Richard Roberts, Welsh inventor, 1848.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Pencil drawing by J Stephenson. Richard Roberts (1789-1864) was born in Mid Glamorgan, Wales where he began working at a nearby quarry. He showed tremendous mechanical aptitude, and soon found employment with the ironmaster John Wilkinson and the engineer Henry Maudslay. In 1816 he established his own machine tools busines in Manchester. Among his early inventions were a screw-lathe, a gas-meter and one of the first metal planing machines. In 1825 he invented the Roberts self-acting spinning mule which produced better yarn than any other machine, and kept its place in the textile industry right up to the 1950s. In 1834 his firm Sharp, Roberts & Co began manufacturing railway locomotives. However, despite his abilities, Roberts lacked busines acumen and died in poverty in 1864.