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The Textile System

The Textile System

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  • Domestic System
  • Handloom Weaving
  • Bleaching
  • Willowing
  • Cloth Dresser
  • Spinning
  • Carding
  • Cloth Merchants
  • The Fuller
  • Preemer Boy
  • Woollen Industry
  • Silk Industry
  • Cotton Industry
  • Linen Industry
  • Matthew Boulton
  • Edmund Cartwright
  • Samuel Crompton
  • James Hargreaves
  • Joseph Jacquard
  • John Kay
  • Charles Macintosh
  • George Macintosh
  • William Murdock
  • Matthew Murray
  • Lewis Paul
  • William Perkin
  • John Roebuck
  • Charles Tennant
  • James Watt
  • Joseph Whitworth
  • Flying Shuttle
  • Spinning Jenny
  • Spinning Mule
  • Water Frame
  • Willowing Machine
  • Cylinder Printing
  • Roller Spinning
  • Flax Spinner
  • Carding Engine
  • Rotary Steam Engine
  • Dash Wheels
  • Power Loom
  • Richard Arkwright
  • Thomas Ashton
  • John Bright
  • Richard Cobden
  • George Courtauld
  • Samuel Courtauld
  • David Dale
  • John Fielden
  • Joshua Fielden
  • Samuel Fielden
  • Thomas Fielden
  • Robert Hyde Greg
  • Samuel Greg
  • John Horrocks
  • William Houldsworth
  • Thomas Lombe
  • John Marshall
  • Samuel Oldknow
  • Robert Owen
  • John Owens
  • Robert Peel
  • William Radcliffe
  • John Rylands
  • Titus Salt
  • Jedediah Strutt
  • Peter Alfred Taylor
  • John Wood
  • Accidents
  • Apprentice Houses
  • Factory Pollution
  • Food in the Factory
  • Parish Apprentices
  • Physical Deformities
  • Piecers
  • Punishments
  • Scavengers
  • Working Hours
  • Charles Aberdeen
  • John Allett
  • Elizabeth Bentley
  • Stephen Binns
  • John Birley
  • Robert Blincoe
  • Hannah Brown
  • Mary Bucktrout
  • David Bywater
  • Sarah Carpenter
  • Matthew Crabtree
  • Alexander Dean
  • William Dodd
  • Jonathan Downe
  • Joseph Hebergram
  • William Hutton
  • Benjamin Gomersal
  • Eliza Marshall
  • James McNish
  • William Rastrick
  • David Rowland
  • Gillett Sharpe
  • Viscount Althorp
  • Lord Ashley
  • Edward Baines
  • Dr. William Blizard
  • William Bolling
  • John Bright
  • Archibald Buchanan
  • Richard Carlile
  • Lord Francis Egerton
  • John Doherty
  • Dr. Henry Hardie
  • Henry Hetherington
  • James Heywood
  • John Cam Hobhouse
  • Dr. Edward Holme
  • William James
  • Richard Oastler
  • Michael Sadler
  • Dr. Samuel Smith
  • Joseph Rayner Stephens
  • John Edward Taylor
  • Frances Trollope
  • Dr. Thomas Turner
  • Andrew Ure
  • Dr. Michael Ward
  • Dr. William Whatton
  • Abraham Whitehead
  • Dr. William Wilson

The Textile System - History

The British textile industry drove the Industrial Revolution, triggering advancements in technology, stimulating the coal and iron industries, boosting raw material imports, and improving transportation, which made Britain the global leader of industrialization, trade, and scientific innovation.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the British textile industry and its place in the global market before and after the Industrial Revolution

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Before the 17th century, the manufacture of textiles was performed on a limited scale by individual workers, usually on their own premises. Goods were transported around the country by clothiers who visited the village with their trains of packhorses. Some of the cloth was made into clothes for people living in the same area and a large amount of cloth was exported.
  • In the early 18th century, the British government passed two Calico Acts to protect the domestic woolen industry from the increasing amounts of cotton fabric imported from competitors in India. On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, spinning and weaving were still done in households, for domestic consumption, and as a cottage industry under the putting-out system. Occasionally the work was done in the workshop of a master weaver.
  • The key British industry at the beginning of the 18th century was the production of textiles made with wool from large sheep-farming areas. This was a labor-intensive activity providing employment throughout Britain. The export trade in woolen goods accounted for more than a quarter of British exports during most of the 18th century, doubling between 1701 and 1770. Exports by the cotton industry had grown tenfold during this time, but still accounted for only a tenth of the value of the wool trade.
  • Starting in the later part of the 18th century, mechanization of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques, and the increased use of refined coal began. Trade expansion was enabled by the introduction of canals, improved roads, and railways. Factories pulled thousands from low-productivity work in agriculture to high-productivity urban jobs.
  • Textiles have been identified as the catalyst of technological changes and thus their importance during the Industrial Revolution cannot be overstated. The application of steam power stimulated the demand for coal. The demand for machinery and rails stimulated the iron industry. The demand for transportation to move raw material in and finished products out stimulated the growth of the canal system, and (after 1830) the railway system.
  • From 1815 to 1870 Britain reaped the benefits of being the world’s first modern industrialized nation. If political conditions in a particular overseas market were stable, Britain could dominate its economy through free trade alone without resorting to formal rule or mercantilism. By 1820, 30% of Britain’s exports went to its Empire, rising slowly to 35% by 1910. Apart from coal and iron, most raw materials had to be imported. By 1900, Britain’s global share soared to 22.8% of total imports. By 1922, its global share soared to 14.9% of total exports and 28.8% of manufactured exports.

Key Terms

  • Calico Acts: Two legislative acts, one of 1700 and one of 1721, that banned the import of most cotton textiles into England, followed by the restriction of sale of most cotton textiles.
  • putting-out system: A means of subcontracting work, historically known as the workshop system and the domestic system, in which work is contracted by a central agent to subcontractors who complete the work in off-site facilities, either in their own homes or in workshops with multiple craftsmen.
  • cottage industry: A small-scale industry in which the creation of products and services is home-based rather than factory-based. It was a dominant form of production in prior to industrialization but continues to exist today. While products and services are often unique and distinctive, given that they are usually not mass-produced, producers in this sector often face numerous disadvantages when trying to compete with much larger factory-based companies.
  • mercantilism: An economic theory and practice dominant in Western Europe during the 16th to mid-19th centuries and a form of economic nationalism. Its goal was to enrich and empower the nation and state to the maximum degree by acquiring and retaining as much economic activity as possible within the nation’s borders. Manufacturing and industry, particularly of goods with military applications, was prioritized.

Pre-Industrial Textile Industry

Before the 17th century, the manufacture of goods was performed on a limited scale by individual workers, usually on their own premises. Goods were transported around the country by clothiers who visited the village with their trains of packhorses. Some was made into clothes for people living in the same area and a large amount was exported. In the early 18th century, artisans were inventing ways to become more productive. Silk, wool, fustian
(a cloth with flax warp and cotton weft), and linen were eclipsed by cotton, which was becoming the most important textile. This set the foundation for the changes.

In the early 18th century, the British government passed two Calico Acts to protect the domestic wool industry from the increasing amounts of cotton fabric imported from its competitors in India. On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, spinning and weaving were still done in households, for domestic consumption, and as a cottage industry under the putting-out system. Occasionally the work was done in the workshop of a master weaver. Under the putting-out system, home-based workers produced under contract to merchant sellers, who often supplied the raw materials. In the off season the women, typically farmers’ wives, did the spinning and the men did the weaving. Using the spinning wheel, it took anywhere from four to eight spinners to supply one hand loom weaver.

The key British industry at the beginning of the 18th century was the production of textiles made with wool from the large sheep-farming areas in the Midlands and across the country (created as a result of land-clearance and enclosure). This was a labor-intensive activity providing employment throughout Britain, with major centers in the West Country, Norwich and environs, and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The export trade in woolen goods accounted for more than a quarter of British exports during most of the 18th century, doubling between 1701 and 1770. Exports by the cotton industry – centered in Lancashire – grew tenfold during this time, but still accounted for only a tenth of the value of the woolen trade.

