The Strutt family's fame and fortune originated with Jedediah Strutt (1726-1797), inventor of the Derby rib machine. He was also Richard Arkwright's backer and partner as well as founder of a silk stocking firm in Derby and cotton-spinning mills at Belper and Milford.
From a farming background in South Normanton, Jedediah worked as a wheelwright before inventing the Derby rib machine for use on stocking knitting frames in 1756. Soon afterwards Jedediah and his brother William set up a silk stocking firm in Derby, selling mainly in London. The venture was successful enough for Jedediah to back Richard Arkwright and his invention, roller spinning, at Arkwright's Cromford mill from 1771.
By 1780 Strutt had built new cotton-spinning mills at Belper and Milford which operated separately from Arkwright. As the business grew Belper North Mill (1784-1786) and West Mill (1795) and Derby Calico Mill (1792-1793) were built as well as warehousing at Milford. Jedediah also built housing for his employees and was active in providing places of worship and education for them, especially in Belper. He also bought land in Derby, Belper, Milford, Makeney and Crich which formed the basis of the family's estate.
Jedediah's three sons all went into the family business with different areas of responsibility. William (1756-1830), based in Derby, was in charge of the technical side. His chief claim to fame was in connection with the design and construction of fireproof buildings. The Derby Calico Mill, Milford warehouse and Belper West Mill were all constructed to provide protection from the spread of fire, as was the rebuilt North Mill (1804). William was also active in Derby as a founder member of the Derby Philosophical Society and as designer and supporter of Derby Infirmary, as well as being involved in improvements to paving, lighting, bridges and other educational, social and practical developments. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1817. His son Edward (1801-1880) served as Member of Parliament for Derby 1830-1847 and was created 1st Lord Belper in 1856.
Jedediah's youngest son Joseph (1765-1844), also based in Derby, was responsible for the commercial side of the business. He was actively involved in town affairs, especially in education. With his nephew Edward he founded a Mechanics' Institution in Derby but he is particularly remembered for his gift of the Arboretum. He was the first non-conformist to serve as Mayor of Derby, taking office as the first mayor after the reform of the borough in 1835.
George Benson Strutt (1761-1841) was based in Belper with responsibility for running the mills and the estate. He continued the work of his father in ensuring that the workforce had adequate housing as well as arranging supplies of provisions for the growing populations around the mills. Education through schools and Sunday Schools and places of worship were also provided and supported. George was prominent in local affairs including the Belper Bank for Savings.
George Benson's son Jedediah (1785-1854) and grandson George Henry (1826-1895) continued the family's connection with the textile business. However, during the nineteenth century the family and individual members began to make money from investments in railways and mortgages rather than land or direct involvement in industry. In 1897-1898 the Belper and Milford mills became part of the English Sewing Cotton Company and the Derby Cotton Mill was demolished.
George Henry's son George Herbert (1854-1928) lived in Belper at the family home Bridge Hill House and at Makeney House and Brailsford Hall. He was active in Belper affairs, donating the River Gardens in 1904, a school in 1909, public baths including a swimming pool in 1910 and the Memorial Gardens in 1922. He also donated the offices for Belper Urban District Council, on which he served. He was a County Councillor from the beginning of Derbyshire County Council in 1889. He was involved in managing the family estate and various investments and still kept in touch with the textile business.
As the family became prominent throughout the nineteenth century, members served as Justices of the Peace, Sheriffs and Deputy Lieutenants for the county and as Mayors of Derby. They were active on many local government authorities at local and county level. Committed to charitable work especially in the fields of education and social welfare, they were in correspondence with many well-known figures. The early generations were closely connected to Unitarian chapels in Derby, Belper and Milford but later generations moved towards the established Church of England.