History Podcasts

Why did textile mill owners during the industrial revolution keep their factory windows closed?

Why did textile mill owners during the industrial revolution keep their factory windows closed?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

This is an excerpt from Harbinger, published in 1846 on the working conditions of mills in Lowell, MA and Manchester, NH:

The atmosphere of such a room cannot of course be pure; on the contrary it is charged with cotton filaments and dust, which, we were told, are very injurious to the lungs. On entering the room, although the day was warm, we remarked that the windows were down. We asked the reason, and a young woman answered very naively, and without seeming to be in the least aware that this privation of fresh air was anything else than perfectly natural, that "when the wind blew, the threads did not work well." After we had been in the room for fifteen or twenty minutes, we found ourselves, as did the persons who accompanied us, in quite a perspiration, produced by a certain moisture which we observed in the air, as well as by the heat…

The author implies that the young woman's answer is wrong and naive, and it does seem unlikely that the wind would disrupt the operation of heavy machinery. So why did mill owners keep their windows closed when doing so hurt workers' health? My guess would be that the owners did this to avoid inspections.

The young woman quoted likely misunderstood the real reason the windows were kept shut: to keep the mills humid. This was explained to me on a recent visit to Lowell, but I found a few published sources that match what the tour guides told me. Here's one:

Work conditions in the mills were poor. To provide the humidity necessary to keep the threads from snapping, overseers nailed factory windows shut and sprayed the air with water.

And another:

Steam was constantly hissing into the room, providing the humidity essential to maintain the correct environment for the spinning and weaving of cotton. Windows were sealed shut to prevent the humidity from escaping, and temperatures would hover between 90 and 115 degrees.

One snapped thread could jam a spinning machine. If you take a look at how big these machines could be, you see why owners were afraid of snapped threads. Temporarily shutting down one of these machines could result in a significant loss of productivity:

Like the comments above indicate, inspection wasn't a concern -- there weren't any worker protection laws for the mill owners to break.


During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, artisans —skilled, experienced craft workers—produced goods by hand. The production of shoes provides a good example. In colonial times, people bought their shoes from master shoemakers, who achieved their status by living and working as apprentices under the rule of an older master artisan. An apprenticeship would be followed by work as a journeyman (a skilled worker without his own shop). After sufficient time as a journeyman, a shoemaker could at last set up his own shop as a master artisan. People came to the shop, usually attached to the back of the master artisan’s house, and there the shoemaker measured their feet in order to cut and stitch together an individualized product for each customer.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, merchants in the Northeast and elsewhere turned their attention as never before to the benefits of using unskilled wage labor to make a greater profit by reducing labor costs. They used the putting-out system , which the British had employed at the beginning of their own Industrial Revolution, whereby they hired farming families to perform specific tasks in the production process for a set wage. In the case of shoes, for instance, American merchants hired one group of workers to cut soles into standardized sizes. A different group of families cut pieces of leather for the uppers, while still another was employed to stitch the standardized parts together.

This process proved attractive because it whittled production costs. The families who participated in the putting-out system were not skilled artisans. They had not spent years learning and perfecting their craft and did not have ambitious journeymen to pay. Therefore, they could not demand—and did not receive—high wages. Most of the year they tended fields and orchards, ate the food that they produced, and sold the surplus. Putting-out work proved a welcome source of extra income for New England farm families who saw their profits dwindle from new competition from midwestern farms with higher-yield lands.

Much of this part-time production was done under contract to merchants. Some farming families engaged in shoemaking (or shoe assemblage), as noted above. Many made brooms, plaited hats from straw or palm leaves (which merchants imported from Cuba and the West Indies), crafted furniture, made pottery, or wove baskets. Some, especially those who lived in Connecticut, made parts for clocks. The most common part-time occupation, however, was the manufacture of textiles. Farm women spun woolen thread and wove fabric. They also wove blankets, made rugs, and knit stockings. All this manufacturing took place on the farm, giving farmers and their wives control over the timing and pace of their labor. Their domestic productivity increased the quantity of goods available for sale in country towns and nearby cities.

Factory system

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Factory system, system of manufacturing that began in the 18th century and is based on the concentration of industry into specialized—and often large—establishments. The system arose in the course of the Industrial Revolution.

The factory system replaced the domestic system, in which individual workers used hand tools or simple machinery to fabricate goods in their own homes or in workshops attached to their homes. The use of waterpower and then the steam engine to mechanize processes such as cloth weaving in England in the second half of the 18th century marked the beginning of the factory system. This system was enhanced at the end of the 18th century by the introduction of interchangeable parts in the manufacture of muskets and, subsequently, other types of goods. Prior to this, each part of a musket (or anything else assembled from multiple components) had been individually shaped by a workman to fit with the other parts. In the new system, the musket parts were machined to such precise specifications that a part of any musket could be replaced by the same part from any other musket of the same design. This advance signaled the onset of mass production, in which standardized parts could be assembled by relatively unskilled workmen into complete finished products.

The resulting system, in which work was organized to utilize power-driven machinery and produce goods on a large scale, had important social consequences: formerly, workers had been independent craftsmen who owned their own tools and designated their own working hours, but in the factory system, the employer owned the tools and raw materials and set the hours and other conditions under which the workers laboured. The location of work also changed. Whereas many workers had inhabited rural areas under the domestic system, the factory system concentrated workers in cities and towns, because the new factories had to be located near waterpower and transportation (alongside waterways, roads, or railways). The movement toward industrialization often led to crowded substandard housing and poor sanitary conditions for the workers. Moreover, many of the new unskilled jobs could be performed equally well by women, men, or children, thus tending to drive down factory wages to subsistence levels. Factories tended to be poorly lit, cluttered, and unsafe places where workers put in long hours for low pay. These harsh conditions gave rise in the second half of the 19th century to the trade-union movement, in which workers organized in an attempt to improve their lot through collective action. (See organized labour.)