Industrial Revolution and Textiles

Starting in the later part of the 18th century, there was a transition in parts of Great Britain’s previously manual labor and draft animal-based economy toward machine-based manufacturing. It started with the mechanization of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques, and the increased use of refined coal. Trade expansion was enabled by the introduction of canals, improved roads, and railways. Factories pulled thousands from low-productivity work in agriculture to high-productivity urban jobs.

Textiles have been identified as the catalyst of technological changes and thus their importance during the Industrial Revolution cannot be overstated. The application of steam power stimulated the demand for coal. The demand for machinery and rails stimulated the iron industry. The demand for transportation to move raw material in and finished products out stimulated the growth of the canal system, and (after 1830) the railway system. The introduction of steam power fueled primarily by coal, wider utilization of water wheels, and powered machinery in textile manufacturing underpinned the dramatic increases in production capacity. The development of all-metal machine tools in the first two decades of the 19th century facilitated the manufacture of more production machines for manufacturing in other industries. The effects spread throughout Western Europe and North America during the 19th century, eventually affecting most of the world.

The invention of the flying shuttle by John Kay enabled wider cloth to be woven faster, but also created a demand for yarn that could not be fulfilled. Thus, the major technological advances associated with the Industrial Revolution were concerned with spinning. James Hargreaves created the spinning jenny, a device that could perform the work of a number of spinning wheels. However, while this invention could be operated by hand, the water frame, invented by Richard Arkwright, could be powered by a water wheel. Arkwright is credited with the widespread introduction of the factory system in Britain and is the first example of the successful mill owner and industrialist in British history. The water frame was, however, soon supplanted by the spinning mule (a cross between a water frame and a jenny) invented by Samuel Crompton. Mules were later constructed in iron.

Model of the spinning jenny in a museum in Wuppertal. Invented by James Hargreaves in 1764, the spinning jenny was one of the innovations that started the revolution.

In a period loosely dated from the 1770s to the 1820s, Britain experienced an accelerated process of economic change that transformed a largely agrarian economy into the world’s first industrial economy. The changes were far-reaching and permanent throughout many areas of Britain, eventually affecting the entire world.

The steam engine was invented and became a power supply that soon surpassed waterfalls and horsepower. The first practicable steam engine was invented by Thomas Newcomen and was used for pumping water out of mines. A much more powerful steam engine was invented by James Watt. It had a reciprocating engine capable of powering machinery. The first steam-driven textile mills began to appear in the last quarter of the 18th century, greatly contributing to the appearance and rapid growth of industrial towns.

The progress of the textile trade soon outstripped the original supplies of raw materials. By the turn of the 19th century, imported American cotton had replaced wool in the North West of England, although wool remained the chief textile in Yorkshire.

Such an unprecedented degree of economic growth was not sustained by domestic demand alone. The application of technology and the factory system created the levels of mass production and cost efficiency that enabled British manufacturers to export inexpensive cloth and other items worldwide. Britain’s position as the world’s preeminent trader helped fund research and experimentation. Further, some have stressed the importance of natural or financial resources that Britain received from its many overseas colonies or that profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean helped fuel industrial investment.

Global Leader

After 1840, Britain abandoned mercantilism and committed its economy to free trade with few barriers or tariffs. This was most evident in the repeal in 1846 of the Corn Laws, which imposed stiff tariffs on imported grain. The end of these laws opened the British market to unfettered competition, grain prices fell, and food became more plentiful.

From 1815 to 1870 Britain reaped the benefits of being the world’s first modern, industrialized nation. The British readily described their country as “the workshop of the world,” meaning that its finished goods were produced so efficiently and cheaply that they could often undersell comparable locally manufactured goods in almost any other market. If political conditions in a particular overseas market were stable enough, Britain could dominate its economy through free trade alone without resorting to formal rule or mercantilism. By 1820, 30% of Britain’s exports went to its Empire, rising slowly to 35% by 1910. Apart from coal and iron, most raw materials had to be imported so in the 1830s, the main imports were (in order): raw cotton (from the American South), sugar (from the West Indies), wool, silk, tea (from China), timber (from Canada), wine, flax, hides, and tallow. By 1900, Britain’s global share soared to 22.8% of total imports. By 1922, its global share soared to 14.9% of total exports and 28.8% of manufactured exports.

Textile Industry

Mildred Gwin Andrews, The Men and the Mills: A History of the Southern Textile Industry (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987).

Glenn T. Eskew, ed., Labor in the Modern South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001).

Gary M.Fink, The Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills Strike of 1914-1915: Espionage, Labor Conflict, and New South Industrial Relations (Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 1993).

Douglas Flamming, Creating the Modern South: Millhands and Managers in Dalton, Georgia, 1884-1984 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall et al., Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

Janet Irons, Testing the New Deal: The General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000).

Clifford M. Kuhn, Contesting the New South Order: The 1914-1915 Strike at Atlanta's Fulton Mills (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

Vicki Phillips, "The Thomaston Turnaround," Results (Winter 2003).

Jan Pogue, For One Glorious Purpose: Georgia Textiles: Our Heritage, Our Future (Atlanta: Georgia Textile Manufacturers Association, 2000).

Access options

1 The American Farmer, IX (October 12, 1827), 235.

2 The standard accounts of industrial slavery in the Old South include: Starobin , Robert S. , Industrial Slavery in the Old South ( New York , 1970 )Google Scholar , for the best overall, if sometimes over-stated, treatment of the subject Lewis , Ronald L. and Newton , James E. , eds., The Other Slaves: Mechanics, Artisans and Craftsmen ( Boston , 1978 )Google Scholar , which reprints articles and book chapters dealing with slavery in the salt industry (by John E. Stealey), in the tobacco factories (by Joseph C. Robert), and in the hemp industry (by James F. Hopkins), among other subjects. On the coal and iron industries, see Lewis , Ronald L. , Coal, Iron, and Slaves: Industrial Slavery in Maryland and Virginia, 1715–1865 ( Westport, Conn. , 1979 )Google Scholar Bradford , Samuel Sydney , “ The Negro Ironworker in Ante-Bellum Virginia ,” Journal of Southern History , 25 (May 1959 ), 194 – 206 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Dew , Charles B. , “ David Ross and the Oxford Iron Works A Study of Industrial Slavery in the Early Nineteenth-Century South ,” William and Mary Quarterly , 3rd series, 31 (April 1974 ), 189 – 224 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Dew , , “ Disciplining Slave Ironworkers in the Antebellum South: Coercion, Conciliation, and Accommodation ,” American Historical Review , 79 (April 1974 ), 393 – 418 .CrossRefGoogle Scholar On the textile industry, see Lander , Ernest M. Jr. , “ Slave Labor in South Carolina Cotton Mills ,” Journal of Negro History , 38 (April 1953 ), 161 – 173 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Preyer , Norris W. , “ The Historian, the Slave, and the Ante-Bellum Textile Industry ,” Journal of Negro History , 46 (April 1961 ), 67 – 82 .CrossRefGoogle Scholar On the economics of slavery and the textile industry compare Terrill , Tom E. , “ Eager Hands: Labor for Southern Textiles, 1850–1860 ,” Journal of Economic History , 36 (March 1976 ), 84 – 99 CrossRefGoogle Scholar , who argues for the “availability” and utility of free white labor and Wright , Gavin , “ Cheap Labor and Southern Textiles before 1880 ,” Journal of Economic History , 39 (September 1979 ), 655 – 680 CrossRefGoogle Scholar , who argues that the South did not have “cheap” labor, slave or free, before 1875. The literature on this subject is enormous and growing.

3 On early mills, see, for example, Lander , Ernest M. Jr. , Textile Industry in Antebellum South Carolina ( Baton Rouge , 1969 ), 3 – 49 Google Scholar Miller , Randall M. , The Cotton Mill Movement in Antebellum Alabama ( New York , 1978 ), 9 – 24 Google Scholar and Stokes , Allen H. Jr. , “Black and White Labor and the Development of the Southern Textile Industry, 1800–1920” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of South Carolina , 1977 ), 13 – 47 .Google Scholar On slaves' spinning and weaving: Henry Cheatam interview, W.P.A. Slave Narrative Collection, Alabama Narratives (Library of Congress) Mandy McCullough Cosby interview, ibid.

