Thursday, 30 April 2015

Those magnificent men in their flying machines

A few weeks ago I visited Imperial War Museum Duxford. There's a massive hangar that contains some amazing exhibits relating to aviation and its history. There's even a Concorde! One of the first exhibits you see is part of the wing structure of the Wright Brothers' plane. Wilbur and Orville Wright developed a flying machine, making use of their own experience as engineers and cycle mechanics and constructed of materials available at the time. The Wright Flyer 1 was made of spruce with Pride of the West muslin for surface coverings. The mention of muslin in the interpretation information made me think of Belper North Mill, and cotton fabrics. This particular fabric was described as being used for ladies' undergarments, with a very fine close weave. Imagine my delight when I investigated further and discovered that this muslin was manufactured at Slater's Mills in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The same Slater who is still known locally as Slater the Traitor because he broke the terms of his apprenticeship and took cotton industry secrets to America, making his fame and fortune there. So we can trace the factory system, social housing, skyscraper building techniques and now aeroplanes back to Belper and the Strutts!

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