THE WOOLEN INDUSTRY OF PITTSFIELD
By Peter Lee Glick
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts
The Graduate School University
of Maine Orono
The town of Pittsfield, Maine, was dependent on the
wool industry for over ninety years. Much of its
prosperity and life was greatly affected by the conditions
of the mills. In fact it is safe to say that the woolen mills
made and almost broke Pittsfield. The town had always
relied on one industry, and when the last of the mills
closed, Pittsfield suffered until a new industry could be
In this paper I will try to give an account of the
history of these mills. Many of the records and pay
books have long been destroyed. It was only by the use
of the Pittsfield Advertiser, the local newspaper, and by
the accounts of personal experiences of people who had
once worked in the mills and were kind enough to relate
these to me that this paper could be written. This paper
presents the life and near death of a small Maine town.
The Beginnings of an Industry
The town of Pittsfield lies in the southeastern part of
Somerset County, twenty miles north of Waterville and
thirty-five miles south of Bangor in the State of Maine.
The Maine Central Railroad passes through the
Southeastern part of the town, with a station at East
Pittsfield. From the shape of the town it appears to have
been what was left after all the towns surrounding it had
taken what land they wanted for their purposes.
The land was fertile and the farmers had for some
time given much attention to fruit growing,
consequently there were many fine apple orchards. Most
of the streams were small except the Sebasticook River,
beside which the principal industries of the town were
The town was formerly known as Plymouth Gore
and was part of the Kennebec Purchase. Its first settlers
arrived in 1794. On June 19, 1819, it was incorporated
under the name, of Warsaw. Five years later the name
was changed to Pittsfield in honor of William Pitts of
Boston, who was then a major proprietor of land in the
area. During the 19th century the small village grew and
prospered until in 1868 it had a sawmill for long and
short lumber, a grain-mill, and a large shingle-mill. An
excellent private school, Maine Central Institute, had Just
been built and the town supported three churches. The
population in 1868 was
approximately 1,800 persons and the taxable evaluation,
One of the leaders of the town was Going Hawthorn
who had moved to Pittsfield, from Gardiner, Maine, in
1832. In 1867 he purchased an old saw mill from Jesse
Conners, a local store owner. He improved the mill and
built a split-stone and cement dam across the
Sebasticook River. In 1868 he added one set of woolen
machinery to the mill and was able to persuade Robert
Dobson of Lawrence, Massachusetts to purchase the
Robert Dobson had been in the woolen business all
his life. He was born in Galashiels, Scotland, March 3,
1823. Both his father's and mother's families were
connected with woolen mills and Robert grew up among
the woolen mills of his native home. In 1885 Robert took
his family to America after having worked himself up to
the position of general manager for P.R. Sanderson of
Galashiels who operated the largest tweed mills in
Scotland. His first Job was with the Hodge Mills in
Cherryfield, Massachusetts, owned by the Olney
brothers (one of whom Was Richard Olney, Secretary of
State to President McKinley). From there he went to
Amesbury Corporation where he was employed for four
years. Because of his knowledge of yarns he accepted a
position to reorganize a company that planned to
manufacture yarns and
1George J. Varney, A Gazetteer of the State of Maine (Boston: B. B.
Russell, 1886) p. 448.
cashmere near Bridgeport, Connecticut. Due to an
argument among the stockholders, reorganization
became impossible and he was forced to accept a
position in Schaghitoke, New York. These mills were
known throughout the United States as the “Model Mills
of America,” and Dobson built his plants in Pittsfield
according to these plans. He afterwards had charge of
the shawl mills in Leeds, New York, owned by the Hunt-
Tilness Company3. To raise money to purchase
the mill from Going Hawthorn, Robert Dobson
associated himself with a local man, William Davis and
his elder son, William, to form the firm of Dobson, Davis
and Company. He added another set of machinery and
the mill went into operation on January 2, 1869.24
Expansion came rapidly for the Dobson, Davis
Company. In 1873 the capitalization of the company was
$85,000. The mill employed twenty-five men, thirty-two
women and three children under sixteen. The wages
paid for that year were $25,521.60. The average wage for
the men per week was $9.60; women, $7.50; and
children, $3.60. The mill operated during 1873 for 11 ½
months.5 Also during this year the plant was expanded
to four “sets.” In 1878 the building was extended
eastward and two more “sets”
3News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 16, 1896.
