David Dale, the son of a grocer, was born in Stewarton, Ayrshire, in 1739. After his apprenticeship as a weaver in Paisley, Dale travelled the country as a agent buying up homespun linen.
After meeting Richard Arkwright in 1784, Dale decided to build his own cotton mill at New Lanark. The venture was a great success and further mills were built at Blantyre, Sutherland and Oban. To work his spinning machines, Dale employed hundreds of pauper children from workhouses in Edinburgh and Glasgow. By the 1790s over 2,000 people, including 500 children, lived in New Lanark village.
In 1799 Dale's daughter, Caroline Dale, married Robert Owen. With the financial support of several businessmen from Manchester, Owen purchased Dale's textile mills in New Lanark for £60,000. David Dale now retired to Cambuslang where he died in 1806.
Seventeen years ago, a number of individuals, with myself, purchased the New Lanark establishment from Mr. Dale. I found that there were 500 children, who had been taken from poor-houses, chiefly in Edinburgh, and those children were generally from the age of five and six, to seven to eight. The hours at that time were thirteen. Although these children were well fed their limbs were very generally deformed, their growth was stunted, and although one of the best schoolmasters was engaged to instruct these children regularly every night, in general they made very slow progress, even in learning the common alphabet. I came to the conclusion that the children were injured by being taken into the mills at this early age, and employed for so many hours; therefore, as soon as I had it in my power, I adopted regulations to put an end to a system which appeared to me to be so injurious.