there were 86 cotton mills throughout the city producing goods at a previously unheard of pace. By 1825 this number had increased to 104 cotton spinning mills with 110 steam engines located throughout the city10.

“We may see in a single building a 100 horse power steam engine (which) has the strength of 880 men, set in motion 50,000 spindles. The whole requires the service of but 750 workers. But these machines can produce as much yarn as formerly could have hardly been spun by 200,000 men…” wrote Edward Baines when describing the productivity that could be generated by the new engines.

Another factor that led to the growth of productivity in Manchester was the large influx of people that migrated to the city. With the work force mushrooming from 17,000 in 1760 to 180,000 in 1830 7. This arrival of new workers greatly influenced the amount of cotton being transported into the city to be woven into high-quality fabrics. These workers consisted of men, women, and even children; starting their work at six in the morning and were not able to return home until their 13 hour work day was completed11. In 1772, cotton was being imported at a rate of 2,000 tons per year, and then exploded to 45.2 thousand tons per year by 1816

To sell their goods, merchants met at the Royal Exchange. Thomas Harrison built the first modern Royal Exchange in Manchester in 1809, yet the first Cotton Exchange wasn’t constructed until 1829. The building concealed upwards of 11,000 members within its walls whom met every Tuesday to barter their goods.