New England Textile Industry and the New industrial America

US1.28: Explain the emergence and impact of the textile industry in New England and industrial growth generally throughout antebellum America.
  • A. The technological improvements and inventions that contributed to industrial growth.
  • B. The causes and impact of the wave of immigration from Northern Europe to America in the 1840s and 1850s.
  • C. The rise of a business class of merchants and manufacturers.
  • D. The roles of women in the New England textile factories.
Far Left-Map of Industry, Center-Erie Canal, Far Right-Map of Railroads

Technological improvements:

  • In 1794 American inventor Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin which mechanized and greatly sped up the process by which cotton fibers could be separated from the seedpods. More cotton could be readied for textile production faster with this machine.
  • In 1789 Samuel Slater, having memorized the patents to a British textile mill, brought the information to Rhode Island in 1790. There he worked with Moses Brown to create America’s first water-powered mill. Mechanization brought greater speed to the textile spinning process, brought workers increasingly out of the home and into the factory, and began setting a soon to be near universal use of cheap female and child labor within factories.
  • In 1798 Eli Whitney first developed the use interchangeable or standardized parts for production. Using this concept, he hoped to produce 10,000 rifles in 28 months. The project actually took ten years, but Eli set the precedent which would be perfected by Simeon North and John Hall between 1816 and 1824. The use of interchangeable parts would enable mass-production of consumer goods for the growing cash economy.
  • In 1814 Francis Cabot Lowell and Paul Moody opened the world’s first integrated cotton mill, including a power loom, in Waltham, Massachusetts. This combined all aspects of textile production under one roof.


  • Between the 1830s and 1850s there was a massive wave of immigrants into the United States, particularly from Ireland and Germany.
  • The prime reason for Irish immigration was the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849, during which 1.5 million Irish came to America.
  • The Germans came to the United States due to political and economic unrest throughout 1830s and 1840s Germany.
  • Most of the Irish came to America poverty-stricken and congregated in the coastal cities, unable to afford land or passage to the interior. The more wealthy German immigrants oftentimes got land of the frontier and established farming communities.
  • The growing number of poor immigrants in America’s cities provided a new and cheap labor force in the textile mills, replacing much of the female and child labor that had previously dominated the factories.

Business Class:

  • With the introduction of domestic industry, businessmen who risked investment in these new technologies stood to raise a great deal of capital (money).
  • Oftentimes the rich merchant families who had gained riches in international trade used their wealth and family connections to successfully invest in many profitable industrial business.
  • Business investors used the putting-out system of home manufacture under merchant supervision to take the means of production away from independent artisans (men who had a craft like a carpenter) and unify it into a larger industrial conglomeration or building.
  • Francis Cabot Lowell and his Boston Associates were a prime example of this kind of risky business venture resulting in great wealth. Following the opening of Waltham, Lowell died; but his Boston Associates continued to create similar mill town’s including the famous mill town of Lowell.


  • Women played a major role as the primary work force during the early period of the American textile industry.
  • Many women worked in industry out of their homes as part of the putting-out system. Under the control of merchant investors women would, in order to make extra money for their homes and families, produce various commercial goods for which they were paid on a piecework basis.
  • Women also became a favorite source of labor for the growing textile factories since investors could pay women much less than men. In the early Lowell mills the farm girls seeking money for or freedom from their families frequently left home and moved into factory boardinghouses.
  • Women were also the leaders of some of America’s first labor strikes. Trying to increase profits, business investors often cut wages, increased hours, and provided increasingly poor working conditions. Many among the female work force organized mass protests of these actions.
  • Immigrants, who would work for less and in less favorable conditions eventually replaced women as the primary mill workers, and the putting-out system collapsed as means of production became more and more centralized within the factory towns.
Created By
Pedro menino


Created with images by Children's Bureau Centennial - "LC-DIG-nclc-02100 Girls Yarn Mill" • Cambridge Historical Commission - "Monadnock Mills (Claremont, NH) 002" • Cambridge Historical Commission - "Monadnock Mills (Claremont, NH) 001" • Boston Public Library - "Excelsior Starch [back]" • Boston Public Library - "Spooling yarn, Dallas Cotton Mills, Texas"

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