Thursday, June 25, 2009

the spectre of a wool famine

With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 American woolen manufacturers suddenly faced "the spectre of a wool famine." Sixty-five percent of the industry's raw wool in normal times was imported, most of it coming through British channels from Australia and other British overseas possessions. Great Britain, however, quickly placed strict controls on this flow in 1914 and at times diverted all of it to her own use. At the same time, other war materials clogged up shipping facilities which had previously transported wool and dyes to American shores. Fluctuating high prices and uncertainty of supply, twin offspring of this sudden turn, brought many headaches to mill owners.-- Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, May 17, 2008


Worsted loom, image courtesy of the University of Arizona

The Philadelphian was probably the son of Merrill E. Furbush who from 1849 to 1859 in partnership with George Crompton manufactured the latter's famous looms. Just before the outbreak of the War of Secession the two had dissolved their arrangement, Crompton reserving sales rights in New England and New York, Furbush having control over the rest of the country. It was the highly-advanced Crompton loom as well as other machinery that the mill purchased from C. A. Furbush in 1882.

A second prominent Northern investor was Francis Bangs Knowles. Born in Massachusetts in 1823 he had joined with his brother, Lucius, in 1862 in manufacturing looms at Worcester under the firm name of L. J. Knowles & Bro. Francis was in charge of finances and business management; he appeared, therefore, on the Charlottesville directory as the representative of his company. After his brother's death in 1884, he reorganized the business into the Knowles Loom Works, of which he was president. before he died in 1890, Knowles was also a bank director and had extensive interests in a railroad and a land company in Florida. A deeply religious man, he amassed a fortune, much of which he gave away in the form of philanthropy as befitted his motto: "the world shall be better for my having lived in it." Knowles, a man of wide interests, remained a director of the Charlottesville mill only a short time, however.--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

the golden fleece

from the 1915 Illio

Annual Report of the Commissioner and the Board of Agriculture and Immigration
By Dept. of Agriculture and Immigration, Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA., November 2, 1891
H. L. Lyman, Esq

DEAR SIR--In compliance with my recent promise to give you such data as I could, in furtherance of your desire to increase the interest of our farmers in sheep-raising, I herewith hand an itemized list of purchases made by us in Harrison county, Ohio, in the months of July and August of this year, and I may add that our buyer starts for the same section this week, expecting to invest $8,000 to $10,000.

Our total purchases of wool for the year 1890 were a little in excess of $110,000. After first of January next I can give you the figures for 1891 if desired.

It would seem to be most fortunate for the farmers of Virginia, and especially for those in close proximity to our mills, to have a woolen manufacturing plant located in their midst, which offers a home market for the staple, where they can sell direct to the manufacturer, and without the intervention of middle men. Our purchases of Virginia wools, however, are necessarily limited, by reason of the fact that we must buy the raw material of such quality as is adapted to making the kind of goods our trade demands, which is largely three-quarter to full-blood Merino. Just here I am aware that I antagonize a well-grounded idea that by reason of our close proximity to the large mutton-consuming markets of the seaboard the profit of sheep-raising is strongly in favor of the longer wool breeds, and it is difficult to argue against well settled prejudices, but they should always yield to reason and facts.

In those sections of our country, and I may say of the world, where sheep-raising has been most profitable, careful investigation will show that the Merino predominates. No State excels our own in climatic and other advantages for profitably growing " the golden fleece," the cur dog being practically its only enemy. To combat this enemy successfully, we must either have a dog tax thoroughly enforced, which for the eastern portion of the State seems to be in the remote future, or flocks must be of sufficient size to justify the employment of a regular shepherd. No breed will stand herding in large flocks without falling a prey to disease except the Merinos.

The prejudice to which I have referred as existing against this breed dates back, I think, to a long ago period, and a visit to Washington and other counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania and Harrison, Carroll, Belmont and other counties of Southeastern Ohio would be a revelation to those entertaining these prejudices, both as to their value for mutton and wool. By judicious breeding and culling the standard of the full-blooded Merino has been wonderfully improved both as to size of the animal and its desirability for table mutton, as well as length of staple and weight of fleece, until it now rivals the Shropshires and their most worthy progenitors, the Southdowns, while for an all-around, general-purpose sheep, either in large or small flocks, no breed is so highly prized in the localities referred to as the " Delaine " family, which is the outcome of a careful cross of the Merinos upon the long-wool breeds upon the principle of the survival of the fittest.

The "Delaines" vary according to the care in culling and tastes of the breeder, from one-half to three-fourths Merino, having the characteristics of reasonably early maturing mutton, of beautifully marbled flesh, fine size and a fleece of fine, strong, long-stapled wool, so thickly studded on the pelt as to yield easily an average of eight to twelve pounds of the most desirable and highest priced wool on the market.

If our farmers could be induced to try this Merino cross and exercise the necessary care in culling their flocks, I have no doubt they would be found to be quite as desirable for mutton as the breeds now most popular, and our mills would offer them a home market for all the wool they could grow.

Most truly yours,


(the above courtesy of Google Books)

(Cinder Stanton speaks about Jefferson's sheep)


Friday, October 5, 2007

prejudices against industry weakened

On the positive side of the ledger far-reaching changes were being wrought in the Southern mind and economy which augured well for the woolen mill. Through-out the South, reaction to Northern abolition attacks and a growing sectional consciousness gave intensity to an increasing desire for economic independence from the North. Southern newspapers in the fifties sounded the call for Southern manufactures, for the "clattering of the busy looms," for the building of cotton and woolen mills and a wide range of business activities. Old prejudices against industry weakened in the face of a movement which brought to the South an increase of 143 percent in woolen manufacture, 65 percent in the production of men's clothing, and 90 percent in the making of boots and shoes. --Harry Poindexter

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