Category: Photographs

Ciba Review, Part 3: Flabbergasting Fabrics

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

With this third and final blog post on the Ciba Review, a periodical held by ATHM’s Osborne Library, we conclude our series on this richly deserving resource.  CIBA, a Swiss textile dye company established in the mid-1800s, published its journal from 1937 to 1975, covering a comprehensive array of textile industry subjects from ancient to modern times.  Our last post paid homage to CIBA’s founding as a dye company by exploring natural dyes. However, the Review focused many, many more of its issues on a subject of even greater variety: fabric types.

Throughout history, humans have created textiles out of an amazing range of fibers, from the spun wool of sheep and silk of moths to cotton, flax, hemp, and jute.  We’ve even scraped the insides of coconuts to weave together their fibrous inner strands, creating a material known as coir.  Browsing through just a few issues of the Review instills a sense of amazement at the breadth of human ingenuity and resourcefulness when it comes to fabric making.  Since the industrial era began, of course, our creativity has known even fewer bounds, and today we can produce in a lab strands of fiber with whatever physical properties we might desire for our cloth.

However, even before the age of science, in the quest to create new fibers, humans experimented with some surprising materials.  One of these—the tinkering with which has resulted in a number of “accidental” technological advances—is glass.

 

Glass fibers

It’s hard to imagine glass in any form being envisioned for use in textiles, but thanks to our species’ never-ending pursuit of novel decorative effects to dazzle the eye, it was.  It took many thousands of years, however, to refine the material into thin enough strands for textile use.  A 1965 Review article, “Glass Filaments and Textiles,” explains that the ancient Egyptians created the first glass filaments around 1600 BC.  They did so by drawing out rods of glass to about the thickness of a pencil, then re-heating them and thinning them out again into tiny filaments.  As the Review notes, their contribution was seminal—not just to the refinement of glass but to synthetic fiber production itself:  “Although coarse, these filaments are without a doubt to be regarded as the first synthetic fibres made by the hand of man.”

In ancient times, glass filaments were used to decorate vases and other glass vessels.  Venetian glassmakers of the 16th and 17th centuries refined them even more, and by the early 18th century a French scientist named Réaumur had found a way to make glass filaments “finer than those of silk but… only very short.”  They were intended for use in imitation heron feathers.  One of the first uses of glass filaments as textile fibers is reported in 1842.  Their production employed a mechanical spinneret—possibly the first use of this technology that later became “basic for all synthetic fibres,” according to the Review.  By and large, however, their use was still limited to lace-work, ladies’ hats, lampshades, and wall coverings (though thanks to the already well known insulating properties of glass, they were also at this time being incorporated into garments used to treat rheumatism and gout).

“Produced in Paris in 1839, this imitation gold brocade used glass fibers to imitate the sheen of the real thing.”  From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

Produced in Paris in 1839, this imitation gold brocade used glass fibers to replicate the sheen of the real thing. From Ciba Review, 1963/5. ATHM Accn #2015.33.114

 

The first—and practically last—pieces of regular clothing to use glass fibers were created by a Toledo, Ohio, glassmaker named Edward Drummond Libbey.  His famous glass dress, made for Georgia Cayvan, an American stage star, featured a silk warp and a glass thread weft.  Shown at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it created a brief worldwide sensation, though unsurprisingly it was too stiff and fragile to be wearable in everyday life.

“Edward Drummond Libbey’s temporarily world-famous glass-fiber dress and matching glass-fiber parasol.” From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

Edward Drummond Libbey’s temporarily world-famous glass-fiber dress and matching glass-fiber parasol. From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

 

Today, fiberglass is put to many industrial uses thanks to its insulative and other unique physical properties.  The processes used to make glass fibers not only resulted in that innovation, but also were highly instrumental in the development of modern synthetic fiber manufacturing in general.


The term “textile,” of course, broadly refers to woven materials.  But humans have also made great use of naturally occurring sheet-like materials to cover themselves and their surroundings.  While the most obvious of these is the wide-ranging category of animal skins, another, lesser-known category comprises the many varieties of tree bark.