4News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. October 27, 1892.
5The Wealth and Industry of Maine for the year 1873 (Augusta: Sprague,
Owen and Nash, 1873) p. 203.
added. In 1880 another addition was constructed on the
west end of the mill with a brick foundation (the bricks
being manufactured in Pittsfield); a dye house was
erected and two more sets added bringing the grand
total to eight “sets.”6
In 1876 Mr. Davis decided to sell his interest in the
mill to Robert Dobson's son, Gordon, and his son-in-law,
Dennison Walker. The new firm was called Robert
Dobson and Company. The production of the mill was
valued at approximately $125,000 per year.7
The woolen industry was not only growing in
Pittsfield but in Hartland, Old Town, Sangerville,
Skowhegan, and other areas of Maine. Most of the
people that owned these mills were from Scotland, and
many of the owners had known each other from
childhood. It was to become a standard practice during
the late 1800's that if one mill got into trouble, the others
would try to help it out.8
Most of the workers in the mills were also brought
from Scotland. Their passage was paid for by the
companies and the workers paid the amount back after
they began work. In Pittsfield the mill owners now built
a series of small homes behind the Pioneer mill for the
workers. These homes consisted of two rooms on the
first floor plus a shed in the back for wood and storage.
Upstairs there was
6News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. October 27, 1892.
8Personal interview, Mrs. Joseph Buker, March 21, 1969.
a small sleeping room. Outdoor plumbing was the order
of the day. The town now became divided. The workers'
area became known as “Little Scotland” while the area
south and west of the mill became known as the
“British” side or sector.9
The workers were paid from thirty cents to a dollar a
day depending upon their skills. They went to work at
six in the morning and worked until six or seven at night
according to the business of the mill.
Every summer they were given two week vacations,
unpaid, while the mills were closed for repairs. There
were also several unscheduled shutdowns during the
year due to breakdown or slack periods. Many persons
started work in the mills at twelve or thirteen years of
age. They were apprentices or water boys who carried
water to the weavers and dyers who could not leave
The workers were able to get by on their wages for
the price of goods at this time were reasonable. For
instance the price of flour was $4.50 per barrel while
clothing ranged from 75¢ for dresses, $2.00 for a pair of
shoes and men's topcoats for $3.00.11 Most meat and
vegetables were seasonal and many lived on deer, duck
and fish caught on weekends and vacations.
9Personal interview. Mr. William Wayness, February 24, 1969.
11News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 19, 1884.
In 1883 Dennison Walker disassociated himself from the
Dobson firm and decided to build his own mill across
the river from the Pioneer Mill. Subscriptions were taken
in the town at a minimum of twenty dollars to finance
the construction. A committee was formed consisting of
H.A. Pooler and R.A. Conant, and a notice placed in the
local paper advertising the fact of this stock
The subscription was met easily, and construction
began by July of 1884. The building was designed by one
Proctor of Waterville, and architectural work was
handled by Preston Hersey of Pittsfield, a man who was
to build most of the mills in town. 13
Building such a plant was difficult work and many
accidents took place.
Ira F. Towle placed his hand on a beam which
was being driven down with a sledge hammer just in time to
receive a blow with full force on his left hand smashing the little
finger badly, although the doctor has some hope of saving it.
Allie Noble fell from a staging to the ground, a distance of some
twelve feet. He was shaken up, but his injuries were not serious.
Cyrus Noble also fell and injured his spine and one leg so badly
that he is now home unable to leave. Henry Whitman had two
fingers of his left hand cut off in a buzz planer at the planing
Even Preston Hersey the foreman was not immune
from accident as he had the toes of his left foot severely
12News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 19, 1884.
13News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 24, 1884.
14News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 21, 1884.
jammed by dropping a large timber on them.15
Despite all the problems the new mill went up
rapidly, and the dedication for the mill was set for
October 3, 1884. The town planned a huge, evening of
celebration. Andrews Orchestra, a ten piece group from
Bangor, was hired to play at the Town Hall, and an
oyster and pastry supper was provided before the ball.
