Role of the Massachusetts Textile Mills in the Industrial Revolution - History of Massachusetts Blog (2022)

Textile manufacturing became the dominant industry in Massachusetts during the Industrial Revolution and helped promote further industrialization of the state.

Although other textile mills were established in Massachusetts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they were small and only employed a total of 100 people in the entire state.

Yet, these early mills gave local mechanics and engineers opportunities to learn rudimentary mill construction and inspired wealthy merchants in the state to think bigger and develop more sophisticated industrial plans.

One such wealthy merchant was Francis Cabot Lowell, a Newburyport native who formed the Boston Manufacturing Company, which later became the Boston Associates, and established his first mill in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1813.

Role of the Massachusetts Textile Mills in the Industrial Revolution - History of Massachusetts Blog (1)

Boston Manufacturing Company, 1813-1816, Waltham, Ma, engraving by Elijah Smith circa 19th century

Lowell’s mill used new types of technology, such as a water-driven power loom, and hired young adult women, known as “mill girls,” to run the equipment instead of children.

(Video) Lowell MA and the Industrial Revolution

The mill also did all of its manufacturing under one roof, with raw cotton entering at one end of the factory and finished cloth leaving at the other end.

This type of manufacturing and labor management later became known as the Lowell System and it completely revolutionized textile manufacturing, making it more efficient and cost effective and less dehumanizing to its workers.

After Lowell passed away from an illness in 1817, the Boston Associates opened a new, and much larger, mill town and named it Lowell. It was the first large scale mill town in America and was hugely successful.

Due to Lowell’s success, many new mills and mill towns just like it began to sprout up along rivers across Massachusetts and New England. Around 45 mill towns were established during the industrial revolution just in Massachusetts alone.

These mill towns were:

(Video) The Massachusetts Mill Workers, Lowell National Historical Park

Adams, Mass
Amesbury, Mass
Athol, Mass
Attleboro, Mass
Chicopee, Mass
Clinton, Mass
Dalton, Mass
Fall River, Mass
Fitchburg, Mass
Framingham, Mass
Gardner, Mass
Grafton, Mass
Greenfield, Mass
Haverhill, Mass
Holyoke, Mass
Hopedale, Mass
Hudson, Mass
Lawrence, Mass
Lowell, Mass
Ludlow, Mass
Lynn, Mass
Maynard, Mass
Merrimac, Mass
Methuen, Mass
Milford, Mass
Millbury, Mass
Monson, Mass
New Bedford, Mass
North Adams, Mass
North Andover, Mass
Northbridge, Mass
Orange, Mass
Palmer, Mass
Pittsfield, Mass
Rowley, Mass
Russell, Mass
Southbridge, Mass
Taunton, Mass
Uxbridge, Mass
Waltham, Mass
Ware, Mass
Webster, Mass
Westborough, Mass
Winchendon, Mass
Worcester, Mass

New England, and Massachusetts in particular, soon became a manufacturing powerhouse in America. The mills brought a surge in jobs and wealth to the state which helped further spur the industrialization of the state, according to the book Massachusetts: A Concise History:

“By 1850, the Boston Associates, including Edmund Dwight, Kirk Boott, Patrick T. Jackson, William Sturgis, Harrison Gray Otis, T.H. Perkins, Israel Thorndike, Abbott and Amos Lawrence, Nathan Appleton, the Lowells, the Cabots, the Quincys, and the Eliots, controlled most of the entire New England region’s large cotton mills. Their names could be found on the boards of directors, or as major stockholders, in virtually all of the cotton factories of the day. They managed or owned one-fifth of the entire U.S. textile industry with a complex array of interlocking directorates. These men controlled production by exchanging information on costs, posting similar bids for raw cotton, and by attempting to fix the price of finished goods. They monopolized the regional water power sites, had substantial interests in the subsidiary manufacture of textile machinery, and often built and rented out the houses of the workers. To gain access to new markets and to support new profitable ventures that would reduce their risks, they invested in the first railroads of the state, holding interests in one-third of the state’s railroad mileage by the late 1840s. By 1848 they possessed 40 percent of Boston’s bank stock and 38 percent of the state’s insurance industry. The investment pursuits of Boston’s capitalist elite helped make Massachusetts first in the nation in the high proportions of workers involved in manufacturing and nonagricultural activities.”

Starting in the 1830s and 1840s, the textile industry began a slow and gradual decline due to overproduction. There were so many highly efficient factories that textiles were being overproduced and their value dropped dramatically. As a result, many factory owners cut wages and hours which led to a lot of worker unrest, protests and strikes.

In the 1840s, the mill girls were slowly replaced by Irish immigrants seeking refuge in America from the Irish famine. These immigrant laborers were willing to work longer hours for lower pay and often put their children to work with them in the mills.

As a result, the Lowell System failed and the textile mills became what they were trying to avoid: a low-paying dehumanizing workplace that exploited the working poor and child laborers.

Massachusetts Textile Manufacturing During the Civil War:

When the Civil War began in 1861, many of the remaining mill girls quit the textile mills to become nurses, to help out at their family farms, or to take up positions that men had left when they went off to join the army.

