Mule spinner creating cotton thread. Museum of Work and Culture. Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Photograph by George P. Landow, October 2004. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

These spinning machines replaced the single-person spinning wheels used before the mechanization of the textile industry, and a machine like this one could do the work of one hundred hand workers. The factory worker (or "operative") who supervised the operation had to make sure that threads didn't break or become tangled. The mechanism opened and closed, and small children, who frequently became seriously injured, were used to untangle threads or tie together broken ones. According to the museum guide, many children were injured, and so mill owners often required operatives to use their own children -- which greatly reduced accidents. The one thing missing from this picture are the many bits of cotton fluff that floated in the air, causing white lung disease among workers.

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3 August 2009