Two major advances in the factory system occurred in the early 20th century with the introduction of management science and the assembly line. Scientific management, such as time-and-motion studies, helped rationalize production processes by reducing or eliminating unnecessary and repetitious tasks performed by individual workers. The old system in which workers carried their parts to a stationary assembly point was replaced by the assembly line, in which the product being assembled would pass on a mechanized conveyor from one stationary worker to the next until it was completely assembled.

By the second half of the 20th century, enormous increases in worker productivity—fostered by mechanization and the factory system—had yielded unprecedentedly high standards of living in industrialized nations. Ideally, the modern factory was a well-lit, well-ventilated building that was designed to ensure safe and healthy working conditions mandated by government regulations. The main advance in the factory system in the latter part of the century was that of automation, in which machines were integrated into systems governed by automatic controls, thereby eliminating the need for manual labour while attaining greater consistency and quality in the finished product. Factory production became increasingly globalized, with parts for products originating in different countries and being shipped to their point of assembly. As labour costs in the developed countries continued to rise, many companies in labour-intensive industries relocated their factories to developing nations, where both overhead and labour were cheaper.

Lowell Became Center of Industry

Francis Cabot Lowell died in 1817. His colleagues continued the company and built a larger and improved mill along the Merrimack River in a town they renamed in Lowell's honor.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Lowell and its mill girls became fairly famous. In 1834, faced with increased competition in the textile business, the mill cut the worker's wages, and the workers responded by forming the Factory Girls Association, an early labor union.

However, the efforts at organized labor were not successful. In the late 1830s, the housing rates for the female mill workers were raised. They attempted to hold a strike but it did not succeed. They were back on the job within weeks.

The decline of the Lancashire cotton mills

Did you know that Britain used to be the biggest cotton cloth producer in the world?

The mechanised spinning and weaving of cotton fibre into fabric began in Britain and spearheaded the industrial revolution. By 1860 there were 2650 cotton mills in Lancashire, employing 440 000 people and producing half of the world’s cotton. At the turn of the twentieth century things were still going strong and the Lancashire cotton mills produced 8 billion yards of cloth a year which were exported all over the world.
Then came the First World War and cotton could no longer be exported to the foreign markets. This led to countries such as Japan weaving their own cotton, and by the 1930s 800 mills had closed and 345,000 workers had left the industry.

This entertaining video was made by the British Council to counter Nazi propaganda and help promote British cotton to the world during the Second World War. It shows that we could not only make some fine cloth but we could design some great frocks too – and check out the glamorous war-time ladies in the fur and finery as well. As the commentator says in his best Queen’s English –

“For in peace or war, Britain delivers the goods”

But this video did little to revive sales of British cotton, and during the 1960s and 70s, mills were closing across Lancashire at a rate of almost one a week. Sadly, today there are left than a handful of working mills left in Lancashire.

The introduction of ‘duty of care’ 1837

On May 30 th 1835, Charles Priestley suffered a broken thigh, dislocated shoulder and several other injuries after a wagon cracked and overturned due to overloading by his employer, Thomas Fowler.

Priestly spent nineteen weeks recovering at a nearby inn, which cost him £50 (a considerable amount at the time). Priestly sued Fowler for compensation relating to the accident – the first documented case of an employee suing an employer over work-related injuries. The jury awarded Priestley £100 in a landmark case which established the idea that employers owed their employees a duty of care.

However, an appeal of the case established that the employer is not responsible to ensure higher safety standards for an employee than he ensures for himself.

North Charlotte Historic District

The North Charlotte Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [&Dagger]

The North Charlotte Historic District in Charlotte is a particularly well-preserved early 20th century textile mill district with approximately 438 resources, consisting primarily of former textile mills, associated mill villages, a collection of middle-class dwellings reflecting nationally popular styles, and a small business district. The North Charlotte Historic District clearly reflects the emergence of textile manufacturing in the Piedmont South during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte were becoming leaders in the region's burgeoning, railroad-related textile industry. The North Charlotte Historic District's contributing architecture ranges from about 1903, when the first textile mill opened here, to the middle 1930s, when the Great Depression drastically curtailed North Charlotte's development. The great majority of buildings and structures date between 1903 and ca.1915, the period when the district's mills and mill villages developed. The North Charlotte Historic District is eligible for the National Register as an embodiment of the textile industry that had a major effect on the social, cultural, and economic fabric of Mecklenburg County and the entire Piedmont South during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. North Charlotte, furthermore, played a pivotal role in the emergence of Charlotte as a textile center in this period. The North Charlotte Historic District boasts three textile factories: the 1903 Highland Park Mill No.3 the 1905 Mecklenburg Mill and the 1913 Johnston Mill. The district also comprises two basically intact mill villages and a compact commercial zone. The villages, in particular, neatly reflect in the arrangement and forms of houses other mill villages in the county and the region, representing the efforts of mill owners to establish self-contained communities for their work force. The North Charlotte Historic District thus provides graphic evidence concerning the textile manufacturing process as well as the organization of the affiliated labor force at the height of Mecklenburg County's textile boom. North Charlotte has excellent representations of early 20th century cotton mills and mill housing, as well as typical early 20th century commercial architecture and middle-class residences. The district's one contributing example of civic architecture, the 1936 fire station, is a remarkably intact example of fire stations erected in Charlotte during the 1920s and 1930s.

