Thursday, 6 August 2015

Six degrees of separation - approximately!

Mr Potato Head has returned to Belper, appropriately making his triumphal reappearance in time for the Belper Food Festival last month. Invented by Hasbro in 1952, he features as a character in the Toy Story films. He was the first toy to be advertised on television. He was given to Belper in 2001, incidentally the same year that Belper became part of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The American Adventure theme park gave him a home when Belper rejected him. He went missing in 2008, after the theme park closed its gates. But recently he turned up at the Drop In youth centre. They have given him a facelift and he now welcomes the world to Belper from the garden of the Methodist Chapel, opposite the bus station. He has always been a figure of controversy, loved or loathed by the town. But there's more to his life story than might meet the eye. Hasbro, the toy company, are based in Pawtucket, USA, twinned with Belper because of their shared cotton connections. Those cotton connections can be traced to Samuel Slater, who was born in Belper in 1768, and apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt at the North Mill. He then took his trade secrets and familiarity with Strutt and Arkwright's working practices to America. In Pawtucket he helped set up successful cotton spinning mills. In the USA he is described as the 'Father of the American Industrial Revolution'. In Belper he is known as 'Slater the Traitor" So if it wasn't for Strutt there wouldn't have been the North Mill for Slater to work in. If it wasn't for Slater, Pawtucket wouldn't have developed as a mill town. If Pawtucket hadn't developed as a mill town, it wouldn't have been twinned with Belper. Throw in Hasbro and the development and success of mass produced widely advertised plastic toys in the 1950s and you have the story of why Mr Potato Head came to Belper. You can either blame or thank Samuel Slater for him!

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