 

Bark fabrics

The Ciba Review focuses a number of its issues on this category of material.  Along with clothing made of leaves or strips of leaves (usually aprons and the like), bark fabrics originated among the native peoples in areas where the warmth of animal skins was not needed, but protection from rain sometimes was.  This includes the islands of the South Pacific and North America’s Northwest region, as well as parts of Africa and Central and South America.

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Captioned by the Review, “Women of Bada (Central Celebes),” this image shows the bark fabrics of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, composed “for the most part of fuja.” From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

 

In general, it was not actually bark but bast—bark’s inner layer, thinner and more flexible—that was used (although bark itself was sometimes used for protective wear and war clothing).  Not all trees had an internal structure with a suitable bast: mulberry, ficus, lime, birch, cedar, and sycamore trees were among those that did.  In Hawaii, several of these varieties were cultivated in large numbers especially for use in clothing.  The production of these fabrics was slow and labor-intensive.  First, the bast was soaked in water.  Then it was scraped and pounded until it was very thin and flexible.  Finally, it was decorated.  Various techniques were used, including dyeing, painting, and printing, often resulting in very elaborate patterns.

“A Samoan woman rubbing dye onto a piece of bark cloth held taut over a wooden matrix.”  From Ciba Review, #33, 1940.  ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

A Samoan woman rubbing dye onto a piece of bark cloth held taut over a wooden matrix. From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

 

“Swatches of bark cloth from the South Pacific islands.”  From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

Swatches of bark cloth from the South Pacific islands. From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24


We hope you’ve enjoyed this small selection of points of interest within the Ciba Review.  Though we’ll soon turn our attention back to other items in ATHM’s collection, the core message of this blog series bears re-emphasizing: simply put, the usefulness of this journal to textile researchers can’t be overstated.  With its broad coverage of subjects, eras, and regions of textile production—from ancient tanning methods through 20th-century technological advances—the Review offers thorough and consolidated expertise to those lucky enough to thumb through its pages.

Ciba Review, Part 2: The Colorful History of Natural Dyes

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

Our last blog post took a brief introductory look at the textile dye chemical manufacturer, Company for Chemical Industry Basel (CIBA), and its journal, held in ATHM’s library, the Ciba Review. To offer only one post about such an information-rich resource as the Review would scarcely be doing it justice, and yet the same might be said of exploring only a small sample of its contents. Choosing to err on the side of the latter, here we offer a second installment, surveying a topic that is, unsurprisingly, covered in quite a few issues of the Review: dyes.

In 1859, when CIBA was first established, the millennia-long age of natural dyes was coming to a relatively abrupt close. Scientists at the dawn of the industrial era had begun to discover chemical alternatives to natural dyes that were just as vivid and long lasting, but much cheaper to produce. CIBA itself was founded for the production of fuchsine, a synthetic silk dye. As its name hints, fuchsine produced a fuchsia, or strong purplish red, hue; its name was chosen for the natural source it emulates, the flowers of the plant genus Fuchsia.

The history of the natural dye industry is among the historical topics detailed in the pages of the Ciba Review. Within this subject area a full spectrum of issues is investigated, from the growth of the European dye industry to trade centers and color symbolism in various cultures. There are also entire issues devoted to the natural sources, both plant and animal, used to make dyes of all colors before chemical alternatives were found. Following is but a sample of those included.

Woad: This flowering plant, described in the Review as “the most important dye of the Middle Ages,” was grown throughout Asia and Europe. It came to be regarded as a universal dye because in its initial state of high concentration within the vat, it could be used to turn fabrics black; on subsequent dippings it lightened, turning items gradually lighter shades of blue, then green, and finally, with the addition of red, purple.

 

Isatis tinctora, commonly called woad or glastum, was sometimes also known as Asp of Jerusalem. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.36.1

Isatis tinctora, commonly called woad or glastum, was sometimes also known as Asp of Jerusalem. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.36.1

 

Madder and Turkey Red: These dyes were both sourced from the dried and powdered roots of the genus Rubia. Madder-root dyes, which were at the center of a booming industry in Europe for centuries, imbued fabrics with a deep ruby red. Turkey red dye, which originated in its namesake country, was also derived from madder-root. Giving yarns a more brilliant red than madder alone, its creation required multiple, complicated processes involving added oils and minerals.