4 On later developments in the textile industry, see Lander, Textile Industry in Antebellum South Carolina, 50–98 Miller, Cotton Mill Movement in Alabama, 25–239 Stokes, “Black and White Labor,” 48–132. See also Griffin , Richard W. , “North Carolina, the Origin and Rise of the Cotton Textile Industry, 1830–1880” (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University , 1954 )Google Scholar Griffin and Standard , Diffee W. , “ The Cotton Textile Industry in Ante-bellum North Carolina, Part II: An Era of Boom and Consolidation, 1830–1860 ,” North Carolina Historical Review , 34 ( 1957 ), 131 – 164 Google Scholar and Griffin and Harold S. Wilson, “The Ante-bellum Textile Industry of Georgia” (unpublished manuscript).

5 On the coal and iron industries, see Lewis, Coal, Iron, and Slaves, 81–146 and Dew, “Disciplining Slave Ironworkers in the Antebellum South,” passim. Lewis's and Dew's interpretations have strongly infiuenced my work.

6 Donaldson quoted in Charles Fisher, “A Report on the Establishment of Cotton and Woolen Manufactures and on the Growing of Wool,” Legislative Papers, 1828 (North Carolina Department of Archives and History) Macon Telegraph, November 6, 1827 Niles' Register, 40 (1831), 282 Montgomery , James , A Practical Detail of the Cotton Manufacture of the United States ( Glasgow, Scotland , 1840 ), 192 Google Scholar Southern Quarterly Review, 8 (1845), 146 William Gregg, Essays on Domestic Industry [1845] reprinted in Tompkins , D.A. , Cotton Mill, Commerical Features ( Charlotte, N.C. , 1899 ), 215 .Google Scholar See also Augusta Georgia Courier, April 12, 1828 New York Herald Tribune, March 8, 1860.

7 Columbia (S.C.) Daily Telegraph, May 23, 1849 DeBow's Review, 9 (1850), 432–433. Poor management of the faetory, however, led to economic reverses. The company sold its slaves in 1853 to cover the mill's debts.

8 Moore , John Hebron , “ Mississippi's Ante-Bellum Textile Industry ,” Journal of Mississippi History , 16 ( 1954 ), 83 Google Scholar J. Hastings to James E. Calhoun, May 5, 1845, James Edward Calhoun (Colhoun) Papers (South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina) William B. Lenoir to Selina Lenoir, July 13, 1833, Lenoir Family Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

9 Thompson , Holland , From Cotton Field to Cotton Mill ( New York , 1906 ), 251 Google Scholar Lander, Textile Industry, 91 Griffin and Standard, “Cotton Textile Industry in Ante-Bellum North Carolina, Part II,” 140–141 Griffin and Wilson, “Ante-Bellum Textile Industry in Georgia,” chapter 2.

10 On importing foreign and northern workers, see, for example, Vicksburg Sentinel, November 11, 1844 Huntsville Southern Advocate, December 3, 1851 Lander, Textile Industry, 91–92.

11 The discussion of the “availability” and “cheapness” of white and slave labor follows Wright, “Cheap Labor and Southern Textiles.” On the tendency to retain skilled workers, see Goldin , Claudia , Urban Slavery in the American South, 1820–1860: A Quantitative History ( Chicago , 1976 ), 60 Google Scholar , who discovered a similar pattern in southern cities generally. The observations on slave hiring and skilled slaves are based on the records of the Tuscaloosa & Northport Manufacturing Company in the Robert Jemison, Jr. Papers (University of Alabama), the McGehee Papers pertaining to the Woodville Cotton Factory (Louisiana State University), the Roswell mill papers in the Barrington King Papers (University of Georgia), among other collections.

12 On the efforts to inculcate New England values see Miller , Randall M. , “ Daniel Pratt's Industrial Urbanism: The Cotton Mill Town in Antebellum Alabama ,” Alabama Historical Quarterly , 34 ( 1972 ), 5 – 35 Google Scholar Lander, Textile Industry, 60–61, 93–98. Olmsted , Frederick Law , A Journey in the Back Country ( London , 1860 ), 357Google Scholar Olmsted , , A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States ( New York , 1856 ), 356 , 547–548Google Scholar Fisher, “Report on the Establishment of Cotton and Woolen Manufactures” Camden (S.C.) Journal, November 10, 1827. On white operatives in general, see Griffin , Richard W. , “ Poor White Laborers in Southern Cotton Factories, 1789–1865 ,” South Carolina Historical Magazine , 51 ( 1960 ), 26 – 40 Google Scholar , who differs from my interpretation. On the tenacity of preindustrial values among workers newly recruited to industry, see Gutman , Herbert , “ Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America, 1815–1919 ,” American Historical Review , 78 ( 1973 ), 531 – 588 .CrossRefGoogle Scholar Gutman ignores the South in his discussion, but his judgments apply in many instances.

13 Mims , Shadrach , “History of Prattville,” in Tarrant , Susan F.H. , Hon. Daniel Pratt: A Biography with Eulogies on His Life and Character ( Richmond, Va. , 1904 ), 21 , 24–25Google Scholar Foster , M.F. , “Southern Cotton Manufacturing,” Transactions of the New England Manufacturers' Association , Number 68 (190), 164 – 167 Google Scholar Terrill, “Eager Hands,” 95–98.

14 On the arguments of manufacturers for white labor, see, for example, Miller, Cotton Mill Movement, 33–43, 93, 189–191. On black-white tensions, see Flanders , Ralph B. , Plantation Slavery in Georgia ( Chapel Hill , 1933 ), 205 Google Scholar Sir Lyell , Charles , A Second Visit to the United States ( 2 vols., London , 1849 ), II, 34 Google Scholar Thompson, From Cotton Field to Cotton Mill, 251 Terrill, “Eager Hands,” 87.

15 Miller, Cotton Mill Movement, 75–76, 209–212 DeBow's Review, 25 (1858), 717 Tuscaloosa Independent Monitor, September 24, 1857.

16 McGehee Papers, vol. I, 46, 74–75 Pensacola Gazette, September 13, 1845 Starobin, Industrial Slavery, 120. This pattern contrasts with Goldin's arguments about the elasticity and worth of immigrant and native white labor in southern cities Goldin, Urban Slavery in the American South, passim.

17 Wright, “Cheap Labor and Southern Textiles,” 658.

18 Mims , Shadrach , “ History of Autauga County ,” (ca. 1886) in Alabama Historical Quarterly , 8 ( 1946 ), 251 Google Scholar Frederika Bremer quoted in Starobin, Industrial Slavery, 49 Buckingham , James Silk , The Slave States of America ( 2 vols., London , 1842 ), II, 113 Google Scholar Barrington King Letterbook, June-August, 1847 and February-April, 1848, King Papers Fries , Adelaide L. et al., eds., Records of the Moravians in North Carolina ( 10 vols., Raleigh , 1922 – 1966 ), VIII, 4067 Google Scholar Cook , Harvey T. , The Life and Legacy of David Rogerson Williams ( New York , 1916 ), 142 .Google Scholar

19 Starobin, Industrial Slavery, 35–74.

20 D. Battle to R.H. Battle, September 19, 1844, Battle Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) Francis Fries Woolen Mill Diary, 1840–1842 (North Carolina Department of Archives and History) House Executive Document #6, 29th Congress, 1st Session (1845), 677. Samuel McAlister's Adams County, Mississippi, steam mill employed thirty blacks.

21 On the quality of American work, see the perceptive remarks of Wallace , Anthony F.C. , Rockdale: The Growth of tin American Village in the Early Industrial Revolution ( New York , 1978 ), 182 – 183 .Google Scholar

22 Patton, Donegan & Company to Peebles & Co., November 29, 1847, to Shepherd & Duncan, March 20, 1848, to Fearn, Donegan & Co., September 12, 1848, to James A. Patterson, September 16, 1848, Letterbook, Patton, Donegan and Company Papers (Huntsville Public Library).

23 See, for example, the time books in the Bell Factory File (Huntsville Public Library), the Graham Cotton Mill Papers (University of Kentucky), and the Woolley cotton and woolen mill accounts, Woolley Papers (University of Kentucky).

