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The Spinning Jenny: A Fresh Look


  • Allen, Robert C.


In “The Industrial Revolution in Miniature,†I calculated that the spinning jenny was profitable to install in England in the 1780s but not in France.1 My calculations assumed that a spinner using a wheel in a domestic setting worked a total of 100 days per year and spun 100 pounds of coarse cotton (one pound per day). The jenny raised labor productivity to three pounds per day in the “most likely†scenario. I showed that it would have been cheaper to spin 100 pounds per year with a jenny than with a wheel in England, while the reverse would have been true in France. Hence, the jenny was installed in England rather than France. Ugo Gragnolati, Daniele Moschella, and Emanuele Pugliese have pointed out that this argument assumes that output was kept at 100 pounds per year, and the effect of the jenny was to reduce the spinner's work year to only 33–1/3 days per year.2 They suggest that it was more likely that the spinner would have continued to work 100 days per year and produce 300 pounds of yarn instead. In that case, they argue, it would have been profitable to install the jenny in France as well as England. Profitability would have increased in both countries under these assumptions because capital costs would have been cut by a third if three times as much output was produced from the same capital (although profitability was still much higher in England). Hence, they conclude that economic considerations do not explain the diffusion of the jenny.

Suggested Citation

  • Allen, Robert C., 2011. "The Spinning Jenny: A Fresh Look," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 71(2), pages 461-464, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:71:y:2011:i:02:p:461-464_00

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    Blog mentions

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    1. Random thoughts on critiques of Allen’s theory of the Industrial Revolution
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2016-12-02 02:35:02


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    Cited by:

    1. Robert C. Allen, 2015. "The high wage economy and the industrial revolution: a restatement," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(1), pages 1-22, February.
    2. Robert C. Allen, 2020. "Spinning their wheels: a reply to Jane Humphries and Benjamin Schneider," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 73(4), pages 1128-1136, November.
    3. Robert C. Allen, 2015. "The high wage economy and the industrial revolution: a restatement," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(1), pages 1-22, February.
    4. Crafts, Nicholas & O’Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj, 2014. "Twentieth Century Growth*This research has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement no. 249546.," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 6, pages 263-346, Elsevier.
    5. Jane Humphries & Benjamin Schneider, 2019. "Spinning the industrial revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 72(1), pages 126-155, February.
    6. Julio Martínez-Galarraga & Marc Prat, 2014. "Wages and prices in early Catalan industrialisation," UB Economics Working Papers 2014/305, Universitat de Barcelona, Facultat d'Economia i Empresa, UB School of Economics.

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