Purple: The December 1937 issue of the Review is devoted to the subject of purple dyes. In ancient times, the color was often derived from the juice of various species of the purpura shellfish (so named for the reddish-purple shade of the shells’ inside). Purple from this source was extremely expensive to produce, as the shellfish were only useful at a certain time of year and it took very many of them to produce a small amount of dye. For these reasons, purple fabrics came to be among “the costliest articles of luxury,” and thus the color of royalty.

 

Although printed in the journal in black and white, the original of this painting showed off the color of the dye from the purpura shellfish. The creatures’ juice appeared yellow at first, but turned purple when exposed to sunlight. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.36.4

 

Scarlet: The original source for scarlet dyes, which outdid madder-root dyes in brilliance and intensity, were two different species of the shield-louse parasite: the cochineal insect and the kermes insect. Both were picked by hand from plants cultivated especially for the purpose, and then killed by drowning in a vinegar bath. As with purple dyes, the painstaking process by which these dyes were produced made them very expensive and therefore available only to the wealthiest.

 

The cochineal insect, native to Mexico, was soon recognized by Spanish conquistadors as superior to their own kermes for dye-making. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.33.3

The cochineal insect, native to Mexico, was soon recognized by Spanish conquistadors as superior to their own kermes for dye-making. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.33.3

 

 

Indigo: Once trade routes with India were established, the exceptional blue dyes sourced from the indigo plant became so popular as to destroy the gigantic woad trade in Europe. Made by soaking, drying, and then cutting up the plant’s leaves, the dye had a much more concentrated amount of pigment than what came from woad, resulting in a deeper and more vivid blue on dyed fabrics.

 

For a time, indigo cultivation reached worldwide dimensions; in the 17th and 18th centuries plantations were established in the American colonies. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.29.9.4

For a time, indigo cultivation reached worldwide dimensions; in the 17th and 18th centuries plantations were established in the American colonies. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.29.9.4

 

Eventually, synthetic dyes replaced all of these, with companies like CIBA developing hues that were as rich and color-fast as their naturally-sourced forebears (although some of the dyes described above are still produced in small amounts for use by artists and craftspeople). As time went on, the Review focused more and more upon the chemical processes by which synthetic dyes were produced and fabrics themselves, modernized.

 

This photo of CIBA’s factory equipment, from the journal celebrating the company’s 75th anniversary, gives a new meaning to the term “dye plant.” Osborne Library, 2015.33.91

This photo of CIBA’s factory equipment, from the journal celebrating the company’s 75th anniversary, gives a new meaning to the term “dye plant.” Osborne Library, 2015.33.91

 

Stay tuned for more in the third and final blog post of the series.

Ciba Review: A Rich Addition to ATHM’s Electronic Database

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

Among other ongoing endeavors, ATHM’s Osborne Library staff works consistently to increase the accessibility of its holdings, slowly and steadily adding records to its electronic database. Currently, librarian Jane Ward is directing efforts to add the records of the Ciba Review, a textile chemical company periodical, to the museum’s online catalogue, the Chace Catalogue. Periodicals, perhaps because they tend to be deemed less unique than other library materials, are often relegated to the back of the line in cataloging efforts. In this case, however, the periodical in question is of such value to researchers that it was not only bumped to the top of the to-do list, but is also being spotlighted in this special series of blog posts.

Although the Company for Chemical Industry Basel (CIBA) may not presently be a familiar name to many, the firm is traceable to a prominent modern-day outfit. CIBA (as the company came to be known), originally founded in 1859 in Basel, Switzerland, started out as a manufacturer of the silk-dyeing chemical fuchsine. In 1971, it became CIBA-Geigy in a merger with J. R. Geigy, Ltd., and in 1996, a merger with Sandoz Laboratories brought the agrochemical and pharmaceutical operations of these companies together under the Novartis umbrella. Today that company’s global research operations division, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One of the many issues of "Ciba Review" to focus on a particular culture or geographical area. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-65. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85202

One of the many issues of Ciba Review to focus on a particular culture or geographical area. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-65. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85202