24 Fries et al., eds., Records of the Moravians, IX, 4734–4735, 4886, 4914, 4956 E.M. Holt Diary, entries for August 8, September 13, 1852, April 24, 1853 (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

25 Daybook and Inventory, 1837–1841, Graham Cotton Mill Papers John Ewing Colhoun Commonplace Book (Clemson University) Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, 15 (1846), 417 Columbia, S.C., Carolina Planter, July 22, 1840. See the daybooks and journals of the Warrior factory and the Tuscaloosa & Northport Manufacturing Company in the Jemison Papers Patton, Donegan & Co. to Robert Williams, April 1, 18, 1846, to Southwick & Co., August 31, 1846, to Haddock, Hesseltine & Co., December 11, 1847, Letterbook, Patton, Donegan and Company Papers Bell Factory File Roswell cotton factory accounts in Barrington King Papers.

26 William B. Lenoir to William Lenoir, December 27, 1834, Lenoir Family Papers Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, 15 (1846), 417 Miller, Cotton Mill Movement, 128–129, 205, 209, 109, 207 David R. Williams to James Chestnut, October 26, November 16, 1828, January 18, 1829, David R. Williams Papers (South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina).

27 On slave hiring contracts, see the Bell Factory File. On the proximity of mills to plantations, see John W. Fries, “Reminiscences of Confederate Days,” February, 1923, Fries Papers (North Carolina Department of Archives and History) Thompson, From Cotton Field to Cotton Mill, 251 David R. Williams to James Chestnut, November 16, 1828, Williams Papers.

28 Robert Jemison to J.S. Clements, March 18, 1852, Misc. Letters, D, 216, and to (?), May 12, 1845, Misc. Letters, B, 112, Jemison Papers.

29 John Topp to Robert L. Caruthers, January 25, 1839, and Andrew Allisan to Caruthers, January 7, 1842, Robert Looney Caruthers Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

30 On the master's advantages in using the overwork system see Starobin, Industrial Slavery, 104. Lewis, Coal, Iron, and Slaves, 112.

31 Dew, “Disciplining Ironworkers in the Antebellum South,” 407, makes this point for the iron industry it can be applied to the textile industry. For examples ol overpayments, see the accounts and ledgers of the Warrior factory and the Tuscaloosa & Northport Manufacturing Company in the Jemison Papers the accounts of the Roswell cotton factory in the King Papers and the accounts in the Woolley Mill Papers.

32 Stokes, “Black and White Labor,” 113 Francis Levin Fries Diary (typescript), passim (North Carolina Department of Archives and History) Cook, David Rogerson Williams, 140 David Williams to James Chestnut, November 16, 1828, Williams Papers, for the composition of the work force New York Herald Tribune, March 8, 1860.

The Textile System - History

Slater divided factory work into such simple steps that children aged four to ten could do it -- and did. While such child labor is anathema today, American children were traditionally put to work around the farm as soon as they could walk and Slater's family system proved popular.

Photos: (left) American Textile History Museum (right) Slater Mill

This industrial spy became the father of the American factory system.

English Factory Worker
Samuel Slater has been called the "father of the American factory system." He was born in Derbyshire, England on June 9, 1768. The son of a yeoman farmer, Slater went to work at an early age as an apprentice for the owner of a cotton mill. Eventually rising to the position of superintendent, he became intimately familiar with the mill machines designed by Richard Arkwright, a genius whose other advances included using water power to drive his machines and dividing labor among groups of workers.

Sneaky Departure
In 1789, Slater emigrated to the United States. He dreamed of making a fortune by helping to build a textile industry. He did so covertly: British law forbade textile workers to share technological information or to leave the country. Slater set foot in New York in late 1789, having memorized the details of Britain's innovative machines.

Rhode Island Mill
With the support of a Quaker merchant, Moses Brown, Slater built America's first water-powered cotton spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. By the end of 1790, it was up and running, with workers walking a treadmill to generate power. By 1791, a waterwheel drove the machinery that carded and spun cotton into thread.

America's Industrial Revolution
Slater employed families, including children, to live and work at the mill site. He quickly attracted workers. In 1803, Slater and his brother built a mill village they called Slatersville, also in Rhode Island. It included a large, modern mill, tenement houses for its workers, and a company store -- a small pocket of industry, a ready-made rural village. Slater's factory system became known as the Rhode Island System. It was soon imitated -- and improved upon by innovators like Francis Cabot Lowell -- throughout New England. Slater died in 1835.

Building America's Industrial Revolution: The Boott Cotton Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts (Teaching with Historic Places)

Like a medieval fortress or great cathedral, the structure dominates all that is around it. A great wall separates it from the Merrimack River. Within that rampart, thick, red brick walls, punctuated by windows of many shapes and sizes, rise from the ground, surrounding interior courtyard spaces that can be entered only by crossing a single bridge over the deep water of a canal. Brick or wood stair towers placed along the exterior of the walls provide the only means of entry to upper floors. A single bell tower dominates the central courtyard.

For more than 100 years the bell called people to this place on a daily basis, not to protect the city from invaders or to worship, but to work. The sounds from the complex were not those of battles or church choirs, but of machinery clanking and rumbling 10 to 14 hours a day. Rushing water ran water wheels and turbines, and bells constantly clanged to regulate life's daily activities. This was the Boott Cotton Mills complex at Lowell, Massachusetts. It was typical of what some call a "cathedral of industry" where people from all over the world toiled for the single purpose of mass-producing a consumer product: textiles.

The Boott Cotton Mills complex contains mills built from the mid-1830s to the early 20th century, reflecting the early use of waterpower, steam power, and finally electric power. Changes in technology and production capability influenced the development and appearance of the millyard over time. In essence, the Industrial Revolution's transformation of America from an agrarian-based society to an industrial society can be seen through the physical development of the Boott Cotton Mills from 1835 through the early 20th century. Today, the restored mill complex houses the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, a part of Lowell National Historical Park.

About This Lesson

This lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration file, "Lowell National Historical Park" (with photographs) and other source material about this millyard, as well as other industrial sites in Lowell. It was written by Stephen Stowell, a former Park Ranger, at Lowell National Historical Park who is now Administrator of the Lowell Historic Board. TwHP is sponsored, in part, by the Cultural Resources Training Initiative and Parks as Classrooms programs of the National Park Service. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into the classrooms across the country.

Where it fits into the curriculum

Topics: The lesson could be used in units on America's Industrial Revolution and in other related disciplines such as science and the history of technology. Students will strengthen their skills of observation, analysis, interpretation related to history, geography, the social sciences, and architecture.

Time period: Early to mid-19th century

United States History Standards for Grades 5-12

Building America's Industrial Revolution: The Boott Cotton Mills of Lowell, MA
relates to the following National Standards for History:

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801 to 1861)

Standard 2A- The student understands how the factory system and the transportation and market revolutions shaped regional patterns of economic development.

Standard 2B- The student understands the first era of American urbanization.

Standard 4C- The student understands changing gender roles and the ideas and activities of women reformers.

Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

(National Council for the Social Studies)

Building America's Industrial Revolution: The Boott Cotton Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts relates to the following Social Studies Standards:

Theme II: Time, Continuity and Change

Standard C - The student identifies and describes selected historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, such as the rise of civilizations, the development of transportation systems, the growth and breakdown of colonial systems, and others.

Standard D - The student identifies and uses processes important to reconstructing and reinterpreting the past, such as using a variety of sources, providing, validating, and weighing evidence for claims, checking credibility of sources, and searching for causality.

Theme III: People, Places, and Environment

Standard I - The student describes ways that historical events have been influenced by, and have influenced, physical and human geographic factors in local, regional, national, and global settings.

Theme VII: Production, Distribution, and Consumption

Standard A - The student gives and explains examples of ways that economic systems structure choices about how goods and services are to be produced and distributed.

Standard I - The student uses economic concepts to help explain historical and current developments and issues in local, national, or global contexts.

Theme VIII: Science, Technology, and Society

Standard B - The student shows through specific examples how science and technology have changed people's perceptions of the social and natural world, such as in their relationships to the land, animal life, family life, and economic needs, wants and security.

Standard C - The student describes examples in which values, beliefs, and attitudes have been influenced by new scientific and technological knowledge, such as the invention of the printing press, conceptions of the universe, applications of atomic energy, and genetic discoveries.

