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.

Robust Sales and Trim Figures: Lane Bryant Catalogs, 1921-1947

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

Lane Bryant, a New York firm established as far back as 1904, today focuses on creating fashions for—in modern parlance—“plus size” women. However, its first origins were actually in maternity wear. The company’s founder, seamstress Lena Himmelstein Bryant, was asked by a customer to create something comfortable yet street-appropriate for her to don while expecting. Word of mouth quickly spread and Ms. Bryant soon realized that there was a high, unmet demand not just for presentable maternity clothing (thanks in part to a burgeoning market of working- and middle-class consumers who could not afford to give up paid work while pregnant), but also for inexpensive, larger-sized women’s wear.

Lane Bryant became the first company to mass-produce both of these clothing types, launching the firm on a trajectory of rapid growth. Between 1909 and 1923, annual sales grew from $50,000 to $5 million. Among other factors, the mail-order catalog was key to this success. At the turn of the 20th century, newspapers would not run ads for maternity wear, considering the topic too indelicate for print. When in 1911 Ms. Bryant was able to convince the New York Herald to run an ad for one of her maternity garments, the company’s entire stock sold out the next day. However, the taboo proved persistent. By privately and directly marketing to consumers via the mail-order catalog, Lane Bryant found a clever (not to mention lucrative) way around this problem.

 

Lane Bryant maternity wear was “Designed to Grow with Your Figure,” and this 1947 catalog features many models who do not yet have the appearance of pregnancy.

Lane Bryant maternity wear was “Designed to Grow with Your Figure,” and this 1947 catalog features many models who do not yet have the appearance of pregnancy. Accn.# 2014-207-pg5. chace.athm.org

 

Despite this, and in spite of their presumed audience, over the following decades even Lane Bryant’s own catalogs reflect an assumption of squeamishness about abundantly-proportioned female shapes, pregnant or not. Their imagery idealizes the ultra-slim female, with the illustrations on all but a few pages of the 1921 catalog featuring delicate ankles and waists and nary an ounce of excess flesh. The 1934 and ’47 catalogs have jettisoned images of heavy-looking women altogether, displaying only trim women with small busts and flat bellies. The catalogs’ language reflected this bias, as well: while the 1921 catalog was titled, “Bargains for Stout Women,” those of the later decades avoided such unflattering language, touting instead the company’s “slenderizing fashions.”

 

The slender models appearing on this 1921 catalog cover belie the title “Bargains for Stout Women.”

The slender models appearing on this 1921 catalog cover belie the title “Bargains for Stout Women.” Accn.# 2008-242. chace.athm.org

 

“Stout” in 1921 has given way to “Slenderizing Fashions” by the time of this 1934 catalog.

“Stout” in 1921 has given way to “Slenderizing Fashions” by the time of this 1934 catalog. Accn.# 2014-2-11. chace.athm.org

 

For better or worse, at the time Lane Bryant was hardly unusual in its tactics—advertisers had, by the mid-1920s, figured out that the aspirational approach sold a lot more clothes than grim reality. Though its marketing strategy continues to evolve with the culture, today, the company and its wares still meet the needs of a significant customer base.

Converse: Mass.-Made Rubbers

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

Once again on the subject of famous shoe companies born in New England (see a previous blog post on Keds), another remarkable artifact recently surfaced in ATHM’s collections. This 1950s-era Converse Sporting Footwear poster, issued to retailers by the Converse Rubber Company, depicts shoe styles that, like the high-heeled Keds featured in the prior post, might not seem to fit the brand name we know today.

Converse, Inc. Only Converse sporting footwear brings you all these features! [Malden, Mass.]: Converse, Inc., [1950?]. Accn. #2010.12.3.

Converse, originally founded in 1908, is now famous around the world for its iconic Chuck Taylors (launched in 1917). The company, established by Marquis M. Converse, in Malden, Massachusetts, is another example of a New England manufacturer that managed to successfully weather a hundred years of changing consumer tastes—an order as tall as some of these boots, to be sure.

Different from what we picture when we hear the name “Converse,” these rubber boots look more like those of fellow New England sports clothing maker, L.L. Bean. According to Abraham Aamidor, who penned a history of Converse’s famed Chuck Taylor and his All Star sneakers, by 1910 Converse was producing over 4,000 rubber boots per day, and the company had to send workers home for the winter after all orders for galoshes had been filled. The rubber-soled Chuck Taylors were created to help the company balance the books, and keep its employees working, during this time of year.

But the story of local rubber ingenuity deepens, as in fact it was inventors in early 19th-century Massachusetts who made crucial advancements in the materials needed to make boots like these. In 1830s Springfield, Mass., Charles Goodyear first developed the process of “vulcanization” of rubber, which allowed it to remain stable and strong whatever the temperature (rather than sticky in hot weather, and brittle in cold—problems that had previously plagued the material). Around that same time Edwin Chaffee, working in Boston, invented a machine called a calender that pressed rubber into sheets, making it much easier to fashion into footwear and clothing. Both of these inventions propelled the rubber industry forward dramatically. (However, it should be noted that at the time this poster was made, most “rubber” products were made up largely of synthetics, partly as a result of WWII rubber shortages.)

As it happens, now is an especially appropriate time to be looking back on this home-grown shoe manufacturer—Converse Inc. moves in April, 2015 from its current home in North Andover, Mass., to new Boston headquarters, its Chuck Taylor shoe still very much at the heart of its longevity.