Over the course of its existence, CIBA’s focus remained within the textile industry, and the periodical it produced from 1937 to 1971 is a testament to its dedication to the field. The Ciba Review—at first published monthly, but after June 1940, bi-monthly—set out to examine the history of “dyeing, printing, tanning, weaving, etc., and the numerous supplementary crafts connected with the refinement of textile products,” according to the editor’s statement that opens the first issue. Although “general appeal” articles rather than “weighty… erudite treatises” are its stated goal, readers may be surprised by the heft and density of the pieces it contains. For instance, the first of five articles in Ciba Review’s premier issue, “Mediaeval Dyeing,” is titled, “The Sociological Basis of Mediaeval Craftsmanship.” Richly illustrated and with layers of informative detail, the articles are a boon to researchers of textile history. Naturally, the Ciba Review also served as a platform for advertising the company’s patented dyes (“Fast attractive reds on cotton and rayon with Chlorantine Fast Scarlet BNLL”) and as a repository of scientific notes and practical trade tips.

The premiere issue of Ciba Review, published in September 1937. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-36-1. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85137

The premiere issue of Ciba Review, published in September 1937. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-36-1. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85137

Another point of interest is that the periodical is strongly organized by subject, making it a cataloger’s—and researcher’s—dream. Each issue is devoted entirely to the title topic and contains a number of articles touching on it from a different point of view. The range of subjects covered is impressive, including everything from fabrics used throughout the ages (“Fur,” “Velvet”) to categories of garment (“Children’s Dress,” “Gloves”) to examinations of textile making in a variety of world cultures throughout history (“Pile Carpets of the Ancient Orient,” “Bark Fabrics of the South Seas”). Later issues began to focus more on the technical and chemical processes of the textile industry and less on historical subjects.

2015-33-30

Beyond the techniques of dyeing and weaving, Ciba Review studied subject matter in textile art as well. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-30. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85144

There are now 170 separate issues of Ciba Review available in the online catalog, with approximately 40 still to come. In an effort to share a small sample of this incredible wealth of textile history information with our readers, we’ll take a closer look at a select number of articles in two upcoming blog posts. We think you’ll agree that the Ciba Review is a bountiful resource for those interested in the history and evolution of textile manufacturing around the world.

Barnes Textile Associates and the Rise of Management Consulting

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

The library of the American Textile History Museum holds a collection of over 2,700 reports created by the Barnes Textile Associates. One of America’s earlier management consulting firms, the company was founded in 1910 by Joel M. Barnes and kept headquarters in Boston’s financial district (at varying locations, including 101 Milk Street, and later, 10 High Street) along with additional offices in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and Spartanburg, South Carolina. From the time of its inception until at least the late 1960s, the company specialized in streamlining manufacturing processes at textile mills up and down the East Coast. The reports in ATHM’s Barnes collection, which span the years 1925 to 1971, are typed on onionskin paper and occupy 66 feet of shelf space. While they represent but a fraction of the firm’s production, they give a wealth of insight into the burgeoning field of management consulting.

 

Participants at a 1950s Barnes Textile Associates seminar, including reps from American Woolen Company, Goodall-Sanford, Inc., Bemis Brothers Bag Co., Cranston Print Works, and a participant from South America. Accn # 0000.2178.

Participants at a 1950s Barnes Textile Associates seminar, including reps from American Woolen Company, Goodall-Sanford, Inc., Bemis Brothers Bag Co., Cranston Print Works, and a participant from South America. Accn # 0000.2188.

 

The establishment of the field itself is credited to MIT graduate Arthur D. Little, who founded his still extant Boston firm Arthur D. Little, Inc., in 1886. With the rapid expansion of manufacturing capability in America during that time and over the several decades following, there came an increasing interest in techniques for maximizing worker efficiency (and with it, profits). In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is known as the father of the scientific management and efficiency movement, published his highly influential work The Principles of Scientific Management. His championing of such tools as the time study—essentially, a formalized way of tracking the movements of workers as they performed their tasks, with the intent of highlighting and eliminating any wasteful motions—led to their widespread use in manufacturing, and encouraged the mushrooming of companies like the Barnes Textile Associates.

 

ATHM’s Barnes reports contain a profusion of detailed time studies, payroll analyses, and cost comparisons, as well as extensive written recommendations for labor economies within the mills. Beyond advice for changes to workers’ movements or the layout of machinery, these include suggestions such as paying workers by the piece instead of by the hour, and instituting bonus systems to encourage even higher productivity.

