1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

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 Aza Arnold Papers

 Inventor and machinist, of Rhode Island

 Papers, 1810-1892

 Size: 1 linear foot

 Catalog number: MSS 266

 Processed by: Cindy Bendroth, August 1990

 Slightly revised by Rick Stattler, June 1997

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Aza Arnold was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on November 4, 1788 to Benjamin and Isabel (Greene) Arnold. Both of his parents were Quakers. His immediate family later moved to Dutchess County, New York but Aza stayed in Rhode Island where he married Abigail Dennis of Newport. They had seven children: Mary, Harriet, William, Samuel, Benjamin, James Greene and Edward.

            His first occupation was as a carpenter, but later he became a machinist after apprenticing with Samuel Slater and worked with the Pawtucket machine shop of Pitcher and Hover developing machinery for textile companies. While at Pitcher and Hover, he built looms for Wilkin, Green & Co., T.R. Williams and Shepard and Thorpes. In 1812, he and George Smith bought the Butterfield factory located in North Providence and manufactured blankets.

            Arnold is best known for his textile invention and his patent problems. Arnold invented the "endless roving" and the "differential motion" machines which compounded 2 different motions or rates of speed to produce a third rate and they were applied to the speeder which prepared cotton roving for spinning. It was an extremely innovative machine in the cotton textiles industry and was used for almost eighty years with little or no changes. The invention was complete in 1818, but he did not patent it in the United States until 1823. He also neglected to patent it in England and three years later another gentleman was awarded the patent. Many companies refused to pay him royalties for his machine, claiming he had not originated it. He sued a Lowell machine company, Locks and Canals, for denying him royalties and was awarded some money. However, through the court litigation, Locks and Canals was able to change the patent law in 1836 before Arnold was to bring the case to court.

            Arnold seemed to be an itinerant machinist and moved from company to company. In 1820, he was a partner in Hazard & Arnold with pioneering Peace Dale industrialist Isaac Peace Hazard, and was often in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. From 1827-1829, he spent most time in Somersworth, NH at the Great Falls Manufacturing Co. as chief machinist. Arnold claimed that the Company was able to produce 30% more goods per week than Lowell and after visiting the operation, Lowell companies began to incorporate Arnold's designs. A depression in 1829 caused the company to cut his salary and he therefore left. In 1838 he worked in Pennsylvania with Paul Hubb and the Mulhausen Mfg. Co. and formed a partnership with William Burkhart for calico printing in 1847. Many manufacturers from all over New England sought his advice. He often traveled to Fall River, Newport, Pawtucket or East Greenwich on business. He appeared to have rented cotton manufacturing companies for short periods of time with various partners. He became well acquainted with cloth printing machine and invented an engraving machine for copper printing rolls, which was used universally until the pantograph came out. In the 1850s and 1860s he went to work in Washington as a solicitor for patents. He died in about 1865 while employed in Washington.


Jeremy, David J. Transatlantic Industrial Revolution: The Diffusion of Textile Technologies Between Britain and America, 1790-1830s. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981).

The National Cyclopedia of American Biography (New York: James & White, 1906), 255.

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Scope and content:

            The Aza Arnold papers consist of correspondence, memoranda, bills, receipts and accounts, contracts, agreements and deeds from the years 1809 to 1892. The bulk of the material is from the years 1824 to 1832.  

            Correspondence is business and family related. Most concerns Aza's machinery and his expertise on textile manufacturing and it also reveals his itinerant life traveling throughout Rhode Island, New England, Philadelphia, and Washington. It is ordered chronologically and most letters are itemized in a typed list. Included is a wonderful series of four letters dated 1849 from a friend named William Harris, who was traveling in Mexico and California. Harris describes sights in Mexico, and implores Arnold to send a recently invented machine to help capitalize on the recent discovery of gold in California.

            Files of bills, receipts and accounts are business-related items and household goods. They too are from all over and elaborates on his interaction with many businesses from throughout the United States and is arranged chronologically.

              Memoranda and memoranda books include poetry, notes on the condition of mill housing in Great Falls, NH, notes on improving machinery, a court case notes, and an inventory of tools and of a dye house as well as specifications. These files are arranged alphabetically.

            One file of contracts and agreements concern Aza's business contracts with David S. Brown, Paul Hubb and the Mulhausen Manufacturing Co.(Philadelphia), Timothy Greene, the Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Co., William Burkhart (Philadelphia), Daniel Cobb (Baltimore), and others.

            Deeds are primarily between family members in dividing estates, however, some are transactions between others such as Oziel Wilkinson and Timothy Greene.

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            The bulk of this collection was donated by Colonel Allen from the Varnum House Museum in 1973. The 1812 account book in box 3 was donated by the Brown University Library in 1907.

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Processing note:

            The collection was reboxed and foldered. Oversize materials were placed in a separate box. A finding aid was written and cards printed.

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Box 1

            Arnold, Elizabeth - Estate, 1834-1836

            Arnold, James E., 1892

            Bills, Receipts and Accounts, 1820-1854, n.d. (9 folders)

            Contracts and Agreements, 1817-1846

            Correspondence, 1813-1853, n.d. (9 folders) (see calendar)

            Deeds - Land Deeds, 1810-1855


Box 2

            Greene, Ruth (aunt of Aza Arnold, d. 1847) - Estate, 1828-1848

            Hazard & Arnold, 1820-1824

            Memoranda, 1819-1853, n.d.

                        About 30 items, including:

                        "Inventory of Dye Stuffs &c", February 13, 1837

                        Copy of a poem titled "Rhode Island" by J.J. Gurney

                        Memorial testimony on Anna Anthony of East Greenwich, 1819

                        "List of tools sent to Pawtucket", undated

                        Order to cast speeders, with twenty small drawings of parts, undated

                        Notes on "Improved Fly Shuttle" and "Ingrain Carpet Loom"

                        Advertisement for Dodge's Cop Spinner, Attleborough, Mass., 1853

            Memoranda & account books:

                        Commonplace and memoranda book, 1809-1811

                        Memoranda, 1837-1839, including dye recipes and a page of swatches

                        Memoranda, 1828-1836

                        Accounts with Mechanics Bank, 1839-1841

                        Accounts with J.L. Congdon, 1854

            "Memorandum of Woolen Factory," n.d.

                        [notes on dye recipes, cotton mill in Somersworth, NH]

            Patent for double speeder, January 21, 1823 [watercolor of machine in Graphics division]

            Sample of Cotton from Madualaw(?) Island, South Carolina, n.d.

Box 3 (oversized items)

            Bills, receipts and accounts, 1823-1846 (4 folders)

            Account book, 1812-1822 (uncertain if this is the same Aza Arnold)

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Arnold, Abigail (Dennis)

Arnold, James E.

Arnold, Elizabeth

*Dyes and dyeing - New Hampshire

*Gold mines and mining - California

Great Falls Manufacturing Co. (N.H.)

*Greene, Ruth (d.1847)

*Harris, William

*Hazard, Isaac P. (1794-1879)

Hazard & Arnold

Malhausen Manufacturing Co. (Penn.)

Mexico - Description and travel - l849


Smith, George

*Swatch books

Textile machinery

Wilkinson, Oziel

(*: added in 1997)

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