North Charlotte took shape at the northern outskirts of Charlotte amidst tremendous textile industrial development in Mecklenburg County and throughout the Piedmont region. While cotton mills first appeared in the county in 1852, and in Charlotte in 1881, textile manufacturing increased dramatically during the 1890s and early 1900s, when major mills arose in Pineville, Davidson, Cornelius, and Huntersville, as well as in and about Charlotte (Hanchett 1986 Morrill 1979 Gatza 1987). In their scale of operation &mdash which usually included a related mill village &mdash and in their orientation to railroad lines, primarily the Southern and Norfolk and Southern railroads, these mills reflected a new era in the industrial development of the South. Steam-powered machinery, and later electric power, in tandem with the railroads freed mills from traditional riverside locations. The use of electricity, which powered all three mills in North Charlotte, fostered more flexible and innovative mill designs, as machinery was no longer tied to the steam engine and its system of belts and shafts (DuBoff 1967 Kostof 1987). Furthermore, the great majority of mills appearing in the county during this period, and notably the emergence of the large North Charlotte mill district, represented small-town and "suburban" factory sites. Affording textile company owners relatively inexpensive land with access to rail lines, these two categories of mill districts proliferated during the decades before World War I (Rhyne 1930, 43).

North Charlotte contains the largest concentration of textile mills and mill villages in Charlotte as well as across the county. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Charlotte was being transformed from a trading center for cotton farmers to a premier textile center and a powerful symbol of the "New South." After the Civil War and the rebuilding and expansion of railroads in the South, Southern leaders began a drive for a New South based on urban manufacturing rather than farming (Lefler and Newsome 1954, 474-489). The South's new economic base was to rest primarily on textile production. Declares C. Vann Woodward, "The mill was the symbol of the New South, its origins and its promise of salvation" (Woodward 1951, 31). During the 1890s, mill construction accelerated around the outskirts of Charlotte and at small-town sites beside railroad tracks that crossed the county and converged on the city (Morrill 1979 Hanchett 1986). By 1900, Mecklenburg County boasted 16 mills with a combined total of 94,392 spindles and 1,456 looms, establishing it as the state's second most productive county, following neighboring Gaston County (Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Printing 1900). Mecklenburg County remained among the state's top three textile counties until the middle 1920s. By that time the textile belt of the Piedmont South was surpassing New England to become the world's preeminent cotton manufacturing region, with North Carolina ranking as America's number one textile manufacturing state (Mitchell and Mitchell 1930). Charlotte, in turn, had emerged as a major New South metropolis, with a population that had soared from about 7,000 in 1880, to over 82,000 by 1929, the largest urban population in the Carolinas (Sixteenth Census 1940). Fifteen textile mills operated within five miles of Charlotte, which, sang the Charlotte Observer in 1928, "is unquestionably the center of the South's textile manufacturing industry" (Charlotte Observer, October 10, 1928).

Bolstered by the promise of textile-related prosperity at the turn of the century, the Highland Park Manufacturing Company in 1903 acquired about 103 acres of rolling farmland three miles north of downtown Charlotte. At this time the company owned the Highland Park Mill (No.1) near Charlotte, and had acquired, in 1898, the Standard Mills in Rock Hill, South Carolina (Mill No.2). On their new tract the company erected the massive Highland Park Mill No.3. It was, by far, the largest textile factory in Mecklenburg County, encompassing over 100,000 square feet devoted primarily to the production of gingham (Huffman 1987).

One of the first electrically-driven mills in the state, Highland Park Mill No. 3 also represented a state-of-the-art design. Its architect was Stuart W. Cramer, whose influential book Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers (1906) showcased the plans and specifications for Highland Park Mill No.3 (Cramer 1906). The L-shaped, two-story, brick and timber main plant featured a pneumatic system for blowing cotton from the warehouse directly into the plant. Cramer arranged the huge spinning and weaving rooms at right angles, and put the machine room and smaller slasher, warping, and picker rooms in between so that the important functions of the mill would be physically integrated. For fire protection, he isolated the stairways in brick towers. Cramer situated the large powerhouse just south of the mill, next to a small reservoir (Hanchett 1986). Although the powerhouse is now gone, the surviving main plant and surrounding complex of related buildings and structures illustrate the textile manufacturing process in the early 20th century.

Also standing relatively intact is the large mill village associated with Highland Park Mill No.3 and designed by Cramer as well. This village in many ways epitomizes mill villages in Mecklenburg County and throughout the region. It represents in its plan and building types efforts by mill owners to provide "comfortable habitations" for their employees, as well as efforts to regulate behavior.

The mill villages that were developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were "conspicuous adjuncts" to the new, large-scale textile operations of this period (Herring 1941, 8). In these years approximately 200,000 North Carolinians left farms for textile factories, seeking jobs for wages &mdash "public work" it was called (Nathans 1983, 28-38). In the design of their mill villages, mill owners attempted to ease this tremendous relocation, while also serving their own purposes of attracting reliable labor. The most successful villages, which were used as models for subsequent mill towns, included company-owned, single-family houses set on ample lots (Glass 1978, 147 Kaplan 1981, 31). These houses could accommodate a labor force made up largely of rural households. The mill companies also found these dwellings feasible because the owners expected that nearly every family member would work in the mill. The large lots provided fresh air and space for a vegetable garden and even, on occasion, for some livestock. In attempts to create a largely self-contained community, the mill companies also often provided churches, stores, a school, and assorted other communal facilities (Hall, et al. 1987, 114-180). In his book Cotton Mill: Commercial Features (1899), Charlotte mill engineer and owner D.A. Tompkins expressed the consensus of prosperous mill owners when he instructed that mill villages should keep the general conditions of the countryside while providing the amenities of the town (Tompkins 1988, 117).