 

 

Detail from a 1926 time study showing how athletic shirts could be stitched more quickly in the Ware Mills, Ware, MA. Accn # 0022.63.26.pg3.detail

Detail from a 1926 time study showing how athletic shirts could be stitched more quickly in the Ware Mills, Ware, MA. Accn # 0022.63.26.pg3.detail

 

Many scholars have explored the ramifications to American workers—and society as a whole—of Taylor’s legacy, asserting that the ideas he promoted resulted in skill reduction, disempowerment, and ultimately, alienation among workers. However, at least in the case of the American textile industry, the changes implemented at the direction of firms like Barnes most likely helped many mills survive longer than they would have otherwise.

A Printing Success Story

An important piece of American textile history has found a home at ATHM, thanks to the talents of a Russian immigrant.

Ruth Terry Wolfson was born near Odessa, in what is now Ukraine. Seeking a better life, 10-year-old Ruth and her family immigrated to Springfield, Massachusetts, in the 1890s.

Young Ruth’s abilities in art and design led her high school teachers to encourage her in pursing a career as a teacher of art. Ruth had the good fortune of continuing her education at Pratt Institute in New York City at a time when relatively few women (especially those from immigrant families) were being trained for professions other than teaching and secretarial work.

 

Ruth Terry Wolfson, 1927.

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The Great Hurricane of 1938

While hurricanes are certainly not uncommon in New England, few were as disastrous and destructive as the Great Hurricane of 1938, which struck without much warning and caused extensive damage in New England, particularly in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island.  September 21 marks the anniversary of this storm 74 years ago, a storm that killed more than 500 people and caused millions of dollars in damage.  Especially destructive was the tidal wave created by the storm, which caused special havoc along the shoreline and flooded tidal basins and rivers.  Downtown Providence, R.I., at the head of Narragansett Bay, suffered extensive flooding damage, for instance; I can remember one of my aunts recalling how she had to retreat to the attic of the building in which she was working in Providence at the time when the flood struck.

Many textile mills suffered damage from the winds, which tore off roofs and smashed windows uncovering the interiors; machinery and stock was further damaged from rain or broken sprinkler systems.  The photo below shows damage to the Warwick Mills in Centerville, R.I., where a partial roof collapse has led to damage in the interior.

While the damage seems severe, you can see from the following image that only one end of the fourth floor of the Warwick Mills actually suffered damage.

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How Big is Your Turbine?

Turbines, or water wheels, were manufactured to supply power to many industries, not the least of which was the textile industry.  Before the advent of electricity, it was the water wheels in the basements of many textile  factories churning the water supplied by the canals or rivers on which these factories were situated that supplied the power to the textile machinery on the floors above.  The Osborne Library has an extensive collection of trade catalogs for companies that manufactured turbines, including the Rodney Hunt Machine Company of Orange, Mass.; the Holyoke Machine Company of Holyoke, Mass.; and James Leffel & Company of Springfield, Ohio.

However, turbines were produced for other industries, especially the power industry, such as this one pictured below, a water turbine manufactured by S. Morgan Smith Co. of York, Penn.  Made for the Great Falls Power Station of the Montana Power Company, it was one of six units manufactured by S. Morgan Smith Co. developing 90,000 HP (horsepower) under 50 feet head at 200 RPM (revolutions per minute).

It’s not until you realize that’s a man standing inside the penstock (on the right) that you understand just how tremendously large this turbine is.  It gives a whole new meaning to scale, and illustrates the awesome size far better than a dry recitation of so many feet high and so many feet wide.

S. Morgan Smith & Co. was founded in York, Penn., in 1876 and operated under that name until 1959, when it was taken over by Allis-Chambers Manufacturing Company.  The company continues today under the name Precision Custom Components, still manufacturing energy related equipment for commercial and government markets, including components of nuclear reactors.

Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian

It’s a Twister!

July 26, 1890 started out as a typically hot July day in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but early in the morning, disaster struck in the form of the Great Cyclone of July 26, 1890.

