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Francis Cabot Lowell

Francis Cabot Lowell

The American merchant and manufacturer Francis Cabot Lowell (1775-1817) introduced the power loom and the integrated factory system to American cotton textile manufactures.

Francis Cabot Lowell was born in Newburyport, Mass., the son of John Lowell, a prominent lawyer, and Susanna Cabot, the daughter of a wealthy family of merchant shippers. Lowell earned a Harvard degree in 1793 and shortly afterward went to sea on family ships. His marriage in 1798 to Hannah Jackson joined him to two other substantial shipping families. By 1810 he was a major merchant in his own right; his trade encompassed Europe, Canada, India, and China.

In 1810 Lowell made an extended visit to England, where he was fascinated by the power loom, not yet available in America. Since it was illegal to export either models or designs, he studied the looms so thoroughly that with the help of a skilled mechanic, Paul Moody, he was able to have them reproduced from his memory and drawings on his return to Boston. The power loom was pivotal in the American attempt to compete in textile manufactures at a time when capital and technological superiority still belonged to the English.

The Boston Manufacturing Company was chartered in 1812 with an authorized capital of $400,000. Lowell, five brothers-in-law, and others in the mercantile community provided the large sums of capital necessary for what quickly became a major enterprise. In 1814 a mill was in operation at Waltham, Mass., which not only exploited the power loom but also, and for the first time, contained all of the processes of spinning and weaving cotton cloth under one roof. The Waltham mill was the parent of the famous mills at Lowell, Mass. Lowell was one of the first American company towns, characterized by a paternalism that has been both praised and damned.

Lowell was an active lobbyist for the protective tariff and in 1816 was influential in achieving the first American tariff that acknowledged an "infant industries" principle and provided a substantial duty on foreign cotton goods. Lowell died at the early age of 42, leaving a daughter and three sons, one of whom, Francis Cabot Lowell II, was to inherit his father's managerial abilities and a leading position in the expanding textile industry. After Lowell's death in 1817, the interrelated family firms produced textile machinery too.

Further Reading

Ferris Greenslet, The Lowells and Their Seven Worlds (1946), provides a popular account of several generations of the Lowell family. Kenneth Wiggins Porter, The Jacksons and the Lees (1937), contains both family and business history. A scholarly analysis of the textile interests Lowell helped to build is in George Sweet Gibb, The Saco-Lowell Shops (1950). Still important as a source is Nathan Appleton, Introduction of the Power Loom, and Origin of Lowell (1858). □

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Lowell, Francis Cabot

Francis Cabot Lowell, 1775–1817, pioneer American cotton manufacturer, b. Newburyport, Mass.; son of John Lowell (1743–1802). A merchant in Boston, he traveled (1810) to England, where he studied closely the new machinery used in the textile industry of Lancashire. Upon his return, with the aid of Paul Moody, he designed and constructed the first power loom in America, which had important improvements over its English prototypes. With Patrick T. Jackson (his brother-in-law), Nathan Appleton, and others, he formed the Boston Manufacturing Company and at Waltham, Mass., built the first factory in America to perform all the operations involved in converting raw cotton into cloth. He succeeded in having a duty on cotton incorporated into the tariff law of 1816. Lowell, Mass., founded after his death, was named for him.

See C. F. Ware, The Early New England Cotton Manufacture (1931, repr. 1966).

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"Lowell, Francis Cabot." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Lowell, Francis Cabot

LOWELL, FRANCIS CABOT


Francis Cabot Lowell (17751817) was a member of a large aristocratic New England family that came to dominate the business, political, and cultural life of Massachusetts. He was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a year before the signing of the United States Constitution. Francis was a U.S. business pioneer who helped bring about in the United States what is now called the Industrial Revolution. By memorizing and bringing to the United States mechanical details of the English power loom used to make cotton fabric, Lowell created with his business partners the first U.S. textile factory. It was a revolutionary facility built in Waltham, Massachusetts. There the new water-powered loom technology was used with all the other processes of spinning and weaving cloth to enable the manufacture of finished cloth from raw cotton under one roof. It was known as the "Waltham-Lowell System."