Objectives for students

1) To compare the initial and later power sources of the Boott Mills and explain why they changed.
2) To compare the appearance of earlier mills, such as Slater's Mill, with those constructed in the Boott millyard to see how industrial design changed over time.
3) To explain how function influenced mill design.
4) To discover how the Boott millyard was changed to increase production.
5) To identify the types of industry and industrial structures (factories, mines, bridges, dams, canals, etc.) that exist in their own community or region and to explore how these industries were alike and different from the Boott Cotton Mills.

Materials for students

The materials listed below either can be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger, high-resolution version.
1) Two maps of Massachusetts and Lowell's canal system
2) Three readings compiled from historic studies and primary documentation on the physical and technological development of the Boott millyard
3) Five drawings that illustrate the evolution of the site
4) One historic photo of the Boott Mill complex.

Visiting the site

Lowell National Historical Park, administered by the National Park Service, is located 30 miles northwest of Boston, Massachusetts. The park includes historic cotton textile mills, 5.6 miles of canals, operating gatehouses, and worker housing. Trolley and boat tours run seasonally, while interactive education programs are presented in cooperation with the University of Massachusetts, Lowell's Tsongas Industrial History Center during the school year. The Boott Cotton Mills Museum includes an operating early 20th-century mill weave room of 88 power looms. The Working People Exhibit is located in a former mill boardinghouse. The park is closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. For more information, contact the Superintendent, Lowell National Historical Park, 169 Merrimack Street, Lowell, Massachusetts 01852, or visit the park's web pages.

Getting Started

Inquiry Question

(Courtesy of American Textile History Museum, Lowell, Mass.)

What might this structure be?

What product do you think it produced?

Setting the Stage

The Boott Cotton Mills, constructed from 1835-c. 1910, was one of many cotton textile mill complexes established in the growing city of Lowell, Massachusetts. It represents one of the oldest surviving textile mill complexes in the United States. Boott Cotton Mills' buildings were products of the earliest large-scale industrial planning project in America and were developed by the same industrialists who founded the city of Lowell. Among the planners was Kirk Boott, first agent of the initial textile company in Lowell, for whom the Boott Mills are named.

The Boott millyard is regarded as one of the most architecturally significant millyards in the United States. The four mills and the counting house were constructed in the 1830s. They survive as part of an interconnected series of mill buildings built over a 75-year period. The Boott millyard illustrates the development of a single textile company in the early years of America's Industrial Revolution and how it paralleled the rise and decline of the Northern textile industry.

Locating the Site

Map 1: Massachusetts & surrounding region.

Questions for Map 1

1. Note the location of Lowell, Massachusetts. How do you think raw materials needed for textile manufacture and finished textiles were transported between Lowell and Boston as well as other cities in the 19th century?

Locating the Site

Map 2: Lowell's canal system in 1850.

(Lowell National Historical Park)

In planning Lowell, the primary objective was to place each mill in a location to take advantage of waterpower. The sites chosen were contained within or adjacent to the eastern half of an irregularly shaped island formed by the Merrimack River and the Pawtucket Canal. Feeder canals were extended from the Pawtucket Canal to the mill sites which were located parallel to either the river or canals. Power was transmitted from the canals to the mills first by water wheels and later by the more efficient water turbines that began to be installed by the late 1840s. By the late 1830s, increased demands for waterpower were beginning to produce shortages. Continued industrial growth was contingent upon an increased supply of waterpower. In 1847 the construction of the Northern Canal, an alternative waterway connecting the Merrimack River to the Western Canal, improved the quantity and efficiency of waterpower and prompted further growth in the productive capacity of Lowell.¹

Questions for Map 2
1. Locate Boott Mills. Between what two waterways was the Boott Mills complex situated?

2. How many mill complexes are indicated on the map? How many of these were constructed before Boott Mills? What does this indicate about Lowell's importance as an industrial site?

¹Adapted from Charles Parrott, Industrial Heritage 1984 Guidebook: Lowell Excursion, The Fifth International Conference on the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage, 1984.

Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Industrial Development of Lowell

In 1814 on the Charles River in Waltham, Massachusetts, a group of Boston investors introduced the first integrated cotton textile mill. Here each step in the production of cloth from bale to bolt took place under one roof with machinery powered by water. Management also turned to an innovative source of labor, the daughters of New England Yankee farmers. The success of the "Waltham Experiment" encouraged investors to explore other sites on which to expand and print calico cloth. In 1821, they chose an area around the Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River at East Chelmsford, Massachusetts. This site became Lowell, the first large, planned, industrial city in America. The system of factories and power canals created here surpassed previous engineering schemes in both scale and level of sophistication.

At the Pawtucket Falls, the Merrimack River fell 32 feet over a series of drops and rapids in the space of one-half mile. In 1796, a company called the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on Merrimack River built the Pawtucket Canal, as a transportation canal, to bypass these falls. The Boston investors purchased the Proprietors of Locks and Canals and some 250 acres of adjacent farmland for development in 1821. Between 1822 and 1848, they rebuilt Pawtucket Canal into a feeder canal. They planned and constructed a dam at the head of the falls, seven power canals, and 10 large companies consisting of more than 50 mill buildings, including two print works, a bleachery, and a machine shop. They also provided schools, churches, libraries, and housing for their workers. During this period, Lowell's population grew from about 2,500 to 33,000.

Lowell became America's model industrial city during the first half of the 19th century. Lowell offered the hope that the country would profit socially as well as economically by adopting industrialism as a way of life. The early Lowell system was distinguished by its state-of-the-art technology, the engineers and inventors who worked on its canal system, its mill architecture, enormous production capabilities, rational city planning, and most of all, by its much-heralded workforce of Yankee "mill girls."

Throughout the 19th century wave after wave of immigrants--Irish, French-Canadian, Greeks, Polish, and Portuguese--arrived in Lowell looking for job opportunities in the expanding textile industry. During this period Massachusetts implemented reform legislation affecting child labor, education, and working conditions which cut investors' profit margins. In the 1920s rather than reinvesting in aging Northern textile factories with high taxes, union labor, and expensive transportation costs, investors turned to new textile plants in the South. As a result many of the textile companies in Lowell closed or moved south. A few companies diversified or produced specialized products. After the 1920s, except for occasional economic boons such as World War II, Lowell experienced some of the highest unemployment rates in the country until the 1970s.

Lowell is not, as is sometimes claimed, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in America. Most of the developments associated with this phenomenon in the nation's history had their origins elsewhere. But it was at Lowell that these developments converged in a way that made them revolutionary. New forms of technology, power generation, finance, labor, and industrial organization were combined on a scale that foreshadowed today's industrialized and urbanized society.

Questions for Reading 1
1. What conditions at the Merrimack River did Lowell's early industrialists use to their advantage?
2. Besides mills, what were other important elements of the industrial planning at Lowell?
3. What were some of the reasons for the decline of the Lowell textile mills?

Reading 1 was compiled from Charles Parrott, Industrial Heritage 1984 Guidebook: Lowell Excursion, The Fifth International Conference on the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage, 1984 and Robert Weible, "Lowell National Historical Park" (Middlesex County, Massachusetts) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1985.

Determining the Facts

Reading 2: The Mill as a System

The typical Lowell textile mill consisted of an integrated sequence of mechanized processes which transformed raw cotton into finished cloth. The system drew on diverse people and skills to make it work. Factory owners, workers, agents, overseers, machinists, millwrights, checkers, and boardinghouse keepers together with machine belts, shafting, water wheels, turbines, lighting and fire safety equipment, even the building itself were all parts of an immense and complex process of interrelated functions. Viewed in its broadest perspective, the Lowell factory system reached far beyond the city limits. Vital raw material was shipped from the American South, and finished textile products could be found in all sections of the United States, Europe, Central America, Canada, and even China. Included in this system, broadly conceived, were railroad workers, seamen, plantation owners, slaves, sales agents, retail merchants, and cotton factors. From a more limited perspective, the factory system encompassed every aspect of activity confined within the walls of a given mill.

Two central components of the Boott Mills, and others like the Boott, were the power system and the production system. There were several other subsystems such as communications, lighting, heat and humidity, sanitation and safety, fire prevention, transportation, maintenance and repair, machine building, architecture and construction, management, and labor which were vital parts of the whole. Changes in these subsystems affected both power and production in turn, innovations in either the power system or the production system affected the subsystems. As a result, many of the innovations and changes inherent in the founding and development of the factory system brought unanticipated consequences. The factory system was a process where change was the order of the day and in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

Questions for Reading 2
1. What was the end product of the mill system? How do you think this product was made before mills were built?
2. In the broadest sense, the mill system stretched far beyond a single factory or factory complex. What outside forces had an impact on the functioning of the mill?
3. In addition to the power and production systems, what other subsystems were vital parts of the mill?