Nowadays we would call this a tornado, but regardless of its nomenclature, this storm wreaked destruction on part of South Lawrence, as seen in the above photo, where a house has been split in two and unceremoniously dumped onto the ground.  Eight people were killed and 65 injured.  The cyclone struck shortly after 9:00 a.m., and certainly there was no warning of the wind.  Even today, tornado warnings are issued only minutes before the storm strikes and sometimes not at all, as the prediction of a tornado—where and when it will strike—is still a difficult science.

These photos, taken by A. W. Anderson of Haverhill, Mass., show the destruction.  Houses were opened up by the storm, having walls and roofs torn off.  Strewn around in the foreground of one photo is bedding and a chair, along with other unrecognizable debris while rescuers pose literally on top of what is left of the house.

A poem about the calamity, written by Alexander B. Beard of West Manchester, N.H., described the storm this way: “Like a demon loosed from Bedlam nought could its progress stay, / It spent its awful fury on all within its way. / The dwellings fell like ripe grain beneath the reapers blade, / Many poor industrious people were thereby homeless made.”  Thankfully the damage was confined to a small part of South Lawrence, and the rest of the city was undamaged.  Relief efforts poured in from Lawrence and surrounding towns and cities, amounting to a total of over $37,000, a substantial sum in 1890.

Anderson’s photos received widespread distribution at the time.  A set of them can be found here in the Osborne Library, as well as in the Special Collections at the Lawrence Public Library.

 

Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian

To Market, To Market (In An Overloaded Truck)

Raw wool could be brought to wool processors in many ways: shipped by train, by truck, or by boat, depending on where the raw wool was gathered and where it was being shipped for processing into yarn and eventually cloth. But as the photograph below indicates, the general idea was to ship as much as could possibly be stuffed into whatever method of transport you chose—in this case a truck—and then just add some more to the pile!

Photograph, c. 1905. Accession number: 1997.250.2

 

This gentleman, piloting a very early truck (probably about 1905), is possibly hoping that all those bags of wool don’t fall on his head before he reaches his destination. While we don’t know what each bag weighs, these bags are pretty large, and we can see at least 16 in the photograph, not counting what might be underneath in the bed of the truck. An estimate of 1500 or 1600 pounds total weight is probably not too unrealistic. It doesn’t seem like those thin little wheels on this truck could support all that weight (compare them to the large tires on tractor-trailers these days). In the early days of automobile design, the steering wheel sits perpendicular to the driver, rather than facing the driver as in modern-day cars, and note the complete lack of a cab, roof or any kind of cover, as well as the hand crank in the front.

Unfortunately, we don’t know the location of this photo, but what we see here is an enterprising gentleman who isn’t afraid to take on a load. Maybe he was just trying to conserve fuel by making only one trip. When “horseless carriages” first began operating, the “rules of the road” were minimum at best, and non-existent at worst, so he certainly wasn’t worried about weight limits. I’m just glad I wasn’t in a vehicle coming the other way!

Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian

Group Photo, Everyone!

Photograph, "Employees of the Springfield Silk Mills Co." April 27, 1886; 2001.74.1

If your company asked everyone to get together for a group photo today, it’s unlikely you would be posing on the roof over the door, but some employees of the Springfield Silk Mills Company in Springfield, Mass., did just that on April 27, 1886. Group photos from this time period usually depicted employees lined up outside the company building, but sometimes employees were seen perched in the windows as they are here, or even standing on the roof or in an open delivery door. The Springfield Silk Mills seems to have been a small enterprise, housed in a two-story clapboard building that looks very much like a large house. The company employed both men and women, some of whom are sitting in the open windows on the second floor, while some of the men stand jauntily on the roof of the bay window on the first floor. Others of both sexes line up across the front of the building. While the crowd appears small, there are actually 53 people in the photo.

It’s unusual to have a photo dated so specifically as this one, and it provides a window into a company that did not exist for very long. The Springfield Silk Mills Company was incorporated in 1883, just three years before this photo was taken. The company made machine twist and sewing silk (machine twist is sewing thread especially for use in sewing machines). However, the company seems to have run into financial trouble by 1888 or so, and disappears from directories after 1889. It’s possible that the company was taken over and renamed, as the Mikado Silk Mills popped up in Springfield, Mass., in 1890, also making machine twist but Mikado was gone by 1892 as well. This photo, possibly taken at the height of the company’s business, may be all that’s left of the Springfield Silk Mills enterprise.

Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian