everyman perfecting mankind
19th century reformers
Elihu Burritt was born in New Britain, Connecticut in 1810, the youngest son among ten children. After his father's death in 1828, he apprenticed himself to a local blacksmith. With the encouragement of his older brother Elijah, Elihu studied mathematics by practicing mental exercises at the forge. Later, Burritt would develop a lifelong love of linguistics. After the financial panic of 1837 ruined his grocery business, Elihu walked to Boston seeking better economic opportunities. While in Boston, he learned about the library of the American Antiquarian Society. Burritt then walked to Worcester from Boston in order to make use of this famouscollection.Burritt went to work for a local forge where he earned $12 per month. It was during this period when his fame as a linguist developed. He offered his services to William Lincoln of Worcester as a translator of German. Impressed by this young man's ability, Mr. Lincoln passed on his letter to Governor Edward Everett who read it before a teachers' institute. During his presentation, the governor gave Burritt the name, "Learned Blacksmith." Although he was acknowledged as a scholar by many, he preferred, as he told Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to regard himself as a member of the working class. "I shall covet no higher human reward for any attainment I may make in literature or science, than the satisfaction of having stood in the lot of the working man."For several years, Burritt lectured throughout New England about the joy of learning. He then turned his attention to humanitarian causes that made him famous: the abolition of slavery, the dignity of the American working man, and the cause of world peace.In pursuit of peace, Burritt worked closely with leading legislators in the United States and Europe. In one trip he addressed 150 huge meetings in England on behalf of the League of Universal Brotherhood where thousands signed the pledge. Later, as an abolitionist in this country, Burritt traveled 10,000 miles to speak on this issue.In 1847, Burritt took up two additional causes. He visited Ireland during the winter of the terrible potato famine. Appalled at the conditions he observed, Burritt wrote a pamphlet entitled Four Months in Skibbereen which made Americans aware of the plight of the Irish.
Robert Owen was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire (Wales) on May 14, 1771, the sixth of seven children. His father was a sadler and ironmonger who also served as local postmaster; his mother came from one of the prosperous farming families of Newtown.Owen attended the local school where he developed a strong passion for reading. At the age of ten he was sent to seek his fortune in London with his eldest brother, William. After a few weeks, Owen found a position in a large drapery business in Stamford (Lincolnshire) where he served as an apprentice. After three years he returned to London where he served under another draper. Then, in 1787 or 1788, he moved to Manchester in the employ of Mr. Satterfield, a wholesale and retail drapery merchant.Owen now found himself in what would soon become the capital city of the English Industrial Revolution on the eve of that event as factories were built and textile manufacture expanded.. He was a serious, methodical young man who already possessed an extensive knowledge of the retail aspect of his chosen trade. In late 1790 he borrowed £100 from his brother William and set up independently with a mechanic named Jones as a manufacturer of the new spinning mules. After a few months he parted with Jones and started business on his own with three mules as a cotton spinner. During 1792, Owen applied for and was appointed manager of Peter Drinkwater's new spinning factory, the Piccadilly Mill, where he quickly achieved the reputation as a spinner of fine yarns, thanks to the application of steam power to the mule. One of Drinkwater's most important clients was Samuel Oldknow, maker of fine muslins. Drinkwater had intended Owen to become a partner in his new business by 1795, but a projected marriage alliance between Drinkwater's daughter and Oldknow caused the cancellation of the agreement with Owen. Hurt and unwilling to remain a mere manager, Owen left Piccadilly Mill in 1795.Owen was approached by Samuel Marsland who intended to develop the Chorlton estate in Manchester, but instead he found partners in two young and inexperienced businessmen, Jonathan Scarth and Richard Moulson, who undertook to erect cotton mills on land bought from Marsland, and the three partners were assisted by Marsland. In 1796, the financial basis of the company was broadened with the inclusion of Thomas Atkinson, thus constituting the Chorlton Twist Company, which in 1799 negotiated the purchase of David Dale's New Lanark mills.