Textile Industry Meets Demand Of Booming US Population
By Yancey S. Gilkerson
Textile Industry Meets Demand Of Booming U.S. PopulationIn the beginning, in 1887 when Frank P Bennett first published The American Wool and Cotton Reporter as today's ATI was then named, the textile industry was expanding at a furious pace to meet the demands of a market that was growing even faster. Despite a horrendous death rate for babies and a life expectancy of only 46 years for men, 48 for women, the population was increasing at a rate of 20% to 25% each decade (from 50 million in 1880 to 63 million in 1890 to 76 million by the turn of the century). And this growing population needed clothes.Immigrants were pouring in to people the new states admitted to the Union in the closing years of the century (North Dakota' South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Utah) and to join the rush for land in the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma. . . millions in need of overalls or corduroys for the week's work, and blue serge suits for Sunday- go-to-meetin'. The girls and womenfolk often made-do with house dresses made of printed flour sacks, but they coveted something finer for church wear. Sacking was a big seller in those days, used for bulk commodities like sugar, then re-used around the house. In decades to come, paper would supplant fabric for such toweling and handkerchief use.Mostly FarmersTwo-thirds of the population then lived on the farm, working from can-see to can't-see at endless chores; tractors were years in the future, and Twenty Mule Team borax celebrated the large teams that hauled freight wagons or the giant combines.Villages, towns and cities were small by today's standards, but the towns and cities, and many villages, were linked by the expanding web of railroads and by the telegraph. Farm to-village roads were muddy ruts in winter and dust beds in drier times. If and when weather permitted, Saturday was market day, the family heading for town, sitting on stub-legged chairs in the back of wagons loaded with whatever the season could produce for barter or sale: butter and eggs most of the time; pelts from trap lines in the winter; surplus of potatoes and other garden stuff in the summer and fall, to be exchanged for staples flour, sugar, coffee, salt.In more remote sections. . . the Appalachians, the Ozarks. . . the bartering would often include yarn for use on the wooden hand looms that persisted well into the 1940's. The demand for home-use yarn had prompted the start of many of the small cotton mills in the South in the 1830's and 1840's, most of them with only 1,500 to 2,500 spindles run by men from New England's established textile industry. The isolation of the farms was mind-dulling: no television, no radio, no telephone, little mail beyond the county's weekly newspaper, little to read except the Bible, and not many could read. Those were the days of the one-room country schoolhouse, if and when school kept. In 1899, in all of the U.S., only 72% of the children from ages 5 to 17 were enrolled in school, but a very small percentage of those finished high school. In fact, in 1900, the entire country produced only 62,000 high school graduates. Most girls only received four to eight years of elementary education.Inventions AboundBut, in the towns and cities, there was excitement. . . news of inventions, of new manufacturing enterprises, new markets and new adventures in domestic and world politics. In 1887, Gottlieb Daimler in Germany produced the first successful automobile. Nikola Tesla was inventing the alternating current induction motor, soon to be put to use in the mills. George Eastman produced the popular Kodak box camera in 18S8, and before long, snapshots of new dresses could be in the mail; "smile was the word of the day.First Man-Made FiberIn England in 1892, C. F. Cross discovered viscose, leading to the later manufacture of rayon, "artificial silk", much less expensive and easier to manufacture than the real thing. Rudolf Diesel patented the internal combustion engine that bears his name. Marconi developed wireless telegraphy, and King Gillette was hailed by millions of men for his invention of the safety razor, particularly by those executives headed for Worth Street meetings who no longer had to scrape their whiskers with a straight-edge razor in the swaying washroom of a Pullman car (Most towns boasted a daredevil who could shave the back of his neck with the straight-edge as the train barrelled along).Scientific American reported the seeds of things to come: Oliver Heaviside's discovery of the ionosphere in 1892; James J. Thomson's work with the electron in 1897; and Marie and Pierre Curie's discovery of radium in 1898.Henry Ford made his first auto, the Quadricycle, in 1896, but the people's automobile was still many years away. Cuba's efforts to break away from Spain aroused much sympathy in the United States, and when the battleship Maine was blown up in Havana harbor in 1898, war with Spain was a certainty. The American fleet broke the back of the Spanish navy, and a defeated Spain ceded to the U.S. the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Soon thereafter, Congress annexed Hawaii (in 1893, the U. S. had organized the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, so the islands were ripe for plucking).ATI Begins With Queen Victoria's 50thIn the same year as the establishment of the American Wool and Cotton Reporter Queen Victoria observed her golden jubilee by celebrating 50 years on the throne of a British empire that was still expanding in Asia and in Africa.The French too were expanding their colonies in Africa and in southeast Asia, while the new German empire demanded its share of the world's potential colonies and worked diligently at building its army and navy and at achieving technological and economic equality with the British. German chemical firms were already advertising in the Reporter.In Russia, foreign entrepreneurs were building industries employing millions of former serfs as that country continued its struggle to modernize despite the despotic conservatism of Czar Nicholas II. Construction on the Trans-Siberian Railway began in 1891, carrying the Russian empire toward an Asia that sharply contrasted modernizing Japan with the continued long sleep of the Chinese under their Manchu conquerors and the Europeans who controlled the ports.The Japanese, imitating the Americans and Europeans, wanted an empire too. They jumped on the hapless Chinese in 1895 and took as loot the island of Formosa (Taiwan) and Port Arthur on the mainland. The European heavyweights objected to such greediness