Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from James Milne, 19 May 1780

From James Milne9

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Paris 19. May 1780. Chez Mr: Gregson Rue Dauphine


I shall be much obliged to you if you will allow me a moment for an audience, and to fix the day when I may present myself to you at Passy.

I have to solicit your attention upon objects which concern America.1

I have the honor to be with the most profound respect Sir, Your very humble & very obedient Servant

James Milne

Mr: Franklin à Passy

Addressed: A Monsieur / Monsieur Franklin / en son hotel / à Passy.

Notation: Milne Paris 19. May 1780.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9The mécanicien from Manchester, England (d. 1816), who had come to France in 1779, prepared to introduce new technology for carding cotton and spinning wool. He first addressed himself to Holker, who had him construct a carding machine and gave him an introduction to Necker. The French government, thinking his proposal to construct five different machines too expensive, turned him down, and Milne eventually established a cotton-spinning factory for François Perret. In late 1782 Milne and his brother John lured their father John Milne, Sr. (c. 1722–1804), the inventor, to leave Manchester and join them in France. There they remained, and in 1785 were installed by the government at the château de la Muette in Passy. Despite their successes and the significance of their role in the transfer of technology from England to France, the Milnes died in poverty. Charles Smith, “Episode in Cotton Trade History: Manchester Inventors in France,” Manchester Guardian, Jan. 10, 1930, kindly communicated by Phyllis Giles through Prof. John Harris. See also Serge Chassagne, Le Coton et ses Patrons: France, 1760–1840 (Paris, 1991), pp. 191–4.

1The interview has left no trace. However, BF kept among his papers two engraved advertisements for machines invented and patented by John Milne, Sr. One was for dressing flour, the other for dressing oatmeal and barleymeal (APS). The former was patented in 1765: Bennet Woodcroft, comp., Alphabetical Index of Patentees of Inventions (reprint ed., London, 1969), p. 381.

No other letters from Milne have survived, but three lengthy memoirs by him, probably written in 1783, are among BF’s papers at the Hist. Soc. of Pa. and will be discussed in future volumes. They detail his career in France, list his inventions, and ask for financial backing.

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