The Highland Park Mill No. 3 mill village offers physical evidence of this consensus. The great majority of dwellings are situated on spacious lots and follow simple, single-family designs that are set in parallel rows facing the mill. This functional layout of uniform housing is typical of textile mill villages across the county and the state (Gatza 1987 Mattson 1987, 296-299 Kaplan 1981, 31-37 Glass 1978, 139-142 Hood 1983, 222 Hanchett 1986). The village's ubiquitous side-gable mill house was not only functional, it was also familiar. The form represents one of the most popular vernacular house types in the region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (McAlester and McAlester 1988, 94-95). In selecting this basic house type to be the dominant form in the Highland Park Mill village, Cramer was perpetuating a traditional North Carolina dwelling which could be found in mill towns across the county and the state, and which helped foster a familiar environment for operatives (Gatza 1987 Glass 1978, 142 Kaplan 1981, 34). The use of this house form, along with other traditional designs, state the authors of Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, gave mill villages "the appearance of a rural hamlet more than a manufacturing settlement. If the work in the mill seemed alien to the men and women fresh off the farm, at least the village offered the comfort of familiar surroundings" (Hall, et al. 1987, 115-116).

In addition to the single-family, side-gable mill house, the village includes rows of hip-roofed and gable-front duplexes and shotgun houses built between 1903 and the 1910s. These dwellings are situated on narrower lots than the side-gable houses and epitomize space-saving worker housing appearing in industrializing urban neighborhoods of the South in these decades (e.g., Mattson 1987, 291-293). The shotgun house, which was a traditional Southern worker house type occupied largely by blacks, but by whites as well, also lines the streets of the textile mill village in Huntersville, about 10 miles north of Charlotte (Gatza 1987). The shotgun house is the only mill-house design in the Highland Park Mill village that was illustrated in Tompkins' 1899 book. Among this publication's host of plans and specifications for housing cotton-mill operatives and their supervisors was the ''Narrow House, Three Rooms, $325," essentially the standard two-bay, triple-pile, frame shotgun house (Tompkins 1899, 117).

A quarter mile northeast of Highland Park Mill No. 3, the Mecklenburg Mill opened in 1905, and, in 1913, the Johnston Manufacturing Company completed construction on North Charlotte's third and last textile mill. These mills represented standard-sized textile operations in Mecklenburg County in these years, the Mecklenburg Mill, for example, working 14,048 spindles in 1919, while employing 175 operatives in the making of gingham (Southern Textile Bulletin, December 25, 1919). This remarkably intact 1905 mill, asserts local historian William Huffman, "offers dramatic evidence of the era when textile manufacturing was a vital component of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg economy" (Huffman 1986). The complex includes the two-story mill building with attached cloth and boiler rooms and machine shop, as well as a cotton warehouse and two small structures used to store fire fighting gear. To the south, across North Davidson Street, stands the original water tower.

The Mecklenburg Mill village also survives basically intact. Three straight streets held most of the earliest single-family cottages: Mercury Street, East 37th Street, and Herrin Avenue. Most of the dwellings (approximately 55 in 1905) followed a basic T-shaped plan, a popular single-family mill house of this era around Charlotte. Mill villages associated with both the 1901 Chadwick and the 1903 Hoskins mills west of North Charlotte are lined with versions of this house form (Hanchett 1986). The T-plan mill house was also promoted by Tompkins, who published plans, elevations, and specifications of this cottage under the title "Three-room Gable House, Cost $325" (Tompkins 1899, 124).

In 1919, the Southern Textile Bulletin published an article on the Mecklenburg Mill and its village. Its description was partly factual description and partly industry boosterism that portrayed the mill village as an ideal, rural place occupied by contented laborers:

"Each cottage has a large space for a vegetable garden and many fine vegetables are raised both in summer and winter. There is a piggery where the mill community keep their hogs in a segregated spot, and many hundreds of pounds of pork is raised each year. There are quite a number of cows that furnish plenty of milk and butter and these are kept in perfectly sanitary stables away from the houses. There are 53 neat, attractive cottages in the village. The management has under consideration the building of a host of new and modern cottages in a pretty grove [now Patterson, Warp, and Card street]. The employees manifest considerable civic pride in keeping their village and their homes neat and clean (Southern Textile Bulletin December 25, 1919)."

The up-beat tone of this report obscured the fact that workers in this mill, as elsewhere in North Charlotte and the South, actually spent most of their waking hours in the factory. In the early years of this century, men, women, and children under 10 years old worked 10 to 12 hours each weekday and six more hours on Saturday (Hall, et al. 1987, 44-103).

Located to the west of the Mecklenburg Mill complex, along the railroad tracks, the Johnston Mill also illustrates early-20th century textile manufacturing in its surviving buildings. Although no village was ever associated with this mill (its employees lived in housing scattered throughout the periphery of northern Charlotte), the original complex survives. The main plant where cotton yarn was manufactured retains its original form and plan, including spinning and carding areas, a boiler room, and a picker room. As with North Charlotte's other mill complexes, the site includes subsidiary buildings (e.g., cotton warehouse with attached waste house, and a storage facility) representing ancillary activities related to the textile manufacturing process.

In addition to the three mills and two affiliated villages, the North Charlotte Historic District includes a ca.1910 factory whose function was closely related to the textile industry in this period. The Grinnell Manufacturing Company, also known as the General Fire Extinguisher Company, made sprinkler systems for controlling fires in the textile mills. This large brick factory produced "Grinnell Systems" for mills across the country (Hanchett 1986). According to the 1911 Sanborn Map of Charlotte, both the Highland Park Mill No.3 and the Mecklenburg Mill contained sprinkler systems that were made here (Sanborn Map 1911).

