Francis Cabot Lowell: Invention, Mill & Biography

Instructor: Molly Richards

Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

During the American Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, machines were invented and improved by many forward thinkers, including Francis Cabot Lowell. In this lesson you will learn about Lowell and his contribution to the integrated factory system.

Industrial Revolution

Imagine walking into a store to find a shirt. Instead of finding stacks and stacks of the same shirt in various sizes, you find a clerk who measures you and tells you your shirt will be ready next week. Next week? Let's hope you have one to wear in the meantime. Not to worry though, your shirt will be one of a kind, handcrafted.

This was life before the Industrial Revolution. Goods made by craftsman took time and cost money. When the Industrial Revolution came to the United States in the early 1800s, machines and factories were built to replace these craftsmen and mass produce goods, faster and cheaper. Although England was the first to have these types of machines, many American inventors and innovators improved on these machines and brought them to the United States. Francis Cabot Lowell was one of these men.

Francis Cabot Lowell: Life, Education and Business

Francis Cabot Lowell was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He lived from 1775 - 1817. His family was wealthy and well known in the Boston area. Like many of his family members, he went to Harvard University, from where he graduated in 1793.

After graduating, Lowell became a merchant , someone who traveled to different countries buying and selling goods. In the 1800s, the United States depended on other countries for many of their imports, or goods that were brought into the country. These imported goods were expensive because they were heavily taxed when they came to the U.S. Many people like Lowell wanted to be able to make more goods in America, so they wouldn't be as expensive.

In 1810, Lowell traveled to England. He closely studied the power looms that spun cotton thread into cloth or textiles. England had great machines but Lowell thought he could do better. Two years later, Lowell brought his knowledge back to the United States to create his own power loom.

The Boston Manufacturing Company was founded in 1813 by Lowell and a few of his business partners. Building a factory and starting the business was expensive, so the men raised money to help pay for it. They offered people part ownership in the company by selling shares. For $1000, a person could own a small portion of the company and then hopefully make a profit from it in the future. This same idea, shareholding, is still used by businesses today.

Waltham Mill, the Power Loom and the Mill Girls

Lowell chose a spot on the Charles River in Waltham, Massachusetts, to build the mill. The moving water from the river would provide energy to power the looms (there was no electricity back then). Lowell improved upon the British version of the power loom and created the first fast and dependable loom in the United States. He also combined the processes of weaving and spinning and created the first integrated factory system where the entire process of spinning and weaving cotton into cloth was done in one place.

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