Reading 2 was adapted from the "Mill As A System: Developing the Interpretive Program and Three Historical Essays on 19th Century Lowell," unpublished exhibit planning report for the Boott Mills Area, Lowell National Historical Park, by the Center for History Now, Williamsburg, Virginia, September 1983.

Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Forms and Structures of the Textile Industry

The Rhode Island System
In the United States, the first use of waterpowered spinning frames was at Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Additional mills based on the pattern of Slater Mill were quickly built. Usually referred to as the "Rhode Island System," these mills borrowed heavily from standard English patterns, especially that of spinning in a factory and "putting out" the spun yarn to be woven into cloth at workers' homes. The spinning mills were housed in a variety of building types that were usually based on contemporary house types and buildings used for light industry in the region. Their appearance did not directly relate to the manufacturing activity they contained. Slater Mill was typical of early Rhode Island mills. It used traditional building construction forms and techniques to meet the requirements of the evolving industry. Early wooden mills like Slater were replaced in the early 1800s by somewhat larger structures of either rubble stone or granite block with interior wood framing. They still looked like large houses, but they were more solid and provided better protection against the danger of fire.

The Mills at Waltham
Francis Cabot Lowell and his circle of Boston friends were the first to improve upon the design and organization of the early New England textile mills. Lowell's Boston Manufacturing Company was producing cloth by 1815, utilizing power looms he had developed after observing similar machines in British factories. That mill at Waltham, Massachusetts, was the first vertically integrated factory in the United States, which means that all operations for cloth production were accomplished under one roof. Construction of the second mill at Waltham in 1816-1818 completed the evolution of the physical form, structural system, and construction technique that later would be used in Lowell.

The standard Waltham plan was rectangular, 150'-160' long (reflecting the dependability of interior overhead line shafting) by 40'-50' wide (the optimum for spaces relying on exterior windows for natural light). The four stories of open floor space had a dormer-lit gable roof, brick construction with stone foundations, and a full-height exterior stair tower centered in one of the long elevations. Initially, these mills were built either as a series of similar structures, or constructed so they could easily be expanded.

The Boott Cotton Mills
Built in the 1830s, the four original Boott mill buildings reflected the typical Waltham mill structure. The four rectangular brick "boxes" each had four stories and a dormer-lit attic, water wheels, and a basement. Stair towers centrally located on the exterior of each building provided access to upper floors.

As the century progressed, new technologies affected the millyard's development. Structures were added. The development of new means of fire protection such as ceiling sprinklers and better lineshafting to run machinery reduced the danger of fires spreading, allowing existing buildings to be connected. As sources of artificial lighting were introduced, the original width of buildings was increased. The introduction of steam power made it possible to construct several additional large buildings. The complex demonstrates the challenges of expanding on an increasingly restrictive site, bounded by a canal and a river. The Boott Mill complex is one of the few corporations at Lowell that managed to expand on its site while retaining and enhancing the architectural quality of the millyard.

Questions for Reading 3
1. Where had industrial development begun in the United States before Lowell was established?
2. How were the operations of Slater Mill different from those of the Boston Manufacturing Company?
3. Why was brick considered a better construction material for a mill than wood?
4. Why do you think the stair towers were placed on the exterior of the mill?

Reading 3 was compiled and adapted from Laurence F. Gross and Russell A. Wright, "Historic Structure Report-History Portion, Boott Mill Complex, Lowell National Historical Park," Lowell, MA: National Park Service, 1985 and Robert Weible, "Lowell National Historical Park" (Middlesex County, Massachusetts) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1985.

Visual Evidence

Drawing 1: Transverse view of Manville Company's No. 3 Mill, Manville, RI, 1874.

(Courtesy of American Textile History Museum, Lowell, Mass.)

Drawing 1 is a transverse view of a typical textile mill with turbines. Transmission of power from water wheels or turbines was achieved by a direct drive system. Water was funneled from the canal down into the mill through an intake known as a penstock (see upper row of arches and dashed lines on Drawing 4). The water from the higher level fell, turning the turbine (1), and then returned to the river (2) or to another canal via lower level tunnels called tailraces (see lower row of arches and dashed lines on Drawing 4). Power was then transferred upstairs through the complex series of gears (3), wheels (4), and belts shown. Eventually the power turned the overhead line shafts (5) on each floor. Individual leather belts (6) running on pulleys connected each individual textile machine (7) to the line shafts.

Questions for Drawing 1

1. Identify all of the numbered items on the drawing.

2. How was water used to create power for the mills?

3. What seasonal problems might water-powered mills like the Boott have encountered?

Visual Evidence

Drawing 2: Conjectural drawing of Almy, Brown, and Slater's Mill, 1793.

(Courtesy Old Slater Mill Association)

(Lowell National Historical Park Kirk Doggett, Illustrator)

Photo 1: Boott Cotton Mills, March 1928

(University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History)

Many factors influenced factory design. When the first mills in the Boott millyard were constructed in the 1830s, they reflected the standard type of factory construction for the times. Drawing 3 and Photo 1 show similar views of the Boott millyard approximately 75 years apart. Several of the original freestanding Boott mills appear to the left in Drawing 3. Secondary buildings, the canal, and boardinghouses for workers appear to the right.

Questions for Drawings 2, 3, & Photo 1

1. Many Americans were influenced by negative public opinion about industry in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. Which of the two mill designs shown in Drawings 2 and 3 do you feel would blend into the existing American landscape better and be a less threatening industrial form? Explain.

2. Based on what you already know, which type of mill looks as if it would better withstand machinery vibrations and better guard against fire? Explain.

3. What reasons can you give for constructing larger mills like those shown in Drawing 3?

4. Compare and contrast Drawing 3 and Photo 1. What features shown in the drawing do you see in the photo? What are some of the changes that appear to have taken place over time?

5. What evidence of a new source of power for the Boott Mills can be detected in Photo 1?

Visual Evidence

Drawing 4: Original plan of Boott millyard.

(Lowell National Historical Park Nicholas Wyman, Illustrator)

(Timothy Short-Russell, Boott Mills Recording Project, Historic American Engineering Record, 1986)

Originally, the Boott millyard was more open. The mills were freestanding and had individual tunnels known as penstocks delivering water from the canal to the mill's water wheels. Tailraces would then return the water to the river (the penstocks and tailraces are indicated by dashed lines on Drawing 4). Eventually, newer, larger mills were built as shown in Drawing 5. New sources of power are also evident (the powerhouse in Drawing 5). Steam and electricity allowed the millyard to expand and run more efficiently.

Questions for Drawings 4 & 5

1. Compare and contrast the two drawings. Highlight the original mills still evident in Drawing 5.

2. Based on what you already know, what did these four original mills look like? Why were they separated? Why were they later able to be connected?

3. Look at all that has been built up around the original mills. What might explain this construction?

4. What two sources of power for the mills are evident in the drawings? Which one allowed the mill to run more efficiently?

Putting It All Together

The Boott Mills were part of a larger industrial complex in Lowell. Like any system that has many subsystems, the Boott was just one part of a whole. By looking at what influenced the development of the Boott millyard, students can more easily understand the workings of the industrial system at Lowell.

Activity 1: Role Play
Construction of industrial sites moved at a rapid pace in the first years of the development of Lowell. Have students assume the roles of local farmers and villagers taking part in a town meeting. Based on what they have read and the visual material they have studied, have them consider the amount of construction that took place in Lowell's early years. Have several students make short speeches describing 1) the frenzied pace of construction, 2) their reaction to the types of activities they have witnessed, and 3) the changes to the land. Now have several other students discuss what would happen to their current ways of life if their own neighborhoods suddenly underwent such rapid and dramatic changes.

