The Evolution of American Textiles

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The driving force of American Textiles could easily be summed up in two words self-sufficiency. Through the Revolutionary War to present day, the textiles industry has had a vast and intriguing story that has evolved throughout history.

Homespun

 

The Birth of Old Glory, painting by Edward Percy Moran, ca. 1917 (Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons) The Birth of Old Glory, painting by Edward Percy Moran, ca. 1917 (Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons)

To our knowledge, the earliest traces of American textiles can be found in the courageous Homespun Movement. This occurred during the beginning of America's initial struggle with England that eventually morphed into the Revolutionary War. Homespun began as what would have been widely recognized as a rebellious act by England and a valiant protest to future americans under the oppression of a foreign king. At the inception of this future American powerhouse of an industry was an opposition to British enforcement of increased taxes on English manufactured goods. This was thanks to the incredibly unpopular Townsend Acts which came into effect in 1767 at the hand of Parliament. As a result of this act, brave women boycotted British products and undertook the task of utilizing their own resources to produce homespun clothing in their homes. This movement would later provide uniforms, cloths, and blankets to the soldiers of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.

The Spinning Jenny and The First Textile Factory

 

source: fromoldbooks.org source: fromoldbooks.org

In 1764, a man by the name of James Hargreaves would greatly impact the American Textiles industry from afar by inventing The Spinning Jenny in England. The Spinning Jenny was an iconic transformative invention that greatly improved the ability to produce textiles. The Spinning Jenny was capable of producing at a rate of the output of eight hand spinners. This allowed the amount of effort to produce yarn to be greatly reduced. Although Hargreaves never really benefitted from the invention in his lifetime, it opened the door to the future of textiles in America. In 1771, Rickard Arkwright, A British businessman wasted no time in incorporating this technology into a process that became the first textile factory located in Cromford, England on the Derwent River. Due to the protectionist outlook of England, the spinning Jenny and its integration into a process would not officially reach America until much later. As textilehistory.org phrases it, the protectionist outlook in England was to, "Keep inventions for England and keep the colonies poor." With the helping hand of Alexander Hamilton, a model facility dedicated to textiles would open in Patterson, New Jersey. Although this facility would eventually close its doors in 1796, Hamilton's ideology of the future of textiles in America did not die there. In 1792, Samuel Slater would study, memorize, and replicate Arkwright's take on utilizing the Spinning Jenny and develop a textile process in Rhode Island.

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The Cotton Gin

The Evolution of The Textiles In America

Shortly after the first yarn spinning in Rhode Island in 1792, another advancement in textiles would arrive on the scene In 1793, Eli Whitney, a American born inventor, made history by inventing and patenting the cotton gin. This idea was brought to fruition through the design of an easier approach to separating the cotton from the seed. This had a gigantic effect on the economy due to the United States heavy dependency on cotton which had becoming the top export. According to history.com, "worked something like a strainer or sieve: Cotton was run through a wooden drum embedded with a series of hooks that caught the fibers and dragged them through a mesh. The mesh was too fine to let the seeds through but the hooks pulled the cotton fibers through with ease." Whitney later went on to form a manufacturing company utilizing the cotton gin.

The First American Textile Factory

 

The Evolution of Textiles in America source: glogster.com

The Boston Manufacturing Company was established by Frances Cabot Lowell, Patrick Johnson, and Nathan Appleton. By the year 1814, America opened the doors to its first textile factory in Lowell, Massachusetts. This factory capitalized on developing a process that would allow cotton lint to be made into a ready to use cloth. Lowell later went on to become a city entirely devoted to the craft of textiles. In effect, Lowell also became the pioneer of attracting people from rural lands to urbanized cities. They were also a trendsetter for the development of corporations which in turn became an enormous source for America's economic growth.

World War I & II

The Evolution of American Textiles

As textile technology and materials took on new methods and materials, self sufficiency took on a whole different kind of meaning by World War I and World War II. In light of strategic moves by England to prevent German shipping, the United States quickly understood the necessity of self sufficiency. One way this became glaringly apparent was in textiles. In particular there was a need for dyestuff and the equipment necessary to produce textiles. Out of the ashes of war, new American companies were created to meet the needs created by war. These company's stories did not end there, many went on to successfully maintain themselves in a post-war economy and beyond.

Present Day

 

Willow Tex Jeff Noethlich, Executive Director of Operations at Willow Tex, LLC in Mt. Airy, NC

As America entered into the late 1990's, textile manufacturers slowly began disappearing. Some sources claim that textile manufacturers transformed into textile marketers as the industry shifted over seas. Many credit this to a variety of reasons which most likely includes less expensive labor and materials. However, the road does not end there. It appears that a resurgence of textile manufacturing in America is on the horizon. This is especially true in North and South Carolina, who were once at the heart of American textile manufacturing. Ironically, this is largely due to the fact that Chinese companies have discovered that labor, materials, and energy costs are at a more appealing price in the Carolina's. Industry writer, Stephanie McKenzie best sums this up in an article she penned last fall stating, "The governments of the Carolinas, local economics professors and reporters, as well as the diaspora of former textile workers still living there seem to all be in agreement on one thing: This is just the beginning of a textile resurgence that will revitalize the area."

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Sources:
textilehistory.org
history.com
ushistory.org
multibriefs.com

tagged with textile factory, manufacturing, Industry, american textiles, homespun, textiles, cotton