The orchestra was unable to play on the date so the
event was put off until the following week.16 As the
local newspaper described the gala; "A good time was
had by all."
The mill was christened the Maple Grove Woolen
Mill as the mill was surrounded by these trees. When it
went into production in December of 18-84 it had only
two sets of machinery and manufactured flannel.
Production was limited as the market was somewhat
depressed at time and expansion of the facilities was
still continuing.17 By April the mill was running full
time. It had four sets of cards and thirteen looms with a
capacity of thirteen more looms. The wool came largely
from the West with much of it coming from California. It
produced blue and, scarlet flannel of fine quality. The
mill was heated throughout by steam, no fires being
used except in the boiler room which was located in a
brick wing Joining the main structure.18
15News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 28, 1884.
16News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, September 18, 1884.
17News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 8, 1885.
18News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 23, 1885.
Fire seemed to be the great fear of the mill owners, as
they employed a night watchman to guard the property
after the employees had gone home. A force pump was
located in the wheel-house and had attachments for two
hoses that could be put into action with a few minutes
notice, and pipelines were laid to other available points
and attached hydrants. All fire fighting equipment was
located outside the mill to keep the chances of water
being cut off at a minimum. The many windows
afforded an opportunity to flood every floor. 19
The building was three stories high, each story being
one big room. Stairs and an elevator were located in a
tower on the side of the building. The cost of the
building and the share of the water rights was $20,000,
while the machinery was worth $15,000.20 Most of the
funds had been subscribed by the town.
The last main addition was added to the mill in
October, 1885, when a new fifty-five horse power engine
was added and an extension built to house it. The engine
was designed to be used only when the water was so
low that It could not turn the waterwheel that operated
the mill ordinarily. Nine new sets of cards were also
added. Most of the new additions were financed through
19News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 23, 1885.
21News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, October 29, 1885.
The Pioneer Mill also took precautions against fire at
about the same time by fitting the mill with automatic
sprinklers. A tower was also erected to hold water and
another steam pump added to take the place of the
original one in case of emergency. A hydrant was placed
above the mill in front of Robert Dobson's house to
protect the house from fire.22
In order to keep workers of his mill, Walker
embarked on a large building program of houses around
his mill. The majority of these were double tenements.
About six were erected along Detroit Avenue, a road
leading east from the village. The rents were low and the
better ones were rented to the overseers of the mill.23 As
Robert Dobson had done, Walker located his own
residence next to the mill. What made this house
different was it had one of the first indoor bathrooms in
the town. A huge tub was placed in the bathroom along
with other conveniences. Hot and cold water was
furnished from the boilers and pumps at the mill. Pipes
were laid under the ground to the house, and steam heat
was also supplied by the mill. 24
Wages had improved since 1873. The average wage
for a skilled male worker was $1.50 per day while the
22News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 8, 1885.
23News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 3,1886.
24News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 22, 1886.
made $1.20 per day. Women who made up a large part
of the Dobson Company earned $1.15 for skilled Jobs
and $1.05 per day for unskilled jobs. The value of the
Dobson plant had also risen from $85,000 in 1873 to
$125,000 in 1883.25
In 1886 the Pioneer Mill, because of water problems
during the past summer, added an engine room to the
west end of the mill. It housed a Putnam Automatic Cut
Off Engine which cost $2,500. The engine was huge with
a balance wheel eight feet in diameter, thirty-two inches
wide and weighing nearly six tons. It was capable of
running machinery in the mill, and the new boiler was
capable of furnishing steam for the engine and all other
machinery. It took nearly eight hundred tons of coal to
run the plant for the eight months of operation.26
Four new homes were also built by the Dobson
Company in "Scotland". The houses measured
twenty-four feet by twenty-six feet and had a shed in the
rear fourteen feet by fifteen feet. When the houses were
completed it brought the total of company-owned
tenements to seventeen.27
The products of the Pioneer Mill for the year 1886
were 507,560 yards of three quarter inch goods. It
required 450,000 pounds of clean wool to manufacture
this amount of
25Statistics of Industry and Finances of Maine for
the Year 1883 (Augusta; Sprague and Son, 10837 p. 164.