Our Favorite Things: Clothing in “Textile Revolution”

By Nancy Rogier, Museum Volunteer

Two items in the museum have fascinated me since the first time I saw them, but for different reasons: we know a lot about the first item, but not so much about the second. These two pieces, on display in ATHM’s core exhibition, Textile Revolution, illustrate the connection between history and mystery that surround objects that humans create and leave behind. All artifacts have a story, but not every object has a provenance or background that can be discovered—therein lies the mystery—and, as objects can’t speak, it takes research and investigation to bring their history to light, as well as to establish their place in the world.

Both of my favorite items belong in the world of clothing. The first is a polyester dress from the early 1970s designed by Jonathan Logan and purchased from Bonwit Teller, a high-end department store that flourished in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The second is a navy blue knitted woman’s suit that dates to the 1930s or 1940s. The 1970s dress captivates me because it came to museum with quite a lot of its history. We know the donor, who was the original and only owner of the dress. On display is a photo of the donor wearing the dress. The dress is a typical and appealing 70s style—a black scoop-necked, long-sleeved A-line shift with a geometric design of circles, squares, and lines in bright colors that really pop against the dark background. If you saw it on someone today, you’d probably think it fits right in. I love it not only because of the style, but because we know so much about the item. The photo of the donor wearing the dress at a garden party is an extra fascination for me—her only accessories are her shoulder-length hair, parted in the middle, and a gold circle-link belt, both very 1970s items!

Our Favorite Things: Gearhart Knitting Machine

By Dave Unger, ATHM Director of Interpretation

Turn the crank of the Gearhart Knitting Machine and the yarn carrier clicks around in a circle. A cam carries the latch needles up and back down again. Yarn unravels from the spool and the machine’s delicate hooks loop it through and through again. Turn the crank of the Gearhart Knitting Machine and a sock forms by the ingenious magic of careful engineering.

The Gearhart was the first of our textile machines that I learned to operate and it is still my favorite. Like many of the best examples of mechanical engineering, the mechanism is simple and robust. This machine has worked reliably for more than a century and needs little maintenance or adjustment. Its motion is beautiful and hypnotic. I made a short video as an ode to my favorite machine.

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12 Days of Christmas at the American Textile History Museum

We here at the American Textile History Museum like to have some fun and show off our collection. So for this holiday season we’d like to present to you our version of the 12 Days of Christmas. There are many versions of the song but we will to use the version published by Pamela McArthur Cole in 1900 because it was published nearby in Boston. Here’s the version she published in the Journal of American Folklore (Vol. 13, No. 50, Jul. – Sep., 1900).

The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me … an partridge feathered Adolfo beret from the 1960s.

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Our Favorite Things: Quilt, c. 1790

By Christian Hernandez, Social Media Volunteer

Quilt, c. 1790, 1996.61. American Textile History Museum.

 

Quilt
c. 1790
1996.61

Making quilts is often associated with a past when electric heaters, insulated walls and television weren’t available but even though times have changed people are still quilting. Since the late 18th century when this quilt was made technology, like sewing machines, and materials, like polyester batting, have improved, but what has changed most are our reasons behind why we quilt and our tastes in designs. We no longer need quilts for protection from the cold and as a result people often create them as a form of art.

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Cloaked Daggers

By Cheryl Beatty, Collections Assistant

“Your grandpa’s cane, it turns into a sword” -Bob Dylan, “On the Road Again”, 1965

The costume collection at ATHM was infused with an assortment of “novelty canes” last year, bolstering our collection of men’s accessories. The 15 canes and walking sticks, along with a solitary umbrella, were donated by Dr. Robert Breault, who has held an interest in these antique items for years.

A handwritten note enclosed in the shipping box explained his collection was built by gifts from patients and friends, as well as some purchased by the donor himself, “not at the usual antique shops, but at gun shows”. What?

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ATHM Welcomes New Project Archivist

ATHM is pleased to announce that Rhonda Chadwick has been hired as a Project Archivist to begin work on the Troy Mills records, a large collection (approximately 700 cartons) of material relating to the Troy Mills of Troy, N.H.  Troy Mills, owned and operated by the Ripley family, began life in 1865 as Troy Blanket Mills, a manufacturer of horse blankets; branched out into apparel fabrics and automotive trim in the 20th century; and continued operations under the same family until the early part of this century, a remarkable span of over 135 years.  The collection represents an exceptional look at the complete business history of the longest family-owned textile mill in New Hampshire.

Rhonda Chadwick stands among the stacks of records from the Troy Mills that she will be archiving.

 

Rhonda holds a dual master’s degree from Simmons College in Boston: an MS in Library and Information Science and an MA in History.  She recently completed work on a comprehensive survey of the Gorham Manufacturing Company collection (6,000 linear feet) at the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and has worked on collections at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston, the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College and the Rhode Island Historical Society.

The Troy Mills Project is being supported by the generosity of Ripley family members.

New Exhibit Added to “Textile Revolution”

Visitors can now see a stunning new exhibit on display in ATHM’s core exhibition, “Textile Revolution.”  This piece, titled “Sky into Water / Tides,” is a contemporary work of fiber art featuring optical fibers by artist Laurie Carlson Steger.  The piece has replaced another work of fiber art by Steger, titled “Keyhole,” which was added to “Textile Revolution” in 2011.

"Sky into Water / Tides" by Laurie Carlson Steger

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