Manufacturing has been a major part of Massachusetts’s history since the American Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century, it changed the economy, society, transportation industry, and more. But it all started with the textile mills.

Early Textile Mills

Massachusetts’ claim to fame during the Industrial Revolution was the rise of the textile mills. Textiles became the dominant industry in the state and were the stepping stones for the manufacturing industry. The early mills were small and only employed a total of 100 people in the entire state. However, they were what allowed local manufacturers and engineers to create better technology and wealthy businessmen incentive to fund them.

Francis Cabot Lowell

The most notable of these wealthy businessmen was Francis Cabot Lowell. This Newburyport native formed the Boston Manufacturing Company (which later became the Boston Associates), and in 1813 established his first mill in Waltham, Massachusetts. He took advantage of the innovative technology of the time like the water-driven power loom to make production more efficient.

When Lowell passed away in 1817, the Boston Associates opened a new, much larger mill town and named it after him. Lowell, Massachusetts was the first large-scale mill town in America and was hugely successful.

The Water-Driven Power Loom

Before the Industrial Revolution, weaving looms were man-powered via a foot pedal. The water-driven power loom changed the game for the textile manufacturing industry. It was mechanized and powered by a line shaft driven by a source of running water, such as a river. This sped up the weaving process significantly. This increased productivity and efficiency, which led to higher profits. Because of this, the power loom is considered one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution.

The Water-Driven Power Loom

The Lowell System

Francis Cabot Lowell also revolutionized the industry by having every step of the textile manufacturing process done under one roof. Raw cotton entered the factory and finished cloth left, ready to sell. This type of manufacturing and labor management later became known as the Lowell System and due to how efficient, cost-effective, and more humane it was to its workers compared to other labor practices of the time, it spread to other textile mills and 

Lowell Mill Girls

Women have been a major part of the manufacturing industry for over two centuries, and that started with the Lowell Mill Girls. In the early days of his business, Lowell was having a hard time finding able-bodied workers as many Americans were hesitant to work in factories. So instead, he persuaded young, single women between the ages of 15 and 35 to come work for him. He built boarding houses for the women with chaperones and even provided educational opportunities to help his workers move on to better jobs like teaching and nursing.

Lowell Mill Girl

The work was hard and the women were paid half of what men would be, but it was still unheard of financial independence for a young woman of the time. Employing women also helped phase out child labor, which had been highly common at the time. These women were also major influences in the labor strikes against the textile manufacturers in 1903 and 1912.

Without the textile industry, Massachusetts’ manufacturing industry wouldn’t be what it is today. You can get involved in the still-innovative and always growing industry with no cost to you training through AMTEP.