Textile Industry History
A site devoted to the history of mills, people and companies.
Updated - May 21, 2013- Check back periodically
English inventors in the 18th century began to automate textile cottage industry processes including carding,
spinning and weaving. James Hargreaves developed the Spinning Jenny, a device which replaced eight
hand spinners in one operation. Richard Arkwright assembled these processes and started the first factory
on the Derwent River in Cromford, England in 1771.
Following the American Revolution, several founding fathers felt manufacturing should remain in England.
Alexander Hamilton felt otherwise and wanted to establish a model mill village in Paterson, New Jersey. His
ideas were ahead of their time. The "National Manufactory" went out of business in 1796.
Samuel Slater of Rhode Island visited several mills owned by Arkwright and associates, memorized the
essential features and returned to the US. In 1792, he opened a yarn spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode
Island, the first successful automated yarn spinning in the US. In 1814, James Cabot Lowell of Boston built
a factory in Waltham, up the Charles River from Boston. Later, the Boston Associates built an entire mill
town on the Merrimack River, and later named it "Lowell" in memory of James Cabot Lowell.
1793 - Eli Whitney and Hogden Holmes developed a simplified method of removing the cotton lint from the
seed. Whitney’s, and especially Holmes' saw tooth gin, revolutionized the cotton industry by dramatically
increasing the productivity of cotton ginning. Gins
In the early 1800s, cotton was raised in the southern United States and exported to mills in England and the
north. Leaders such as William Gregg of South Carolina advocated a home-based textile industry for the
south but the time was not right. Northern mills resisted the growth of mills outside New England. Textile
machinery was built in New England and New Jersey and imported from Europe.
After the Civil War, the south slowly replaced slaves with free workers. The industry remained largely in the
north until after the 1880s. Leaders such as Edwin Michael Holt and family of Alamance County, North
Carolina built mills in large numbers throughout the south as the 19th century closed. Glencoe Cotton Mill
and mill village are preserved today. www.textileheritagemuseum.org Cotton mills in New England began to
decline in importance.
Merchants contracted for goods through agents. The Cone family moved from Baltimore to Greensboro and
brokered sales. The Belk family bought goods from Cone to sell in the dry goods stores. Merchants such as
Marshall Fields of Chicago bought goods from mills through intermediaries. Later, in order to better control
supply, the Cones and the Fields built mills of their own, e.g., Cone Mills and Fieldcrest Mills. Machinery was
imported from the north and from Europe.
World War I and the naval blockage imposed by England on German shipping, and the use of U-boats by
Germany to harass English vessels brought the realization that the United States must be independent of
England and Germany for machinery and dyestuffs. New companies emerged to satisfy the war effort and
remained strong for several decades following the war. World War II once again emphasized the need for
self-sufficiency. Following the war, however, imported machinery and dyes, especially from Germany and
Switzerland, once again supplemented and eventually replaced domestic supply. American textile
companies thrived with the use of imported machinery and dyestuffs. A dyes and colorants web site
developed by Dr. Robert Baptista explains these developments.
In the 1990s, a new world order began to replace the Made in the USA ideas. Buying from the lowest cost
producer drove many textile manufacturers out of the production side and into imports. Manufacturing
companies changed to marketing companies.
Source: Dunwell, Steve, The Run of the Mill. Boston: David R. Godine – Publisher, 1978.
An excellent discussion with many illustrations of early technology and mill development.
Note: This is my hobby. If you have an interest in the history of the industry, please return again as the site is
developed. If you wish to contribute information or suggest research areas,
Copyright 2007-2013 Gary N. Mock
Image: Engels Museum
Early Industry Locations -
Image: National Park
Left: Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin
Image: US Patent Office
Right: Drawing of Holmes' gin
Early Advocate of a Southern Textile Industry.
Image: Hampstead, NC Chamber of Commerce
Boston Manufacturing Co. Logo in 1918
Image: Textile Brands and Trademarks
Another site devoted to the history of
textiles and paper making has been
developed by Peter Metzke, Melbourne,