Activity 2: Building a Mill
Many materials were needed for the construction of a mill such as the Boott. Have students compile a list of the basic things necessary to build a mill (construction materials, equipment, and people). Remind them that early in Lowell's history there were no cranes or steam shovels. Ask them to speculate on how a four- or five-story mill building would have been constructed--for example, how would you move heavy bricks to upper portions of a wall or how would you dig a deep canal for waterpower? Discuss the lists to elicit understanding of the complexity of industrial start-up. (You may wish to have an architectural historian or someone in the building trades discuss the lists with the students.) Students who are particularly interested in how textile mills were constructed and operated might elect to build a three-dimensional model of a mill and explain what would be a proper location for it. David McCauley's Mill (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983) is a particularly useful source for this activity.

Activity 3: The Mill as a System
A system is defined as a group of interacting elements forming a collective entity. The Boott Mills complex is an example of the mill as a system. Power, people, machinery, capital, and many distinct subsystems came together to produce textiles. A school is also a system with many subsystems coming together to create the eventual product: educated persons. Have students identify the elements (people, places, objects, outside elements, etc.) that come together to produce a school system. Have students think again of what they learned from Reading 2, "The Mill as a System," and have them list internal and external forces that affected the smooth running of the operation. Then have students make a list of positive and negative forces that act on a school system. Have them develop a plan for action that might moderate negative forces.

Activity 4: Local Industrial Development
Each community has its own history. Much of the information in this lesson has come from local documents, historic photographs and sketches, and local histories. Although your community may not have had a textile mill like the Boott Cotton Mills, other historic industries may have helped your community prosper. Have the students research their own community to discover what industries were important to the growth of the area. Ask your students to choose a local industry or business historically important to their community and, in essays or oral presentations, report on when it started, how long it existed, and its contribution to the local economy. Also have students compare the local industry to a textile mill such as Boott. Have them determine if the local industry is similar to or different from the industries in Lowell. Ask them to include information about what conditions supported the development of their local industry and explore why that particular industry has or has not remained in the region.

Building America's Industrial Revolution: The Boott Cotton Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts-- Supplementary Resources

By looking at Building America's Industrial Revolution: The Boott Cotton Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, including what influenced the development of the Boott millyard, students can more easily understand the workings of the industrial system at Lowell. Those interested in learning more will find that the Internet offers a variety of materials.

Lowell National Historical Park
Lowell National Historical Park is a unit of the National Park System. The park's web page details the history of the park and visitation information. The site also offers a photographic tour of Lowell in the page titled "Images of Lowell."

Places Where Women Made History
The National Register of Historic Places, a division of the National Park Service, offers a travel itinerary on Places Where Women Made History. The site features Lowell National Historical Park as an example of how the Industrial Revolution produced a new way of life for American women.

Center for Lowell History
The University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History offers a wealth of information about Lowell, Massachusetts. Included on the site is special collection called "The Blue Plate Special: An eclectic View of the Lowell Historical Society's Collection" and a comprehensive "links" page that directs you to archives, timelines, research topics, and much more.

Slater Mill
Slater Mill Historic Site provides an overview of the site as well as the story of Samuel Slater.

Modern History Sourcebook
The Modern History Sourcebook is one of a series of internet history primary sourcebooks created by the History Department of Fordham University in New York. Included on their web page is account of Harriet Robinson as a "Lowell mill girl."

Lowell Mill Girls and the Rhetoric of Women's Labor Unrest
Lowell Mill Girls and the Rhetoric of Women's Labor Unrest is an essay examining impact of the Industrial Revolution on working women. The essay was written by Catherine Lavender at the Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York.

For Further Reading
For further reading about the development of the textile mills in Lowell and America's Industrial Revolution consider the following useful works: David Macauley, Mill (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983) and William H. Pierson, American Buildings and Their Architects: Technology and the Picturesque, the Corporate and the Early gothic Styles (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1978). Sources for related topics include Thomas Dublin, Farm to Factory: Women's Letters 1830-1860 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981 revised edition, 1993) which includes primary sources related to Lowell's early women mill workers and Katherine Patterson, Lyddie (New York: Lodestar Books, 1991) which is a historic novel based on factual accounts of Lowell's "mill girls."

Whilst following my Family History I found part of my family who emigrated in 1910 to New Bedford. They were Cotton Weavers e.t.c from Preston Lancashire.
I was told that a lot of Lancashire people followed this track.
I am now trying to get history about New Bedford and the Textile Industry and that is how I came across your information. I live in Australia.
Thanks Val

y husband’s grandfather was a manager,or “overseer” ,possibly an engineer of sorts at a Worcester mill. There is a possibly apocryphal story that he was involved in the design of machinery to make parachutes,and volunteered to test them when he was in his 50s or 6os. Is there any way to research this?

I honestly have no idea. Information like this would probably be in the company’s records, wherever those are. It would help if you knew the name of the mill he worked for and then you could try to find its records somewhere, if they still exist.


Success in the textile industry was never permanent in the early modern world, and even the seemingly most secure industrial cities could watch their predominance and control of trade decline precipitously. Survival and growth depended on a host of factors: access to raw materials, including raw wool and chemicals for dyeing labor supply access to trade routes and transportation systems, including ships and overland carriages changing political allegiances warfare access to water for washing and fulling demographic growth or stagnation consumer demand government laws and guild regulations entrepreneurship and fluctuating international markets.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, combinations of these factors inaugurated a series of important changes in the textile industry. Flanders, northern Italy, and southern Germany lost their dominance of woolen production to England, the Netherlands, and the Walloon region between the Meuse and Rhine Rivers. The woolen industries of Lille and Hondschoote disappeared rapidly. Venice, the largest producer of luxury broadcloths in the sixteenth century, saw its woolen industry wither away. One region's loss was often another's gain. England's woolen and worsted industries grew markedly with the government's decision to stop exporting wool fleeces in 1660. Leiden, adapting to a growing demand for lighter-weight fabrics, grew from a town of 12,000 in 1600 to a city of 80,000 in 1640, and then was outstripped by the nearby cities of Li è ge and Verviers, where labor costs were lower.

Often, the key to success was adaptability, especially in the eighteenth century. The economic downturn of the seventeenth century and changing consumer tastes had dampened demand for luxury woolens. Regions that had access to a variety of wool thread and flax or cotton began to produce "the new draperies," hybrid cloths made of both long and short staple wool (serges and says), wool and flax, wool and cotton, and cotton and flax (fustians and siamoises — that is, cotton and linen fabric produced in Normandy). Worsted production also profited from the demand for lighter-weight cloth.

Cotton fabrics from India and the Levant arrived in Europe in the sixteenth century or earlier. By the eighteenth century, the Dutch and English East India Companies began to import substantial amounts of pure cotton cloth (calicoes) from India and the Levant to Europe. To protect the woolen industry, England forbade the importation of pure cotton cloth in 1700. Other countries followed suit. Raw cotton and cotton thread continued to arrive, however, imported not only from the Middle East and India, but also, beginning in the early eighteenth century, from the West Indies. The woolen industry remained the largest of the textile industries throughout the eighteenth century, but the market for cotton and linen fabric grew as fast as or faster than the supply of raw cotton. (Europeans were unable to spin cotton thread that was strong enough for warp threads until the introduction of the spinning frame in the 1770s.) The markets for these hybrid cloths of relatively modest quality were substantially different from those for woolen broadcloths. Many cloths were sent to Africa others were purchased by European peasants, farmers, and urban workers. In both cases, the more brightly colored the cloth, the more it resembled the illegal calicoes and the more popular it was.

In English and Continental cities, woolen and worsted production continued to increase in the eighteenth century, despite the competition of the new draperies. In England this growth was fostered by the creation of urban cloth halls where the clothiers who oversaw the manufacturing of cloth sold their wares to merchants who, in turn, oversaw the finishing, transportation, and marketing of them. The most dynamic sector of the textile industry, however, was in cotton. The supply of raw cotton was far more elastic than the supply of wool and hence less expensive to purchase even though it had to be imported from Asia or the Western Hemisphere. The bulk of the heretofore untapped markets for European textiles lay in warm or temperate zones with hot summers — North America, Africa, south and east Asia, and the West Indies, where lightweight cloths were clearly more desired than heavy woolens.