and forced the return of Port Arthur. The "civilized" world was startled by the technical and military progress the Japanese had made of since Commodore Perry had forcibly ended their centuries-long isolation.Enter Frank P. BennettAll these events and their implications for the American textile industry were grist for the mill of Frank P. Bennett whose early career had prepared him well for the work and for the rising influence of his American Wool and Cotton Reporter.Young Bennett had worked part-time in a job printing shop while attending Chelsea High School in Malden, Mass. and got a job with the weekly Malden Mirror after graduation, doing everything that needed doing: soliciting advertising, writing news reports and editorials, setting type and operating the press.Like many enterprising young men of his Day he succumbed to wanderlust and worked on newspapers as far west as Salt Lake City while seeing the country. He returned to Massachusetts in 1876 at age 22 to work for the Commercial Bulletin in Boston. Five years later, in 1881, he swapped jobs, from managing editor of the Commercial Bulletin to managing editor of the Boston Advertiser, then owned by Henry Cabot Lodge, a valuable mentor to the young journalist. In his spare time, he wrote on finance for The Tribune in New York and for the New York Daily Press. His work brought him into contact with the leading textile executives and financial figures the time and he won their respect.A Weekly For Movers And ShakersFrank Bennett was 33 when he decided, in1887, that the textile industry needed a publication to serve its nationwide needs for information. The American Wool and Cotton Reporter began weekly publication from offices at 19 Pearl Street in Boston, and quickly built a network of correspondents.Bennett's years as reporter and editor gave him access to the movers and shakers of Boston and New York to the facts and rumors of a churning economy, to the hopes, the fears, the visions and judgements of men who played with gusto the game of making money in a time when what they made they could keep no income tax. The Reporter, just as its descendant does today, covered all aspects of the textile industry, from sheep man and cotton planter to mill operator and mill operative, to machinery maker to designer of apparel to garment manufacturer to retailer. Coverage extended to Europe, with letters from London, Liverpool, Lancashire, France, Switzerland and Germany conveyed to the Boston office by the liners and packets plying the Atlantic, with time lag from date-of-writing to date-of-publication of as little as two weeks. Letters, sorted in the mail cars of hundreds of trains, brought domestic news, and the telegraph was available for items of greater importance.This flood of information and the need to keep his field correspondents active (they were paid by the "string" of published material, at so much per inch) resulted also in Bennett's publication of Investor Services and his operation of Bennett's Information Services which offered to provide (for $2 per report information on any stock, any store, or any piece of real estate in the country.Bennett's editorials reflected the man: candid, plain-spoken, out-spoken. He did not hesitate to warn of impending danger, as when British investors began to dump their shares of U.S. companies, provoking the great panic of 1893 when the heavy transfers of gold to London to pay for the dumped shares left the country short of currency. Or, when a British syndicate attempted to form a woolen/worsted trust (monopoly) to control production and prices in the American market; this was before the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. and trusts were flourishing in nearly every industry. . . the Standard Oil Trust, the Steel Trust, the Barbed Wire Trust, the Sugar Trust, etc.Or, when he sharply admonished sheep men for including "dung locks" with the fleece;Or, warning that productive capacity in the late 1890's could be excessive since it was increasing faster than the population."I Told You So!" He could not resist an occasional I told you so, eg.:From its inception in 1887, the American Wool and Cotton Reporter has, we are convinced been a safe guide. It has sometimes been our lot to be considerably ahead of the times, and in some cases we have been obliged to withstand a widespread criticism until our friends could catch up with us. An instance of this has occurred in the last few months. Our view regarding the wool market was at the start antagonized by not a few persons for whose judgment we have always had the greatest respect. Time has fully substantiated our position, many who previously criticized us have frankly acknowledged the clearness of our prevision.It goes without saying that our only purpose is to be of the most assistance to the various classes in whose interest the 'Reporter' was started."By the time of the War Between The States the American textile industry, launched at Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1790, had grown to 1,091 mills with 5,200,000 spindles processing 800,000 bales of cotton and had outstripped English mills in the economical production of coarse, heavy fabrics. The industry was centered in New England which had 570 of the 1,091 mills. Massachusetts and Rhode Island alone accounted for nearly a third of the mills and had 18% of the spindles. Fall River and Lowell, Mass. and Providence, R.l., were the leading textile centers.Biggest of all the mills was Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co. in Salem, Mass., with 65,584 spindles. The average mill housed only 5,000 to 12,000 spindles, with mule spindles out-numbering ring spindles two-to-one. Most mills used waterpower to run the machinery, but the more dependable steam engine was rapidly coming into use. Smaller "country" mills worked only during daylight, those in the urban areas were lighted by gas.Spectacular GrowthThe spectacular growth of the industry in the early years of the Reporter is illustrated by the figures on spindles and looms in Chart below.
- the supply of raw material to be processed (cotton) was readily available without the cost of long haul freight charges,
- water power sites along the Fall Line and in the Piedmont were plentiful, and the day of hydro-electricity was at hand,
- labor was plentiful and eager to work "in the shade" after years of field work at 40 cents a day. The going rate for hands at many mills was $12.50 for 144 hours or two weeks work,
- states and cities taxed mills lightly; many cities had a gentleman's agreement not to annex mills into their limits, resulting in a ring or belt of mills around a city.