The mills contributed to the war effort by making many of the wool uniforms for the Union army but a sudden Confederate embargo on cotton disrupted mill operations.

(Video) Story of Us Lowell Massachusetts

When the mill’s raw cotton supplies became more valuable than the finished cloth they produced, the mills sold off all their supplies and temporarily shut down.

When the mills opened back up after the Civil War, some of the mill girls returned to work in the factories but the majority of the women had moved on to other jobs and were no longer interested in working in the mills.

For several decades after the Civil War, the mill’s production numbers steadily increased but took a turn for the worse in the 1890s when the aging mills had trouble competing with many new technological advances in the industry, particularly when new alternatives to water power were developed.

These changes made it easier to establish textiles mills in the South where cotton was grown locally and winter heating costs were lower.

As a result, mill management ultimately decided not to modernize their Massachusetts mills and instead decided to put their money into building more modern textile mills in the South, according to the National Park Service website:

“Southern community and business leaders eager for development actively promoted industrialization by emphasizing the region’s advantages of abundant land, cheaper labor, energy sources, lower taxes, and transportation. Promoters also promised New England investors company towns free of union influences and restrictive laws concerning the health and safety of industrial workers. Lowell and other New England mill towns experienced an early version of the capital flight that plagued communities in the northeast and the Midwestern industrial heartland in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Massachusetts Textile Manufacturing During World War I:

Around the time of World War One, many textile companies in Massachusetts began to leave the state. The Bigelow Carpet Company (one of the first textile companies in Lowell) left in 1914, followed by the Middlesex Mill in 1918.

The 1920s brought another wave of closings and relocations including the Hamilton Company, Suffolk, Tremont, Massachusetts Mills, Appleton Company and the Saco-Lowell Shop.

(Video) Industrial Revolution

By the 1930s, only the Merrimack mill, Lawrence mill, and Boott mill were still in operation in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Textile Manufacturing During the Great Depression:

The Great Depression came early to the mills in Massachusetts and never left. By 1936, total textile employment had dropped to 8,000. Many mills were demolished or reduced in size to save on taxes.

The mills that were left made increasing demands of their workers and increased their workloads by assigning multiple machines to individual workers.

At the Merrimack Mills, this prompted the workers to protest by going on strike. With World War II looming and a demand for textiles increasing as a result, the mills owners gave in to the worker’s demands and the workers returned.

Massachusetts Textile Manufacturing During World War II:

The war temporarily saved the mills and improved the local economy. The remaining mills, Merrimack mill, Boott mill and the Ames mill (formerly the Lawrence mill) received lucrative government contracts with companies such as Remington, General Electric and U.S. Rubber.

Employment at the mills increased and the departure of men for military service brought in many women to the workforce. Wages also increased as the demand for workers grew.

The war time boom was only temporary though and as soon as the war was over in 1945, orders for munitions and textiles fell and the local economy began to decline again.

In the 1950s, the last remaining textile mills, the Boott mill and the Merrimack mill, finally closed.

(Video) The Lowell Girls

To learn more about the industrial revolution, check out the following article on the Best Books About the Industrial Revolution.

Brown, Richard D. Massachusetts: A Concise History. University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.
Rosenberg, Chaim M. The Life and Times of Francis Cabot Lowell, 1775–1817. Lexington Books, 2010.
“Who Made America? Francis Cabot Lowell.”, Public Broadcast Service,
“Decline and Recovery – Lowell National Historical Park.” NPS, National Park Service,
“Waltham-Lowell System.” NPS, National Park Service,


Role of the Massachusetts Textile Mills in the Industrial Revolution - History of Massachusetts Blog? ›

Textiles mills in Massachusetts played a pivotal role in the industrialization of the United States

the United States
The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a transcontinental country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major unincorporated territories, 326 Indian reservations, and nine minor outlying islands. › wiki › United_States
. Textile mills were the first manufacturers to use modern production methods during the Industrial Revolution and thus textiles became the dominant industry during this time period.

What was the role of textile manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution? ›

Textile mills produced cotton, woolens, and other types of fabrics, but they weren't limited to just production. Textile mills brought jobs to the areas where they were built, and with jobs came economic and societal growth. During the Industrial Revolution, villages and towns often grew up around factories and mills.

Why are textile mills important? ›

The factories provided a wide variety of textile products to everyone, everywhere. They were also an important source of new jobs. People moved from farms and small towns to larger towns and cities to work in factories and the many support businesses that grew up around them.

What did textile mills do? ›

Industries in the Textile Mills subsector group establishments that transform a basic fiber (natural or synthetic) into a product, such as yarn or fabric that is further manufactured into usable items, such as apparel, sheets, towels, and textile bags for individual or industrial consumption.

Why was textile manufacturing important to the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain apex? ›

Why was textile manufacturing important to the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain? It was one of the earliest industries to find success industrializing and inspired others to follow its lead. It led British farmers to begin planting cotton instead of food crops, leading to increased urbanization.

