Weaving the World's Worsteds

Weaving the World's Worsteds

This photograph, taken in the mid-20th century, shows Lawrence’s mill district with the Ayer Mill clock tower visible on the top left. How many smokestacks can you count?

Orra Stone, in his four-volume history of Massachusetts industries (1930) has this to say about the city. “The influx of Boston capital created a mill city almost overnight and for nearly a mile on both banks of the stately Merrimack there tower the red brick walls of manufacturing establishments…” (Stone, p. 327).

Less than 40 years after the Essex Company’s incorporation, 338,100 spindles, 9,057 looms, and 10,200 employees weaved two million yards of worsted a week. The Lawrence Machine Shop, built between 1846 and 1848, constructed most of the machinery used in the mills and also for a time built railroad locomotives.

Lawrence was also one of the most important centers in the U.S. for the production of papermaking machinery. Stone notes that “The city manufactures a wider variety of paper-making machinery than any other one center; a larger total volume than any other city in the United States, while a buyer can purchase in Lawrence a larger percentage of te complete machinery required for making paper than in any other place in this country” (p. 338-39).

With the construction of the Everett Mills, the Pacific Mills, the Washington Mills, and numerous other factories, the city’s growth was truly exponential. After only 75 years of existence the city led the world in the production of worsted wool cloth. The Pacific Cotton Mills alone had sales of nearly $10 million in 1910 According to Orra Stone the Pacific Mills had the mechanical equipment capable of producing 800 miles of finished textile fabrics, every working day of the year!