Less directly associated with the textile industry in North Charlotte, but a reflection of it nonetheless, is the small commercial area. The business district developed and thrived primarily in the service of mill workers. It is located at the nexus of the two mill villages, focussed along North Davidson Street. This thoroughfare, running parallel to the railroad tracks, was the route of the streetcar line connecting North Charlotte to downtown. The stores were privately owned and operated, though the parcels had been owned by the Highland Manufacturing Company, who targeted this area specifically for commercial use (Hanchett 1986). In the summer of 1904, soon after the construction of Highland Park Mill No.3, the Charlotte Observer described the emergence of retailing activity: "Messrs. John M. Atkinson and W.G. Shoemaker have purchased a corner lot near the center of the settlement and will build a handsome mercantile building. The building. will contain 2 stores, while the upper stories will be used for lodge rooms and an auditorium" [to be used primarily by mill operatives] (Charlotte Observer, August 4, 1904).

By the 1910s, North Davidson Street between East 34th and East 36th streets included contiguous rows of one- and two-story brick commercial buildings. In 1929, when this area was first included in the Charlotte city directory, it held a barber shop, drug store, drygoods store, lunch room, doctor's office, and five groceries. The Hand Pharmacy Building (3201 N. Davidson Street) contained a meeting hall in the second floor, and two other buildings, notably the Lowder Building (3200-3206 N. Davidson Street), housed second-story apartments mainly for unmarried mill workers (Charlotte City Directory 1929).

The mill workers' houses, which constitute much of the North Charlotte Historic District, represent-mill housing across Mecklenburg County in their basic forms, balloon-frame construction, and pattern of distribution. Remodellings have altered front porches and masked original weatherboarding on a number of examples, but original house and porch shapes are typically intact, and the overall architectural scale of the residential streets remains unchanged. In particular, the great numbers of single-family, side-gable and T-plan cottages typify worker housing in many of the county's textile mill villages. Mill villages in Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, and Pineville all contain examples (Gatza 1987). In Charlotte, parallel rows of white, frame T-plan cottages were built facing the 1889 Alpha, 1897 Louise, and the 1892 Highland Park No.1 mills. Across from the Hoskins Mill are straight streets of side-gable mill houses erected around the turn of the century (Hanchett 1986).

Several of the mill-house types in North Charlotte reflect designs either built or promoted by Charlotte mill engineer and Southern textile pioneer D.A. Tompkins. The D.A. Tompkins Company, established in 1884, designed over 100 mills throughout the South, including the Alpha, Victor, Ada, and Atherton mills which were all begun in Charlotte in the 1880s and 1890s (Hanchett 1986 Mitchell 1921, 9, 78-80). His widely read book Cotton Mills: Commercial Features (1899) contains plans and specifications for both the T-plan cottage, found throughout the Mecklenburg Mill village, and the shotgun house, of which a small number were erected in the village for Highland Park Mill No.3.

These and other house types in the mill villages, including the abundant side-gable house &mdash which Tompkins did not describe in his publication &mdash are not solely expressions of mill-house architecture. They are also reflections of popular vernacular house types of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Mecklenburg County and across the region. The side-gable house, especially, represents one of North Carolina's more popular rural dwelling types of this period (McAlester and McAlester 1987, 94-95 Swaim 1978, 36, 41). The North Charlotte Historic District contains a host of basically intact examples dating from the first decade of the 20th century. Furthermore, the plethora of T-plan cottages as well as hip-roofed and gable-front duplexes, and shotgun dwellings represent versions of common, urban worker housing of this period in the South (McAlester and McAlester 1987, 90, 92 Jakle, et al. 1989, 131-132, 145-147, 161-162 Mattson 1987, 291-293).

Houses: Nationally Popular Domestic Styles

The North Charlotte Historic District includes a collection of middle-income dwellings that were all erected on land owned by the North Charlotte Realty Company in the early 20th century. Located at the southeast side of the district, these dwellings are relatively intact, well-crafted examples of nationally popular styles: the vernacular Victorian the Colonial Revival and the Bungalow. The houses were located too far from downtown Charlotte to attract commuters, and so were occupied by a variety of skilled craftsmen and the shopkeepers and clerks who worked in the district's commercial area.

One-story, frame vernacular Victorian cottages line the 600 block of East 35th Street as well as the 3200 block of Spencer Street, and others are distributed along adjoining blocks. Representing dwellings of similar design built in the same period in the county's small towns as well as in Charlotte's developing middle-class neighborhoods and streetcar suburbs (examples survive in the Fourth Ward, Dilworth, and Elizabeth, for instance), these Victorian-inspired houses are characterized by hip roofs, decorative gables, projecting bays, and porches that wrap around the main facades (Hanchett 1986 Gatza 1987). The most intact examples retain turned porch posts and sawn brackets.

A notable Colonial Revival dwelling, and the only contributing two-story residence in the North Charlotte Historic District, is the 1918 Paul Berryhill Moore House (3212 Alexander Street). Its distinctive gambrel-front form with patterned wood shingles in the upper story and a small balcony illustrates a version of the style that was built occasionally in several other Charlotte neighborhoods at this time, including Plaza-Midwood (south of North Charlotte) and Dilworth. The house's compact but stylish design reflected Moore's social status as a skilled carpenter, and represented a smaller, economical interpretation of the substantial gambrel-roofed residences appearing in the early 20th century in the city's most fashionable neighborhoods, including Myers Park [see Myers Park Historic District] (Hanchett 1986).

