An industrial history of Lowell, Massachusetts for secondary schools
Shepard, Ernest Rose
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IN THE BEGINNING.-- The area now occupied by the city of Lowell, Massachusetts was a part of the territory of the Pawtucket Indian tribe for unknown centuries. Each spring, the tribal council was held near the Pawtucket Falls. The earliest white settlers came into the region during the first half of the seventeenth century and established the settlement of Wamesit. Chelmsford and Billerica, the "mother towns" of Lowell, were incorporated in 1655; and the village of Wamesit, which later became the center of Lowell, was annexed to Chelmsford in 1726. In 1792, the Pawtucket Canal was constructed so that freight rafts from New Hampshire to the sea could by-pass Pawtucket Falls. The Middlesex Canal, which began operations between the Merrimack River and Boston in 1804, succeeded the Pawtucket Canal in importance. THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.-- Before the inception of Lowell can be understood, it is necessary to note the inventions and events which brought the Industrial Revolution to this area. For centuries, the making of fabrics had been principally done in the individual homes. Several English inventions in the eighteenth century laid the foundation of the modern factory system. The most important of these inventions were: the "fly shuttle", "spinning jenny", spinning frame, "mule", and power loom. The dependence of most of the new machines on waterpower was important to the later rise of Lowell. Three factors which gave strong encouragement to American industry were the Embargo Act of 1807, the War of 1812, and the Tariff Act of 1816. In addition, many of the early American ventures in manufacturing were made in Massachusetts. Thus, the Industrial Revolution, the geographical surroundings, and government protection, plus available capital and good business leadership combined to produce the industrial community of Lowell. THE TOWN OF LOWELL.-- In 1814, Francis Cabot Lowell and several associates set up in Waltham, Massachusetts the first mill that had all manufacturing processes performed at one site. The company was highly successful; and when Mr. Lowell died in 1817, Nathan Appleton and Patrick Jackson became the leaders of the company. They sought another suitable area for similar mills. After deciding that Pawtucket Falls was the site with the greatest possibilities, they bought the Locks and Canals Company which owned the Pawtucket Canal and much of the land along the Merrimack River. In 1822, Appleton, Jackson, and several others formed the Merrimack Manufacturing Company. They set up the Locks and Canals Company separately, so that it could control the waterpower of the Pawtucket Falls. The second major corporation in the area was the Hamilton Manufacturing Company, founded in 1825. The village of Wamesit in Chelmsford grew so rapidly that it was incorporated as a town in 1826, and it was named in honor of Francis Cabot Lowell. Lowell was a town for only ten years; but in that time, seven other large corporations began operations. THE GROWTH OF A CITY.-- Lowell had prospered and grown in its decade as a town. In 1836,, Lowell became the third incorporated city in Massachusetts. The new city continued to grow in the period before the Civil War. Two- more major corpo- ' rations were formed. The system of waterpower canals was expanded; and within ten years of the city ' 'S incorporation, Lowell was connected with Boston, Nashua., Groton, and Lawrence by railroads. While the several large corporations with interlocking directorates controlled the waterpower on the Merrimack, several smaller independent textile companies settled along the Concord River. Several of the investors in the large Lowell corporations formed the Essex Company, which served as the nucleus of the town of Lawrence a few miles down the Merrimack. The experience gained from the Lowell mills was put to use in setting up the mills in Lawrence. BUSINESS MANAGEMENT.-- The men who started the large Lowell corporations were not residents of Lowell. They were an exclusive group of financiers known as the Boston Associates. They controlled many New England mills, banks, insurance companies, railroads, and ship companies. Their methods of financial manipulation served to develop an important part of American industry with American capital when no other means appeared to be available. At first, they were highly benevolent with their Lowell mill workers; but in the 1840's, working conditions began to decline. By the end of the 1850's, the period of high cotton profits had ended. Most Lowell mills were closed during the Civil War due to a lack of cotton. After the war, most of the Boston Associates were dead or retired. Lowell's progress became more conservative than it had been in the early years. Except for the panics of 1873 and 1893, Lowell corporations enjoyed a moderate prosperity until World War I. During and immediately after World War I, the corporations boomed. The textile depression which set in after 1923 and the general depression in the 1930's knocked out all but three of the old corporations. New diversified companies which came to Lowell did not fill the gap left by the older companies. LOWELL AND LABOR.-- In Lowell's early years, factory work was a new experience. Most of the workers were not completely dependent on their factory jobs, and working conditions were not very bad. As the years passed, conditions deteriorated. The early manpower shortage caused the mill owners to seek women to work in the mills. By erecting boardinghouses and adhering to the strict moral order of the period, they attracted hundreds of farm girls to work in Lowell. Largely due to the mill girls, Lowell was a showplace for industry, and the corporations received much favorable publicity. The good conditions began to decline in the 1840's. No effective labor organizations existed in the early years. When the New England farm girls left the mills after drastic wage cuts, they were replaced by Irish immigrants. After the Civil War, immigrants of about twenty nationalities settled in Lowell. They provided a cheap labor supply until World War I. Labor has become more highly organized since the days of the New Deal. Since World War II, the rate of unemployment in Lowell has remained quite high. FROM WAR TO WAR.-- Lowell's dramatic growth stopped during the Civil War. Following the conflict, Lowell experienced a moderate prosperity until World War I, except during the panics of 1873 and 1893. In this period, the modern city of Lowell developed with electric trolley cars, telephones, electric lights, and a city water works. The most outstanding change in Lowell between the Civil War and World War I was in the city's ethnic composition. People from more than twenty countries settled in Lowell, and the city's slum areas expanded greatly. By 1917, only about twenty per cent of the population were native-born Americans with native parents. THROUGH NORMALCY AND DEPRESSION.-- Lowell's industries boomed during World War I and for several years afterwards. A textile depression set in after 1923, and Lowell was seriously affected. The old Hamilton Company liquidated in 1926; and in the following years many of the other companies liquidated, sold out, moved out of the city, or ceased operation. When the general depression gripped the city after 1929, many of Lowell's buildings were demolished for tax purposes. The woolen and worsted industry replaced cotton as the city's most important industry, and several shoe companies became very important to Lowell's economy. During this period, many small companies located in Lowell. These concerns laid the foundation for the city's diversification of industry. The many small companies were not enough to utilize all of the space or manpower left idle by the older firms. THE CITY OF DIVERSIFIED INDUSTRIES.-- Lowell boomed during World War, as most of the companies produced war goods. With the end of the war, Lowell suffered again from a large surplus of labor. The Korean War did little to relieve the unemployment situation. Though the war caused considerable price inflation, the textile industry went into another depression. Since the formation of the Lowell Industrial and Development Commission in 1952, there has been a vigorous and organized attempt to attract producers of durable goods like electronics equipment, rather than makers of nondurable goods like textiles. Through more diverse industries, the commission hopes to bring about a more stable city economy. Though the city has done much to improve itself, it will need legislative help from the state and federal governments before it can make itself very attractive to prospective new industries.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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