How did textile mills help the war effort? ›

When the Civil War (1861-65) broke out, the mills that remained in business began manufacturing uniforms, blankets, and other supplies for Confederate troops. With much of its manpower depleted by the army, the trained workforce became mostly white women.

How were textiles made before the Industrial Revolution? ›

Before the Industrial Revolution, textiles were produced under the putting-out system, in which merchant clothiers had their work done in the homes of artisans or farming families. Production was limited by reliance on the spinning wheel and the hand loom; increases in output required more hand workers at each stage.

How did the Industrial Revolution changed the textile industry in Great Britain? ›

Silk, wool, and linen fabrics were being eclipsed by cotton which became the most important textile. Innovations in carding and spinning enabled by advances in cast iron technology resulted in the creation of larger spinning mules and water frames. The machinery was housed in water-powered mills on streams.

Why did Industrial Revolution start in the textile industry in England? ›

As the population in Britain and its colonies increased, Britain had to find new ways to keep up with the demand for its products. The value for trade motivated Britain to produce more ships and goods, and Britain's ports, population, and supply of water and coal made it the perfect place to industrialize.

How did technological advances in the textile industry contribute to the Industrial Revolution? ›

The British textile industry triggered tremendous scientific innovation, resulting in such key inventions as the flying shuttle, spinning jenny, water frame, and spinning mule. These greatly improved productivity and drove further technological advancements that turned textiles into a fully mechanized industry.

Why did textile mills become a large industry in the South after the Civil War? ›

The South's mill owners not only benefited from cheap labor, they also entered the textile industry at a time of unprecedented technological advancement. The mill owners incorporated the most modern machines into their factories which allowed them to increase production and cut labor costs.

What does the textile industry produce? ›

The textile manufacturing processes in the global textile industry are producing the textile yarn, fiber, fabric, and finished products including apparels. The global textile industry associated with the apparel and non-apparel products is expected to exceed USD 1000 billion in the next couple of years [5].

What were working conditions like in mills? ›

Poor workers were often housed in cramped, grossly inadequate quarters. Working conditions were difficult and exposed employees to many risks and dangers, including cramped work areas with poor ventilation, trauma from machinery, toxic exposures to heavy metals, dust, and solvents.

Why did textiles industrialize first? ›

Textiles Industrialize First

It started in the textile industry, where inventions in the late 1700s transformed the manufacture of cloth. The demand for clothing in Britain had greatly increased as a result of the population boom caused by the agricultural revolution.

What does the textile industry produce? ›

The textile manufacturing processes in the global textile industry are producing the textile yarn, fiber, fabric, and finished products including apparels. The global textile industry associated with the apparel and non-apparel products is expected to exceed USD 1000 billion in the next couple of years [5].

What effect did the Industrial Revolution have on the British textile industry? ›

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1760s, largely with new developments in the textile industry. The spinning jenny invented by James Hargreaves could spin eight threads at the same time; it greatly improved the textile industry. Images Before that time making cloth was a slow process.

How did the textile industry develop? ›

Textile production developed in Britain during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, as machines such as Richard Arkwright's water frame enabled cotton to be spun into threads for use in weaving cloth and apparel with good durability.

What is the textile industry Industrial Revolution? ›

One of the main industries that benefitted from the Industrial Revolution was the textile industry. The textile industry was based on the development of cloth and clothing. Before the start of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 1700s, the production of goods was done on a very small scale.

What do textile product mills produce? ›

A textile mill is a manufacturing facility where different types of fibers such as yarn or fabric are produced and processed into usable products. This could be apparel, sheets, towels, textile bags, and many more.

What type of industry is textile industry? ›

The Textile Industry is an industry that is responsible for converting raw material into finished goods and also includes textile development, manufacturing, and distribution. Hence is an example of an Agro-based Industry.

Why did Industrial Revolution start in the textile industry in England? ›

As the population in Britain and its colonies increased, Britain had to find new ways to keep up with the demand for its products. The value for trade motivated Britain to produce more ships and goods, and Britain's ports, population, and supply of water and coal made it the perfect place to industrialize.

Why do you think the cotton industry was an important sector during the Industrial Revolution? ›

Cotton was a main raw material of the industrial revolution. Its strong fibres were uniquely suited to the hard mechanical treatment in the spinning machinery. The fibre was cultivated in the colonies in India and the Middle East and in the USA, where until 1860 it was produced largely by slave labour.

What were the inventions in textile industries in England as a result of Industrial Revolution? ›

What were the inventions in the Textile industry in England as a result of Industrial Revolution? Inventions in the Textile Industry: (i) Hargreaves invented the “Spinning Jenny” in 1764 which speeded up the spinning work. (ii) John Key invented “Flying Shuttle” which speeded up weaving.


1. Lowell: The Continuing Revolution
2. One of longest-running textile mills in Massachusetts in unexpected location
(WCVB Channel 5 Boston)
3. Industrial Revolution: Spinning Mills
4. The Lowell Mill Girls - Pioneers of the Labor and Feminist Movements
(Revolution and Ideology)
5. “And that’s how we did in the mill” Women in the Lowell Textile Mills
6. A Brief History of Plimptonville
(Walpole Media)

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