The North Charlotte Historic District also contains a variety of handsome Bungalows built in the 1920s. Designed with such hallmarks of the style as low-slung roofs, exposed rafters, and assertive porches with tapered posts on brick piers, versions with gable-front, hip, or cross-gable roofs line the 700 and 800 blocks of East 35th Street.

Commercial and Civic Buildings

North Charlotte's small business district includes contributing buildings typical of early 20th century main street architecture in Mecklenburg County (Gatza 1987). Although many ground floors have been modernized since World War II and a small number of upper stories have been remodelled with bright-colored metal veneers, most have intact brick upper floors with simple corbelled cornices. The most intact examples, notably the Hand Pharmacy Building and the Lowder Building, feature ground-floor shop fronts with large display windows, slant-back entrances, and clear-glass transoms that once characterized shop fronts of numerous small commercial buildings across the county. Few today remain so intact.

The commercial district also features the handsome, remarkably preserved 1936 Fire Department Company No.3 (3210 N. Davidson Street). It is believed to have been designed by noted Charlotte architect Charles Christian Hook, who had designed similar, though larger fire stations elsewhere in the city. Hook designed scores of fashionable residences in the Georgian Revival, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Spanish Mission styles throughout Dilworth, Myers Park, and other developing, wealthy Charlotte neighborhoods during the early decades of this century (Hanchett 1986 Oswald 1987). The Neo-Classical inspired fire station in North Charlotte is highlighted by a brick-veneered, pedimented main facade.

Together and individually, the three textile plants in North Charlotte are essentially intact, architecturally important industrial complexes. They retain original stylistic elements, giving each aesthetic appeal, while exemplifying in their basic forms and materials textile mill complexes that emerged throughout Mecklenburg County and the region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Gatza 1987 Huffman 1987 Hanchett 1986 Kaplan 1981, 28-30). Highland Park Mill No.3, the Mecklenburg Mill, and the Johnston Mill each represents fire-resistant "standard mill construction" developed in New England at the behest of fire insurance companies at the end of the 19th century. The walls of each plant are of common-bond brick construction. Interiors retain hardwood columns, beams, and floors that were extremely slow to burn and would not bend in an intense fire (as metal would). Each mill also retains a variety of exemplary subsidiary buildings and structures.

The imposing Highland Park Mill No. 3 is a National Register property that qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural as well as historical significance. States the 1987 National Register nomination: "The Highland Park Mill No.3 is a place of exceptional architectural significance to the City of Charlotte and to the South" (Huffman 1987). In its massive scale, elements of style, and assortment of representative outbuildings, it is the finest surviving textile factory in Mecklenburg County. Outside the city limits of Charlotte, only the Anchor Mill in Huntersville remains basically intact but it is much smaller and less decorative than Highland Park No.3 (Gatza 1987). Within the city, only the Alpha Mill features a crenellated stair tower, and only the three-story Hoskins Mill can rival it as an intact example of a large-scale, early 20th century textile manufacturing operation (Hanchett 1986). Concludes the National Register nomination: "Compared to other mills in Charlotte, Highland Park No.3 is greater in scale, has more outbuildings, and has the largest and most decorated tower of the extant mills. Only the Hoskins Mill is so nearly intact as an original mill structure. (Huffman 1987)."

The Mecklenburg Mill also survives largely intact. A locally designated historic property, it was hailed in the Designation Report as being "among Charlotte's best-preserved early textile factories, despite the fact that it has been long vacant" (Huffman 1986). The mill includes original design features, notably a decorative front stair tower. Its original cotton warehouse and firehose storage sheds remain in place and intact, typifying these textile-related building types of this period (Kaplan 1981, 29).

Finally, the Johnston Mill also continues to represent an early 20th century textile factory. The plainest of the three mills, it retains original decorative cast-concrete trim, and the site contains a representative cotton warehouse and contemporary machine storage building.

The year 1939, the current 50-year cut-off point for eligibility to the National Register, is also an appropriate end to the North Charlotte Historic District's period of significance. While the heyday of North Charlotte and other mill districts in Mecklenburg County was around World War I, when the demand for textile products skyrocketed, the North Charlotte Historic District continued to grow, albeit slowly, into the era of the Great Depression. During the Depression the mills here reduced production and periodically shut down entirely. But they continued to offer some of the steadiest employment in the region, attracting a constant flow of rural workers who could no longer earn a living from the soil (Ralph C. Austin Interview, Southern Oral History Program 1979). Thus in 1939, North Charlotte appeared much as it had several decades earlier. The mills were still active along the railroad tracks and their workers continued to occupy company-owned cottages and patronize the commercial district. North Charlotte remained at the edge of the city, surrounded by farms and fields.

After World War II, this scenario changed. Beyond the mill district, postwar brick-veneered dwellings appeared, and North Charlotte was swallowed up within the larger city. More critically, the textile mills underwent changes in management and operation, and eventually shut down permanently. By the postwar era, the Johnston Group, headed by David R. Johnston, grandson of Charlotte and Cornelius, North Carolina entrepreneur James Worth Johnston, controlled all of the mills in North Charlotte (Hanchett 1986). Johnston sold off all the worker housing to their occupants or other interested parties in 1953. In 1969, with the aging mills proving unprofitable, Johnston closed both the Highland Park No.3 and Mecklenburg mills. In 1975, the Johnston Mill finally closed, after being sold several years earlier to a pair of Richmond, Virginia businessman. Writes local historian Thomas W. Hanchett, "The closing of the Johnston Mill marked the end of an era not only for North Charlotte but for the city as a whole." For by the mid-1970s the Johnston Mill was Charlotte's last major operating textile mill. Hanchett continues, "When the machines went silent, the city which had once been a national leader in textile production now no longer spun cotton into yarn" (Hanchett 1986).

