History Of Textiles
The three fundamental industries that have developed from necessity
are the feeding, sheltering, and clothing of the human race. These
primary wants were first gratified before such conveniences as
transportation and various lines of manufacture were even considered.
Next to furnishing our food supply, the industry of supplying clothing
is the oldest and the most widely diffused. It is in the manufacture
of textiles--including all materials used in the manufacturing of
clothing--that human ingenuity is best illustrated.
The magnitude of the textile industry in the United States is evident
when we consider that it gives employment to a round million of
people, paying them nearly five hundred million dollars annually in
wages and salaries, producing nearly one and three-quarters billion
dollars in gross value each year, and giving a livelihood to at least
three millions of our population.
Wool, cotton, flax, and silk have been used since early times. Even in
the earlier days these fibers were woven with great skill. It is not
known which fiber was the first to be used in weaving. It is probable,
however, that the possession of flocks and herds led to the spinning
and weaving of wool before cotton, flax, or silk fibers were thus
=Wool.= The date at which prehistoric man discarded the pelt of skins
for the woven fabric of wool marks the origin of the textile industry.
Primitive sheep were covered with hair and the wool which now
characterizes them was then a downy under-coat. As time went on and
the art of spinning and weaving developed, the food value of sheep
decreased, while the wool value increased. The hairy flocks were bred
out, and the sheep with true wool, like the merino, survived. Sheep
were bred principally for the wool and not for the mutton. Woolen
fabrics were worn by the early inhabitants of Persia and Palestine.
The Persians were noted for the excellent fabrics they wove from wool.
Even the Hebrews of an early date were very skilful in weaving
The early Romans were a race of shepherds and the women of the higher
classes wove the cloth in their own homes. When Caesar invaded
England, he found in the southern part of the island people acquainted
with the spinning and weaving of wool and linen. With the downfall of
Rome, the art of weaving cloth in Europe was almost lost, and people
again wore furs and skins.
By the end of the eleventh century English cloth manufacturing had
begun to revive. In the northern part of Italy certain Italians had
flocks of sheep and obtained very fine wool, and the people of
Flanders continued to develop skill in weaving during the Dark Ages.
In the twelfth century the woolen manufacturers of Flanders had grown
to be of great importance, and some of the finest goods were shipped
from there to many countries.
In England, up to the time of Edward III, in the fourteenth century,
the wool produced was exported to the Netherlands, there to be woven
into cloth. Edward III invited many of the Flemish weavers to come to
England to teach the English people how to make their own clothes.
Edward was called the "Royal Wool Merchant" and also the "Father of
English Commerce." During Elizabeth's reign in the sixteenth century
the chief article of export was woolen cloth. In 1685 the Huguenots,
who were driven from France, went to England to settle. These people
were noted for their skill in weaving.
Patient effort in care and breeding of sheep showed a steady increase
in the quantity and quality of wool until 1810, and the proportion of
sheep to the population was then greater than at the present time.
Our own climate is highly favorable for sheep breeding, and it is
certain that the American sheep has no superior in any wool growing
country, in constitutional vigor and strength of wool-fiber, and no
wools make more durable or more valuable clothing.
The obstacles to sheep husbandry in certain parts of the United
States, like New England, are mainly climatic. The natural home of the
only races of sheep which can be herded in large flocks is an elevated
tableland, like the steppes of Russia and the great plains of Asia,
Argentina, Montana, Wyoming, and others of our western states where
an open air range is possible for nearly twelve months in the year. In
these elevated lands there are grasses which are more nutritious in
winter than in summer. The climate of New England does not permit the
growth of such grasses. Every grass which will grow in New England
becomes in the cold months frozen wood fiber. Then again there is the
frigid and penetrating atmosphere which necessitates housing the sheep
in winter, and these animals cannot be closely housed without
engendering a variety of parasitic diseases.
=Cotton.= Long before history was written, cotton was used in making
fabrics in India and China. Cotton has been for thousands of years the
leading fabric of the East. The Hindoos have for centuries maintained
almost unapproachable perfection in their cotton fabrics. It was the
Arabian caravans that brought Indian calicoes and muslins into Europe.
Cotton was first cultivated in Europe by the Moors in Spain in the
ninth century. In 1430 it was imported into England in large
quantities. The section of England about Manchester became in time the
seat of the great cotton industry; this was due to the settlement of
spinners and weavers from Flanders.
During the reign of Elizabeth, the East Indies Trading Company was
established. Not only was cotton imported, but also India muslins.
This caused trouble because of the decrease in the demand for woolen
goods manufactured in England. A law was passed prohibiting the
importing of cotton goods and later the manufacturing of them, but
this law was repealed on account of the great demand for cotton
Columbus found cotton garments worn by the natives of the West Indies.
Later Cortez found that cotton was used in Mexico; hence, cotton is
indigenous to America. In 1519 Cortez made the first recorded export
of cotton from America to Europe.
In 1734 cotton was planted in Georgia. Bales of cotton were sent to
England, and the manufacturing of cloth was soon under way. While the
colonies were trying to gain independence, England imposed a fine on
anyone sending cotton machinery to America, and restrictions were put
on manufacturing and imports of any kind. After the War of
Independence many of the southern states began to raise cotton in
The invention of the cotton-gin by Eli Whitney was one of the great
inventions of the age. While only two pounds of cotton could be seeded
by hand by one person in a day, the gin made it possible to do several
hundred pounds. At the time of the Civil War the greater part of the
cotton used by English manufacturers was imported from the southern
states. The closing of the southern ports during the war affected the
cotton industry throughout the world. Large mills in England were
closed, and thousands of people were out of employment. Steps were
then taken to encourage people of India, Egypt, Central and South
America to increase their production of cotton, and from that time on,
cotton from these countries has been found in the general market.
Cotton is now cultivated in nearly all countries within the limits
45 deg. north and 35 deg. south of the equator.
At the present time the United States ranks first in the production
and export of cotton. Of all the states, Texas and Georgia produce the
largest amount. About one-third of the entire crop is used in our own
mills; $250,000,000 worth of cotton is annually exported, principally
through New Orleans, New York, Savannah, and Galveston. Three-fifths
of this quantity goes to mills in England; Germany, France, and
Switzerland take a large part of the remainder.
The value of cotton is shown by the fact that about one-half the
people of the earth wear clothing made entirely of cotton, and the
other half (with the exception of some savage tribes) use it in part
of the dress.
=Linen.= Linen has always been held in great esteem. The garments of
the Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, and Roman priests were made of the finest
During the Middle Ages, Italy, Spain, and France were celebrated for
their linen fabrics. Religious intolerance in France drove 300,000 of
her best textile workers into England, Ireland, and Scotland. Irish
linen weaving began as early as the eleventh century.
Linen has never been largely woven in America except in the coarser
forms of crash and toweling, although linen weaving was one of the
Puritan domestic industries. The reason America has not been able to
equal Europe in its production of fine linens is because the process
for separating the fiber from the stalk requires the cheapest form of
labor to make it profitable, hence most of the American-grown flax is
raised only for seed.
=Silk.= Silk was used in the East as a fabric for the nobility. It was
first used in China and later in India. It was brought into Europe
about the sixth century. Up to that time the Chinese had a monopoly of
the industry. By the tenth and eleventh centuries silk fabrics were
made in Spain and Italy. At the close of the sixteenth century silk
was being produced at Lyons, France. It was afterwards introduced into
England, and the English silk for a long time replaced the French in
the European market.
Next: History Of The Organization Of Textile Industries