There’s nothing run of the mill about Amoskeag

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If you’ve lived in Manchester for 60 years or 60 minutes, you have probably come into contact with some vestige of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, the now-defunct textile giant that helped shape this city we know and love.

Sooner or later, whether you’re a native or a newbie, you may encounter visitors who have some questions about Amoskeag, so a little refresher course can’t hurt, right?

Herewith, Amoskeag , from A-to-Z:
Amoskeag Millyard: Iconic then as it is now.
Iconic view of the millyard.

* A is for Amoskeag. It’s a bastardization of “Namaoskeag,” a Pennacook word meaning “place of many fish.” That name was bestowed upon the signature Merrimack River drop-off that Cotton Mather once called “the hideous falls” at Amoskeag.

* B is for Blodget, as in Samuel Blodget. The indefatigable inventor envisioned the Amoskeag Falls as a power source for industry. By building the first canal at the falls – financed by lottery and completed in 1807 – he set in motion a process that would enable the sleepy village of Derryfield to rival a great British manufacturing city and thus become “the Manchester of America.” Also under B: Bobbins; Burling.

* C is for Cotton. That’s the raw fiber that, by 1915, made Amoskeag the largest producer of cotton textiles in the world. Also under C: Child Labor; The Corporation.

Frederic C. Dumaine
Frederic C. Dumaine

* D is for Dumaine, as in Frederic C. Dumaine. In 1880, at 14, he took a job as an office boy at Amoskeag for three dollars a week. By 1935, he was treasurer of the company, but when AMC filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec. 24, 1935, it was F.C. Dumaine – rightly or wrongly – who became the target of public scorn in Manchester. Also under D: Denim; Doffing.

* E is for Eighteen-ten, or if you prefer, 1810. That’s the year in which the Amoskeag Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company took over a small mill on the west bank of the Merrimack near the Amoskeag Falls. By 1831, Boston entrepreneurs bought the company and reincorporated it as the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company.

* F is for fire engines. In 1859, while the mills were churning out cotton fabric, the Amoskeag Machine Shop began producing fire engines. Within 20 years, fire engines from Amoskeag were being used in England, Russia, Chile, Peru, Australia, China and Japan.

* G is for gingham. England and Scotland were the pre-eminent producers of this fine cotton fabric until Amoskeag entered the fray. Beginning in 1865, the finest English and Scottish weavers and dyers were lured to the city, and Amoskeag’s gingham became the finest in the world. Also under G: Great Flag ; Great Flood; Great Depression.

* H is for Hareven, as in Tamara Hareven. The brilliant history professor from Clark University and the University of Delaware became the world’s foremost Amoskeag scholar before her death in 2002. Her two books – ” Amoskeag: Life and Work in a Factory City,” and “Family Time & Industrial Time,” – are testament to Manchester’s industrial impact on America. Also under H: Hine, Lewis

* I is for immigrants. When the local labor pool was tapped out, Amoskeag sent agents to recruit new workers in other lands (See gingham). They came to Manchester from Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Sweden and Greece, and most notably, from the French-speaking provinces of Canada.

* J is for jobs, and at the height of its power, Amoskeag had more than 17,000 of them.

The men and women who worked the mills.
W is also for the many mill workers who built this city.

* K is for kin clustering, an off-shoot of immigration also known as “chain migration,” in which Amoskeag “utilized the workers’ own informal ties to recruit their Canadian kin and provide the necessary support for newly arriving relatives.”

Levi's, known for the sturdy denim manufactured at Amoskeag Mills.
Levi’s, known for its sturdy denim.

* L is for Levi’s. In 1873, Levi Strauss received United States patent #139121, using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants. Levi Strauss & Co. began manufacturing the Levi’s brand of jeans in San Francisco, using fabric from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Also under L: Linen; locomotives; looms.

* M is for the Merrimack River. The watery artery that bisects Manchester is also the circulatory system that gave life (and power) to Amoskeag Manufacturing. Also under M: Mill girls.

* N is for the National Recovery Administration, which established a 40-hour work week at Amoskeag in 1933, with pay equal to the amount earned in the previous 54-hour work week.

* O is for overseers. Defined by Tamara Hareven as “the pillars of the Amoskeag system,” these middle managers served as “enlightened despots,” managing production, maintaining discipline “and fostering among the workers a spirit of loyalty to the corporation.”

* P is for paternalism. Amoskeag ‘s prevailing management theory, in which the factory replaced the family, providing its workers with housing, playgrounds, parks, churches and a social atmosphere designed to avert labor unrest.

* Q is for Quebec. (See immigration). Failing family farms and a direct rail connection from Montreal to Boston made the Province of Quebec fertile ground for Amoskeag recruiters. Also under Q: Queen City.

1861 Springfield rifle made in Manchester, NH.
1861 Springfield Rifle made in Manchester, NH.

* R is for rifles, as in Springfield Rifles. Employees of Amoskeag Manufacturing who produced Springfield Rifles during the Civil War were exempt from the Union Army draft. In seeking the exemption, Agent Ezekiel Straw explained to the Chief of Ordnance, “This is desirable for the Government which will be more benefitted by having competent gun-makers work at their trade than to have them in the army.”

* S is for strikes, as in labor strikes, and Amoskeag had three worth noting. The first was in 1919, but with the mills operating on war orders, the Secretary of War assigned an arbitrator to the case and the strike was settled in five days. The second came on Feb. 13, 1922, when 12,000 mill hands – reacting to a 20 percent pay cut and an increase in working hours – walked off the job. It would be nine months before the workers agreed to return. The last significant strike at Amoskeag came on May 19, 1933. It was short, but violent, as the National Guard responded to a skirmish on the picket line on May 23. The strike ended July 31, 1933.

* T is for ticking. Amoskeag ‘s most famous original product was “ACA Ticking,” that being the blue-and-white striped material that was used for covering mattresses.

* U is for the United Textile Workers of America, the labor union which persuaded Amoskeag mill workers to walk out on three occasions (See strikes).

* V is for Valley Cemetery, built upon 20 acres donated by Amoskeag.

* W is for wages, and from 1831 to 1911, Amoskeag paid out $114,753,340 in compensation to its employees. Also under W: Water power; weavers.

* X is for xenophobia. Defined as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners,” which often greeted new immigrants to the city in the age of Amoskeag, regardless of ethnic origin.

* Y is for Yankees, the stuffy, stubborn, indigenous people of the area who frequently engaged in acts of xenophobia (See above).

Ezekiel A. Straw in 1875.
Ezekiel A. Straw in 1875.

* Z is for Zeke Straw. Although his birth certificate formally identified him as Ezekiel A. Straw, he is renowned as the genius – at age 19 – who set out the grid for Manchester’s urban design. He later served as the agent in charge of Amoskeag and was elected to two terms as a Republican governor of New Hampshire. He is buried in Valley Cemetery, which was deeded to the city by Amoskeag Manufacturing, proof that everything – and I mean everything – comes full circle here in the Queen City.


⇒ Click here to catch up with John Clayton’s Millyard Museum Musings archive.


screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-2-27-45-pmShameless plug: There’s still time to get your tickets for Night at the Museum 21+ costume party to benefit the Manchester Historic Association. Click here for details.


 

John Clayton

 

John Clayton is Executive Director of the Manchester Historic Association. You can reach him with your historical (or existential) questions at jclayton@manchesterhistoric.org.


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About Carol Robidoux 6307 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!