Although the textile era has passed, the North Charlotte mill district survives largely intact. The houses are almost all occupied and are typically in good repair, owing primarily to federally funded renovations in the 1970s (Charlotte Observer, March 25, 1984). Residents are mostly working class, white homeowners and renters. While the former mills today are either vacant or under utilized, plans have been drawn for their restoration and adaptive use. In 1986, a "concept study" sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission explored the use of Highland Park Mill No.3 for elderly housing. The study also proposed the conversion of the Mecklenburg Mill to artists' studios, and the Johnston Mill to an outlet mall (Charlotte Observer, September 7, 1986). Reflecting a major chapter in the history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Charlotte may once again become the site of innovation and economic vigor, ensuring its vitality and physical preservation well into the next century.

Blythe, Lagette, and Charles R. Brockman. 1961. Hornet's Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte: McNally of Charlotte.

Brengle, Kim Withers. 1982. The Architectural Heritage of Gaston County, North Carolina. Gaston, North Carolina: City of Gaston.

Carlton, David. 1982. Mill and Town in South Carolina, 1880-1920. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Charlotte Observer. Charlotte, North Carolina.

Cotton, J. Randall. 1987. Historic Burke. Morganton, North Carolina: Historic Burke Foundation, Inc.

Cramer, Stuart Warren. 1906. Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers Charlotte: Stuart Cramer.

________. 1925. Cramerton Mills, Inc. Cramerton, South Carolina: Stuart Cramer.

Duboff, R.B. 1967. "The Introduction of Electric Power In American Manufacturing." The Economic History Review 20: 509-518.

Gatza, Mary Beth. 1987. Architectural Inventory of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Unpublished files available at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, Charlotte.

Glass, Brent. 1978. "Southern Mill Hills: Design in a Public Place." in Doug Swaim, ed. Carolina Dwelling: Towards Preservation of Place. Raleigh: North Carolina State University.

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, et al. 1987. Like A Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hanchett, Thomas H. 1986. "Charlotte and Its Neighborhoods: The Growth of a New South City, 1850-1930." Unpublished manuscript available at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, Charlotte. Pagination incomplete.

Herring, Harriet. 1941. The Passing of the Mill Village. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hood, Davyd Foard. 1983. The Architecture of Rowan County. Salisbury, North Carolina: Rowan County Historic Properties Commission.

Huffman, William H. 1986. "Survey and Research Report on the Old Hand's Pharmacy Building." Unpublished file available at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission.

________. 1986. "Survey and Research Report on the Old Mecklenburg Mill." Unpublished file available at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission.

________. 1988. "National Register Nomination for the Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No.3." Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History.

Insurance Maps of Charlotte, North Carolina. 1911, 1929. New York: Sanborn Map Company.

Jakle, John A., Robert Bastian, and Douglas K. Meyer. 1989. Common Houses in America's Small Towns. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.

Kaplan, Peter R. 1981. The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Concord, North Carolina: Historic Cabarrus, Inc.

Kostof, Spiro. 1987. America By Design. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lefler, Hugh, and Albert Newsome. 1954. The History of a Southern State: North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Mattson, Richard L. 1987. The History and Architecture of Nash County, North Carolina. Nashville, North Carolina: Nash County Planning Department.

Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office. Charlotte, North Carolina.

Miller's Official Charlotte, North Carolina City Directory. 1929. Asheville: The Miller Press.

Mitchell, Broadus. 1921. The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mitchell, Broadus, and George Sinclair Mitchell. 1930. The Industrial Revolution in the South. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Morrill. Dan L. 1881. "A Survey of Cotton Mills in Charlotte, North Carolina." Unpublished report available at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, Charlotte.

Nathans, Sydney. ed. 1983. The Quest for Progress: The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1870-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Oswald, Virginia. 1987. "National Register Nomination for the Dilworth Historic District." Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History.

Rhyne, Jennings J. 1930. Southern Cotton Mill Workers and Their Villages. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Southern Oral History Program. 1979. Ralph Charles Austin Interview. In the Southern Historic Collection at Louis Round Wilson Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Southern Textile Bulletin. 1919 and 1923.

Swaim, Doug. 1978. "North Carolina Folk Housing." In Doug Swaim, ed. Carolina Dwelling: Towards Preservation of Place. Raleigh: North Carolina State University.

Thompson, Edgar T. 1926. Agricultural Mecklenburg and Industrial Charlotte. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Tompkins, D.A. 1899. Cotton Mills: Commercial Features. Charlotte: D.A. Tompkins Company.

United States Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth Census, 1940. Vol I.

Vlach, John M. 1976. "The Shotgun House: An African Legacy." Pioneer America 8: 47-56, 57-70.

Woodward, C. Vann. 1951. Origins of the New South, 1877-1913. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

7 Important Facts About Lowell Mill Girls – A Brief History

The term “Lowell Mill Girls” was coined during the Industrial Revolution of the United States. By 1840, they made up the majority of the Lowell textile workers.

Ages 18 – 35

These women were young, between the ages of 18 and 35. There were over 8000 workers in the mid-1840’s.

Challenging Gender Stereotypes

These workers were independent women earning their own wages, which they often used for independence as well as to help out other family members such as brothers to pay for college.

Difficult Factory Conditions

These women worked in very sub-par conditions, upwards of 70 hours a week in grueling environments. The air was very hot in these rooms that were full of machines that generated heat, the air quality was poor, and the windows were often closed.

Voracious Readers

Although they had little time for relaxation and entertainment during the week, many of the workers used the Lowell library to read books and also circulated novels among themselves.


