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--i
cluding 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

larger quantities.

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.