Francis Lowell grew up in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of John Lowell, a prominent judge married to Susanna Cabot, the daughter of an immensely wealthy shipping family. Francis enrolled at Harvard University in 1789, where he excelled in mathematics. After graduating in 1793 he began to work in an import-export company owned by his uncle, William Cabot. Lowell traveled widely and sought to develop trade and business connections. He prospered in his work and, when his father died in 1802, Francis inherited one-third of his father's $80,000 estate, invested for the most part in eight commercial ships.

By 1810 Lowell was, according to most standards, a wealthy man. He was not in the best of health, however, and his wife's health was becoming problematic as well. They decided to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland to improve their health and to observe the power looms that were being used for producing cotton fabric in Manchester, England and other locations.

Lowell had thought of building a textile mill back in Massachusetts believing that New England would only prosper by supplementing its cloth trade with manufacturing facilities. When Lowell returned to Massachusetts in 1812 he was aware that the War of 1812 (18121814) would likely cripple his overseas commercial trading business, and so he became intensely active in developing a cloth industry locally, in Massachusetts. The power loom he saw in England was not available in the United States and it was illegal to export the looms for foreign use because the English wanted no competition in their production of power loom finished cloth.

Lowell was determined to bring the power loom to the United States. While he was in England he studied the looms, making sketches and drawings when he could, and memorized mechanical details. Back in Massachusetts, Lowell was able to create his own version of a working power loom with the help of a skilled mechanic, Paul Moody (17791831). In 1812 Francis Lowell and other businessmen established what they called the Boston Manufacturing Company. They incorporated it in 1813 and chartered to capitalize it at $400,000.

With the power loom ready, and the business company established, the loom was patented. Land was purchased by Lowell for the Boston Manufacturing Company along the Charles River at Waltham, Massachusetts, and later along the Merrimack River. In 1814 the company erected buildings on the land at Waltham and fitted them with looms and machines based on Lowell's model, powered by water. At the end of 1814 the mills became operational. They were soon recognized to be the world's first mills capable of converting raw cotton into finished fabric under one roof, revolutionizing the entire textile industry.

Lowell and his fellow entrepreneurs, a group of men who were later widely known as the "Boston Associates," transformed the country's textile industry. So great were the profits at Waltham that the Boston Associates soon looked for new sites throughout the state, and found them at East Chelmsford (later renamed Lowell, Massachusetts), at Chicopee, Manchester, and Lawrence. The "Waltham-Lowell System" of producing cotton fabric from raw cotton under one roof in a mill operation succeeded beyond all expectations. It gave the Boston Associates control over one-fifth of cotton fabric production in the United States by 1850. By expanding into other businesses related and unrelated to cotton production their empire expanded. The Lowell and the Boston Associates turned to philanthropy, establishing hospitals, schools, and universities.

Though he died at the early age of 42 in 1817, Francis Lowell clearly took a part of the young United States into the Industrial Revolution era. He pioneered work in mass textile manufacture, making cotton fabric domestically produced by a U.S. work force available to people in the United States at inexpensive prices.


See also: Rhode Island System of Labor, Samuel Slater Builds First Factory, Samuel Slater


FURTHER READING


Dublin, Thomas. Lowell: The Story of an Industrial City. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1992.

. Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts 18261860. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Eno, Arthur L., Jr., ed. Cotton Was King: A History of Lowell, Massachusetts. Somersworth, NH: New Hampshire Publishing Co., 1976.

Greenslet, Ferris. The Lowells and Their Seven Worlds. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Publications, 1946.

Josephson, Hannah. The Golden Threads: New England's Mill Girls and Magnates. New York: Russell and Russell, 1967.

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"Lowell, Francis Cabot." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Lowell, Francis Cabot." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lowell-francis-cabot