From water-powered textile mills, to mechanical looms, a lot of the machinery that powered America"s early commercial success was "borrowed" from Europe.


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Long prior to the United States started accusing other countries of stealing principles, the U.S. federal government encouraged intellectual piracy to catch up via England’s technical developments. According to historian Doron Ben-Atar, in his book, Trade Secrets, “the United States emerged as the world's commercial leader by illicitly appropriating mechanical and clinical developments from Europe.”


Among those sniffing out creations throughout the Atlantic was Harvard graduate and Boston merchant, Francis Cabot Lowell. As the War of 1812 raged on, Lowell collection sail from Great Britain in possession of the enemy’s most precious commercial trick. He carried through him pirated plans for Edmund Cartwright’s power loom, which had actually made Great Britain the world’s leading commercial power.

Halfway across the Atlantic, a British frigate intercepted Lowell’s ship. Although the British double-searched his luggage and detained him for days, Lowell kbrand-new they would never discover any evidence of espionage for he had actually hidden the plans in the one area they would never discover them—inside his photographic mind. Unable to uncover any kind of sign of spy craft, the British allowed Lowell to return to Boston, where he supplied Cartwright’s architecture to help propel the Industrial Revolution in the United States.


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Dr. Edmund Cartwappropriate shown beside the Power Loom, which was inspired by machinery he observed in England.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images




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Starting Fathers Encouraged Intellectual Piracy

Lowell was hardly the initially Amerideserve to to pilfer British intellectual home. The Starting Fathers not just tolerated intellectual piracy, they actively urged it. Many type of agreed via Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who believed that the breakthrough of a strong production base was crucial to the survival of the mainly agrarian nation. Months before taking the oath of office as the first president in 1789, George Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferchild that “the advent of the late improved machines to abridge labor, need to be of practically infinite consequence to America.”


The fledgling country, however, lacked a residential textile manufacturing market and lagged far behind Great Britain. The quickest means to cshed the technical gap in between the United States and also its previous motherland also was not to build deindicators from scratch—yet to steal them.

In his 1791 “Report on Manufactures,” Hamilton supported rewarding those bringing “improvements and also tricks of extraordinary value” into the nation. Among those who took good interest in Hamilton’s writing was Thomas Atttimber Digges, among several American commercial spies who prowled the British Isles in the late 18th and also early on 1nine centuries trying to find not just cutting-edge modern technologies but expert workers who might operate and maintain those equipments.

In order to protect its financial supremacy, the British government banned the export of textile machinery and the emigration of cotton, mohair and also linen employees who operated them. A 1796 pamphlet printed in London warned of “agents hovering choose birds of prey on the banks of the Thames, eager in their search for such artisans, mechanics, husbandmen and laborers, as are inclinable to direct their course to America.” 

Digges, a friend of Washington who thrived up across the Potomac River from the president’s Mount Vernon estate, was one such intellectual vulture. Foreigners recruiting British textile employees to leave the nation confronted £500 fines and also a year in prichild, and also Digges discovered himself jailed continuously.