Manchester had grown considerably since the invention of the Flying Shuttle, patented by John Kay of Bury in 1733, and the opening of the Bridgewater canal in 1761 (to transport coal from Worsley). The first Spinning Jenny was built in 1764 by James Hargreaves of Standhill (near Blackburn), making the process of hand-loom weaving many times more productive. Demand for woven goods, now cheaper, increased, causing a shift in employment patterns away from agriculture. However this was still largely a cottage industry meaning we did not yet see mass migrations of people to the towns and cities to find work. In 1771 Cromford Mill was opened in Derbyshire, one of the first factories built to house machinery as opposed to just people. Built on the river Derwent, a water wheel was used to power the spinning frame (based on a design by millowner Richard Arkwright of Preston and a different John Kay of Warrington). However the most revolutionary innovation of the period was the Spinning Mule, invented by Samuel Compton of Hall i'th' Wood, Bolton in 1779, which used steam power rather than water. This meant that mills could be built anywhere where there was a good supply of labour and coal. Now it made sense to build large mills in the same place and concentrate the workforce there, creating incentives for people to move away from their families in the countryside and into the newly industrialised towns and cities to look for better paid work.
The Rochdale canal was opened in 1804 and Manchester, the largest market town in the region, grew as the centre for trading the cotton goods (commodities) produced in surrounding areas. Huge warehouses were built overlooking the meeting point of the two canals in the Castlefield basin (near Deansgate locks). Ancoats became the world's first industrial suburb. There were sporadic outbreaks of organised violence as hand-loom weavers destroyed machinery which they perceived as a threat to their livelihood. Whereas traditionally weavers had used flax and wool to produce textiles, cotton (grown in very warm and dry climates) proved a more durable and comfortable alternative. To meet the demand for raw cotton, American plantation owners in the deep south were using slave labour for the most mundane and backbreaking tasks of the cotton picking fields. It would then be shipped from New Orleans to Liverpool where it was transported by canal or horse-drawn cart to the buyers in Manchester who sold it on to the factories in the surrounding areas. Here it would be carded, spun and produced into textiles (or cloth or fabrics – incidentally, the Polish word for factory is fabryka). These manufactured cotton goods were then taken back to the warehouses in Manchester (from surrounding towns such as Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Stockport and as far afield as Accrington, Burnley, Blackburn and Preston). On top of the domestic demand for Manchester's cotton goods, there was also a massive interenational market accessible through the Port of Liverpool.
The Manchester – Liverpool axis was of crucial importance for the international cotton trade and it is no surprise that the greatest transport innovation of the period was pioneered here. The steam engine had been by revolutionized by Scottish engineer James Watt's designs in 1763. As we have seen, this was then applied to textile manufacture (Compton's Mule of 1779) and it was also used in deep mining for coal. But perhaps the most important application of steam power was the invention of George Stephenson's steam rail locomotive in 1814. The first steam railway was opened between Stockton and Darlington in 1825, a distance of 11 miles, however it was only used to carry coal and did not present any major engineering challenges. Of far greater significance was the world's first passenger railway system, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which covered a major trade route with a distance of over 30 miles. It was financed by a group of merchants from both cities (whilst Manchester was technically still a town at this point, it was in reality more of a bustling metropolis). After years of debate about the route permission was finally granted by parliament in 1826 to build the line. Construction took around three years and Stephenson had to overcome some engineering problems (crossing the unstable peat bog of Chat Moss, and building a nine-arched viaduct across the Sankey Valley and a two-mile long rock cutting at Olive Mount). The Rainhill trials were held in October 1829 and George Stephenson's Rocket was chosen to cover the route.
The line was opened on 15th September 1830, at a time when Britain was in the midst of one of the biggest political upheavels in its history. Electoral reform had been a major issue in the elections that year and the Reform Bill was about to begin its passage through Parliament (see Peterloo). The opening day was a major event and many politicians and dignitaries were in attendance, including the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington (famous for having commanded British forces at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815). But the festivities were marred with tragedy when William Huskinsson, the MP for Liverpool, was run over by Stephenson's Rocket as he was talking to the Prime Minister. The Duke's train was detached and the injured Huskinsson taken to Eccles where he later died in the vicarage. After the delay, a subdued procession made its way to Manchester but on arrival the Prime Minister was forced to stay on board the train because an angry mob had begun pelting it with missiles in protest against his opposition to electoral reform. Without alighting, the train returned to the relative safety of Liverpool in what must have been a humbling experience for the PM. The events of a dramatic and historic opening day were widely reported by the newspapers throughout Europe.
The line was a huge commercial success transporting 445,000 passengers in 1831. Receipts were £155,000 with profits of £70,000. By 1844 (when the passenger service re-routed to Victoria Station), receipts had reached almost £260,000 with profits of £135,000. Shareholders received a good return on their investment and Manchester was able to expand even further. The age of steam had arrived. By 1843 there were 2,000 miles of railway in England. This had increased to 5,000 miles by 1848 and was to exceed 23,000 by the end of the century. In addition to its evolving landscape of factories, warehouses and canals, Manchester (or 'Cottonopolis' as it had become known) was soon encircled by train stations: Liverpool Road (1830 – 1844), Salford (1838), Victoria (1839), London Road/Piccadilly (1842), Deansgate (1849), Oxford Road (1849), Manchester Central (1880 – 1969) and Manchester Exchange (1884 – 1969). Now part of the Museum of Science and Industry, Liverpool Road Station (which operated as a goods yard from 1844 until its closure in 1975) is the oldest terminal railway station in the world. Trains would play an important part in Manchester's history for many years to come. In 1878 a works team was formed by the Carriage and Wagon department at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot in Newton Heath. They achieved success locally and in 1892 entered the Football League wearing a green and gold kit. Struggling financially, they were taken over in 1902 by a local brewer John Henry Davies who decided that they should change their colours to red and white and their name to Manchester United. They won their first league title in 1908 and their first FA Cup in 1909. On 19th February 1910, the club played their first match at Old Trafford, losing 4-3 to Liverpool, with whom a great rivalry was to develop over the years. As of 2011 (with a record 19 league titles and a record 11 FA Cups), they are the most successful club in English football and one of the most well-known throughout the world.