The textile industry is a group of related industries which uses a variety of natural fibers such as Cotton, kapok, fique, sisal, banana, agave, flax, jute, kenaf, hemp, ramie, rattan, vine, wool, coir, asbestos, sheep’s wool, cashmere goat hair, mohair goat hair, alpaca hair, horse hair, silk etc. and/or synthetic fibres such as polyamide nylon, PET or PBT polyester, phenol-formaldehyde (PF), polyvinyl alcohol fiber (PVA), polyvinyl chloride fiber (PVC), polyolefins (PP and PE), acrylic polyesters, aramids, polyethylene (PE), Elastomers, spandex, polyurethane etc.

Subdivision of the textile industry into its various components can be approached from several angles. According to reference, the classical method of categorizing the industry involves grouping the manufacturing plants according to the fibre being processed, that is, cotton, wool, or synthetics.

The modern approach to textile industry categorization, however, involves grouping the manufacturing plants according to their particular operation such as crocheting and pressing the fibers, spinning, weaving, knitting, knotting, apparel making, etc.

New innovations in clothing production, manufacture and design came during the Industrial Revolution – these new wheels, looms, and spinning processes changed clothing manufacture forever.

The ‘rag trade’, as it is referred to in the UK and Australia is the manufacture, trade and distribution of textiles.

There were various stages – from a historical perspective – where the textile industry evolved from being a domestic small-scale industry, to the status of supremacy it currently holds. The ‘cottage stage’ was the first stage in its history where textiles were produced on a domestic basis.

During this period cloth was made from materials including wool, flax and cotton. The material depended on the area where the cloth was being produced, and the time they were being made.

Occupational health hazards and respiratory problems faced by the textile workers

In the later half of the medieval period in the northern parts of Europe, cotton came to be regarded as an imported fiber. During the later phases of the 16th century cotton was grown in the warmer climes of America and Asia. When the Romans ruled, wool, leather and linen were the materials used for making clothing in Europe, while flax was the primary material used in the northern parts of Europe.

During this era, excess cloth was bought by the merchants who visited various areas to procure these left-over pieces. A variety of processes and innovations were implemented for the purpose of making clothing during this time. These processes were dependent on the material being used, but there were three basic steps commonly employed in making clothing. These steps included preparing material fibers for the purpose of spinning, knitting and weaving.

During the Industrial Revolution, new machines such as spinning wheels and handlooms came into the picture. Making clothing material quickly became an organized industry – as compared to the domesticated activity it had been associated with before. A number of new innovations led to the industrialization of the textile industry in Great Britain. Clothing manufactured during the Industrial Revolution formed a big part of the exports made by Great Britain. They accounted for almost 25% of the total exports made at that time, doubling in the period between 1701 and 1770.

The center of the cotton industry in Great Britain was Lancashire – and the amount exported from 1701 to 1770 had grown ten times. However, wool was the major export item at this point of time.

In the Industrial Revolution era, a lot of effort was made to increase the speed of the production through inventions such as the flying shuttle in 1733, the flyer-and-bobbin system, and the Roller Spinning machine by John Wyatt and Lewis Paul in 1738.

Lewis Paul later came up with the carding machine in 1748 and in 1764 the spinning jenny was also developed. The water frame was invented in 1771 by Richard Arkwright. The power loom was invented in 1784 by Edmund Cartwright.

In the initial phases, textile mills were located in and around the rivers since they were powered by water wheels. After the steam engine was invented, the dependence on the rivers ceased to a great extent. In the later phases of the 20th century, shuttles that were used in the textile industry were developed and became faster and thus more efficient. This led to the replacement of the older shuttles with the new ones.

Today, modern techniques, electronics and innovation have led to a competitive, low-priced textile industry offering almost any type of cloth or design a person could desire. With its low cost labour base, China has come to dominate the global textile industry.

Patent Models: Textile and Sewing Machines

For much of the nineteenth century, inventors submitted a model with their patent application to the United States Patent Office. The National Museum of American History&rsquos patent model collection began with the acquisition of 284 models from the Patent Office in June 1908, and reached more than 1,000 models by the end of that summer. In 1926, Congress decided to dispense with the stored collection of models and gave the Smithsonian Institution the opportunity to collect any models it wanted. Today, the Museum&rsquos collection exceeds 10,000 patent models dating from 1836 to 1910.

The Museum&rsquos Textile Collection contains over four thousand patent models. The collection includes many examples of carding machines, spinning machines, knitting machines, rope making machines, looms, baskets, carpets, fabrics, and sewing machines. Even the simple clothespin is well represented, with 41 patent models.

This sampling of patent models from the Textile Collection describes the two major groupings, textile machinery and sewing machines. In both groups, the examination of the models begins with the earliest of the inventions. In this early group of patent models, the textile machinery models date from 1837 to 1840, and the sewing machine models from 1842 to 1854.

The Textile Mills of Rhode Island

From the early 1800’s to the Great Depression of the 1930’s, much of the South’s cotton was sold to Rhode Island, where textile mills dominated the urban landscape.

While agriculture was the priority of the early Rhode Island settlers and continued to play an important role in the economy, textile production was the industry that shaped the young state and its communities. When technology advances enabled the United States to compete with the established textile manufacturers of Europe, it wasn’t long before the South’s cotton production had ready customers in New England.

Rhode Island and Massachusetts in particular had conditions ideal for the textile industry’s development – a growing society looking to diversify and find new investments, and a good supply of the water courses needed in those early days to power the mills.

The Importance of Cotton

Cotton has been used as a clothing fabric since ancient times. Historically however, the manufacturing process was labor intensive, making it an expensive garment fabric next to homespun wool and linen. That was until a succession of inventions were implimented in the 18th century. In 1769 Englishman Richard Arkwright invented a machine that would spin cotton into yarn. Then in 1794 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which had further impact on the industry by reducing the cost of cleaning the raw cotton before spinning took place.

Until the War of Independence the South’s cotton was mostly shipped to Britain. When the Industrial Revolution arrived largely as a result of improvements in manufacturing technologies, costs of production went down at the same time as demand from expanding British domestic and colonial economies was increasing.

It wasn’t long before the emerging industrial nobility of the northern United States saw the opportunities that a home-based textile industry would bring. American cotton was good quality, and the slave labor used on all the large plantations made it cheap to grow.

Having lost the American colonies, Britain at least hoped to keep them economically dependent, and she guarded her industrial secrets jealously. America needed the technical expertise of British manufacturers, and in 1789 English textile mill foreman Samuel Slater was lured to Rhode Island, where he was able to build a modern mill from memory.

Textiles Mills Prosper in New England

Slater’s Mill was a great success, and by 1815 Rhode Island had 167 textile mills producing goods from cotton. While these early mills were generally small, they became the center of their communities, with many self-sufficient villages forming and growing around them. Women and children provided most of the labor, forced by circumstances into the factories to supplement declining returns from farming.

The Civil War disrupted cotton exports due to a combination of Union blockades and Confederate attempts to use the commodity as a bargaining tool for foreign support. While Europe looked elsewhere, in Rhode Island demand remained high. Despite strenuous Confederate efforts to prevent cotton falling into enemy hands, large amounts were smuggled north and the mills kept working.

The Decline of the Textile Industry

The latter part of the 19th Century saw an increase in awareness of social issues surrounding mill operations. Conditions were still very poor for the predominantly female and child workforce. By the early 1900’s children were still working 54-hour weeks and less than half the state’s school age population was getting a proper education.

Cotton prices continually fluctuated, and so did the fortunes of the Rhode Island textile mills and their communities. The First World War created another textile boom, but it was to be the last. By the 1920’s competition from other countries, new fabric materials and a general slowdown in world economies all contirbuted to depressing the industry. Efforts to reduce production brought worker discontent and debilitating industrial disputes further hastened the decline. By 1930 over 25% of Rhode Island’s textile mill workers were unemployed.

Rhode Island Textile Mills Today

Today the Rhode Island textile industry is limited to a small number of modest operations where skilled workers keep unique machinery going to satisfy niche markets. The heritage left by the industry is well preserved in a number of places, and many imposing mill buildings still stand. Some are disused, some are employed for a variety of other productive purposes and some have been converted into impressive apartment complexes.

Over time the mill villages of Rhode Island have been absorbed by urban expansion, but much evidence remains. as well as the fine mill buildings still standing, elaborate Victorian houses, company houses and stores, and former village centers still exist to indicate where many of these early communities began.

Watch the video: 15 Things You Didnt Know About The Textile Industry (July 2022).


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