One of their strikes helped reduce the work day by 30 minutes, but they were unsuccessful getting the work day reduced to 10 hour days. It was extremely impressive that these women came together to form the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association and concentrate their efforts to organizing.

Women As Capable

Overall, these women proved to the world at large that women were capable of physical labor, diligence and leadership in the workplace, and the ability to come together and organize.

Learn more about the evolution of Lowell on our weekly Downtown Lowell Food Tour and upcoming Lowell Mill No. 5 Food Tour. We can’t wait to have you join us in Lowell and explore the best restaurants in Lowell downtown.


The extensive plant of Dobson’s Mills on Ridge Avenue in East Falls has been converted to luxury apartments. Dobson provided cloth for the Union armies during the Civila War. After the war he expanded into other textiles by encouraging skilled workmen from the Yorkshire Mills to come to Philadelphia. This included the men who were skilled at fixing the machinery.

A nice article on arguably Philly’s most important industry historically, that touches on, but doesn’t do justice to the fascinating history of the city’s textile workers. For a start I would add these to your list of Related Readings:

Susan Levine, Labor’s True Woman: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization, and Labor Reform in the Gilded Age (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984)

Sharon McConnell-Sidorick, Silk Stockings and Socialism: Philadelphia’s Radical Hosiery Workers from the Jazz Age to the New Deal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017)

Cynthia Shelton, The Mills of Manayunk: Industrialization and Social Conflict in the Philadelphia Region, 1787-1837 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986)

Dear History
Defender Inc. was established in 1930 located at 26th and Reed St, in Philadelphia,PA,
Sun Clothes same location. My family’s company.
I am the 3rd. generation and worked at that location..
Why can’t I find anything about it on the internet?
I am trying to find any history we made our mark.
Please advise,
Made in the USA
Debi Mills

My great grandfather, Robert Callaghan and his brother George built a vast textile mill complex in West Philadelphia, from 58th Street to the Cobbs Creek, specializing in cotton, angora wool and cashmere. The mill provided housing for workers, a church, stores, over many acres. The neighborhood was named Angora after the angora goat and was built/expanded from 1863 until 1898, when the worldwide depression took its toll on textile mills in the whole of Philadelphia. I lived on Angora Terrace until age four. Many of the townhomes have since been raised for a school. The Angora train stop on the Media/Elwny line is named after the Angora textile mill. I am currently working with the University of PA to add a web site with my many findings on the Angora neighborhood and the mill. This should be available late 2019. I would be happy to assist the above individual on how to get started with this research.

We manufactured athletic accessories and Government short under the Sun Clothes name and athletic apparel and athletic accessories under the Defender Inc. label. Can you help my find any information on my company since 1930?
26th & Reed St. Phila, PA
6th & Moore Phila, PA
I’m bringing back manufacturing to Delaware and have Governor Carney endorsing me!

My great, great Aunt Anastasia Hackett, died working as a spinner at a small mill, which the paper listed as 2023 Nandain Street. The accident occured on 7/10/1916. She was 15 years, 6 mos, 23 days old. I am interested in finding out more about this mill she worked and died in. Where and how might I start my search?
Thank you,
Emily Byrne

Factories in the Industrial Revolution

Richard Arkwright is the person credited with being the brains behind the growth of factories. After he patented his spinning frame in 1769, he created the first true factory at Cromford, near Derby.

This act was to change Great Britain. Before very long, this factory employed over 300 people. Nothing had ever been seen like this before. The domestic system only needed two to three people working in their own home. By 1789, the Cromford mill employed 800 people. With the exception of a few engineers in the factory, the bulk of the work force were essentially unskilled. They had their own job to do over a set number of hours. Whereas those in the domestic system could work their own hours and enjoyed a degree of flexibility, those in the factories were governed by a clock and factory rules.

Edmund Cartwright’s power loom ended the life style of skilled weavers. In the 1790’s, weavers were well paid. Within 30 years many had become labourers in factories as their skill had now been taken over by machines. In 1813, there were only 2,400 power looms in Britain. by 1850, there were 250,000.

Factories were run for profit. Any form of machine safety guard cost money. As a result there were no safety guards. Safety clothing was non-existant. Workers wore their normal day-to-day clothes. In this era, clothes were frequently loose and an obvious danger.

Children were employed for four simple reasons :

there were plenty of them in orphanages and they could be replaced easily if accidents did occur they were much cheaper than adults as a factory owner did not have to pay them as much they were small enough to crawl under machinery to tie up broken threads they were young enough to be bullied by ‘strappers’ – adults would not have stood for this

Some factory owners were better than others when it came to looking after their work force. Arkwright was one of these. He had some harsh factory rules (such as workers being fined for whistling at work or looking out of the window) but he also built homes for his work force, churches and expected his child workers to receive a basic amount of education. Other owners were not so charitable as they believed that the workers at their factories should be grateful for having a job and the comforts built by the likes of Arkwright did not extend elsewhere.

At the time when the Industrial Revolution was at its height, very few laws had been passed by Parliament to protect the workers. As many factory owners were Members of Parliament or knew MP’s, this was likely to be the case. Factory inspectors were easily bribed as they were so poorly paid. Also there were so few of them, that covering all of Britain’s factories would have been impossible.

Factories rarely kept any records of the ages of children and adults who worked for them. As employment in cities could be difficult to get, many people did lie about their age – and how could the owner know any better ? Under this system, children in particular suffered.


  1. Dairan

    I apologize for interfering ... I am aware of this situation. Is ready to help.

  2. Ryker

    You were not mistaken

  3. Slaed

    In my opinion you are not right. I am assured. Let's discuss it.

  4. Darien

    A fascinating message

Write a message