- David Dale (1739-1806)
David Dale was born in Stewarton in Ayrshire, the son of a poor grocer. After an apprenticeship as a weaver in Paisley he came to Glasgow in 1763 and set up shop as a minor textile merchant. It was certainly the right time to enter this lucrative trade (in which Glasgow was a major player) and Dale's business prospered greatly. He married well, had a house in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh designed by Robert Adam and became the first agent in Glasgow for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
If that had been the sum total of his life, he would scarcely be remembered today - there were many successful cotton and tobacco merchants in Glasgow at the time. But his interests turned to manufacturing and philanthropy. He set up a factory to make Turkey-red dye (in partnership with George Macintosh, the father of the inventor of the Macintosh raincoat). But it was his cotton mills in New Lanark (located on the banks of the river Clyde on the advice of none other than Richard Arkwright, the pioneer of industrial cotton-spinning) which became not just the largest cotton-spinning mills in Britain but an experiment in social engineering.
His first mill was started in 1785 and eventually four were built, using the power of the river to drive the machinery. Many of the workers were children (in 1793, 800 out of the 1157 people employed were young boys and girls). When the supply of local workers became exhausted, Dale recruited children from orphanages in Glasgow and Edinburgh and also engaged people from the Highlands (many of whom only spoke Gaelic). By the standards of the time, Dale treated his employees well, though they worked from 6am to 7pm after which the youngsters attended school for two hours. Children who were too young to work went to school during the day - the first time that a system of infant education had been established in any factory. Good food and living accommodation was also provided.
His employment of Highlanders led him to establish mills in Oban, Stanley in Perthshire and Spinningdale in Sutherland, more as philanthropic ventures than to make money.
The groundwork which Dale had established was later built on by his son-in-law, Robert Owen who developed the novel (for then) concept that the best work can be obtained from happy, prosperous and educated employees. Owen later tried to spread his ideas to other parts of the world - including establishing New Harmony in Indiana, USA.
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