Johann Gottfried Brügelmann (1750–1802)

Johann Gottfried Brügelmann brought the idea of the cotton factory from England to mainland Europe. In 1771, Richard Arkwright built the first water-powered mill for spinning cotton at Cromford in England. This developed the idea of the factory – a multi-storey unit for specialist production with mechanical power and hundreds of workers. When Brügelmann built his factory at Ratingen, in North-Rhine Westphalia in 1783-4 he gave it the name Cromford. The building is now an industrial museum.

Brügelmann grew up in a family of merchants at Elberfeld, now a district of Wuppertal. Elberfeld was an important area for making textiles by hand, with production controlled by a yarn guild. In 1774, Brügelmann married Anna Christina Ochsen (neé Bredt), a wealthy young widow who had capital to invest. When he heard about the innovations by Arkwright he decided to try to copy them. His friend Carl Albrecht Delius made industrial espionage visits to Britain in 1781 and 1782 to draw plans, get copies of machines and recruit a worker who could operate them.

To be beyond the control of the old guilds, Brügelmann built his new Cromford factory at Ratingen, 40 kilometres away from Elberfeld. It used an old water-power site on the river Anger. It was five storeys high and designed on the Arkwright model by Rutger Flügel. It went into production in 1784 and was an immediate success. At its peak it employed 600 workers. Brügelmann built a baroque mansion for his family in 1787-90 next to the factory, which can also be visited as part of the museum. The community of workers’ dwellings that he built also survives.

In 1789, he expanded with a works for dyeing yarn at Pempelfort in Düsseldorf. He opened offices in Cologne and (Mönchengladbach-)Rheydt and in 1802 another factory at Munich. When he died in that year, aged 52, he was one of the richest people in the Rhineland.