Samuel Oldknow was born in 1756. After serving an apprenticeship in his uncle's draper's shop in Nottingham, he moved to Manchester where he became a cotton manufacturer. He purchased several spinning mules that had been invented by Samuel Crompton in 1779.
Oldknow's muslins sold well in London and the major northern towns and in 1785 he opened a new business in Stockport where he employed over 300 outwork weavers. Five years later he built a mill in the town using a Boulton & Watt steam engine for power. In 1793 he opened another mill in Mellor.
Oldknow's business declined in the trade depression of 1797-98 and he entered into partnership with Richard Arkwright. After that, Oldknow concentrated on running the mill at Mellor.
Samuel Oldknow died in 1828.