Born in 1743 in Nottingham, Cartwright was living though momentous times. The industrial revolution was just getting into gear, and in the North West of England there was a growing supply of machine-spun cotton - in fact more than could be dealt with by the weary weavers who at that time worked by hand.
After a visit to a spinning mill run by pioneer Richard Arkwright, Cartwright set his mind to the problem and in 1785 patented his first water-driven power loom. It was fairly crude but he gradually improved the design and by 1788, he had created a weaving machine with a far greater output than any hand-loom. In 1789 he also patented a wool-combing machine that could do the work of 20 wool workers.
He set up his own factory in Doncaster for spinning and weaving, but despite his mechanical genius - and the addition of a steam engine to supply power - he went bankrupt in 1793.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. In 1809, the British government finally recognised his services to the cotton industry and awarded him £10,000 - a fortune at the time. Cartwright finally died in Kent in 1823.