26News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 2,
goods.28 The amount of raw wool needed to provide
this amount of clean wool amounted to 800,000 pounds.
Most of this raw wool came from foreign countries.
Two events occurred in 1886 which show the
strength of big business at this time. The majority of
woolen mill owners met at Castle Harmony, a local
resort in Harmony, Maine, to form a permanent
organization known as the Maine Woolen
Manufacturers Association.29 At Dexter a group of
weavers struck for better pay and were immediately
fired. A black list was now passed around to all the mill
owners of the Association giving the names of the
"trouble makers" who had been fired from the mills.30
In the years to come the Association also rose to
challenge the tariff policies of the Federal Government,
and to keep the conditions of their employees where
they wanted them to remain.
On May 2, 1887, a freshet occurred on the
Sebasticook. Hard rain had fallen in the state during the
past few days the streams and rivers began to flood. The
mill yard at the Pioneer Mill flooded and the employees
of the mill requested to work Saturday to make up for
the time lost the previous Monday. Some of the weavers
refused and were dismissed.31
28News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 13, 1887.
29News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 10, 1886.
30News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 19, 1886.
31News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 19, 1887,
The Pioneer Mill now began to expand. A new
four-story addition, seventy-two feet by fifty-seven feet,
was built to accompany twelve "sets" of machinery. The
building was made of hard pinewood timbers, and
hardwood floors. A building was constructed to house a
new 125 horsepower boiler.32 A machine shop was
added, and power for this shop was furnished by an
endless belt which ran from the wheel of the old grist
mill included in the original mill. In the machine shop
was an iron planer, the first in Pittsfield.
In the summer the old picker house, a twenty feet by
thirty feet building, was demolished. Its demolition
nearly caused severe injuries to the men working on it.34
Robert Dobson also erected a bridge behind the mill,
across the Sebasticook River.35 This bridge connected
"Scotland" with the mill, and instead of having to walk a
half a mile to get to work the workers came across the
32News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 19, 1888.
33 News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 19, 1888.
34News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 19, 1888. Mott Mersey,
Eben Waldron and two. others, after removing the wooden roof
covering the brick arches, were engaged in taking off the latter
sections from one end. All four were standing on one of the brick
arches. The sides of the building suddenly fell inward raising the
arch hard, then all coming down together, men, bricks and timbers.
No one was seriously injured. Hersey had a long cut over his right
eye, and was otherwise scratched and bruised. The others escaped
with only slight scratches.
35News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 14,1889.
The Maple Grove Woolen Mill, still concerned about
fire, built a four-story tower to house a large water tank
and installed a gravity feed sprinkler system.36 The
Maple Grove Fire Company was organized with W. C.
Lucas as its first captain.37 A new office building was
erected on the east end of the mill while the old one was
turned into a cloth room.38
The Robert Dobson Company made its largest
expansion soon after (and, in my opinion, its greatest
mistake). For years Robert Dobson had dreamed of
building another mill in Pittsfield. It was decided to
build the new mill at the Douglas Dam site. Work on the
project started in December of 1891 with the stone blocks
being quarried for the foundation.39
The company could not afford to build the mill on
their own, so a subscription for construction was begun.
On Monday afternoon, March 7, 1892, a meeting was
held at the Masonic Hall anteroom to discuss the matter.
D. E. Vickery was chosen chairman and the great
Pittsfield attorney J. W. Manson elected secretary.
William Dobson, son of the founder and now proprietor
of the Pioneer Mill, explained the details. The firm
would take $20,000 of
36 News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 16.
37News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 11,
38News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 10,
39News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 11,1891.
the stock, and Dobson had received assurances from
capitalists in Boston and other cities that they would
subscribe at least $40,000 more to the stocks. A
subscription committee was chosen consisting of Oramel
Murray, W. R. Hunnewel J. P. Connor, Emery Whitten,
F. D. Jenkins, William Dobson, D. M. Parks, C. E.
Vickery, H. C; Pooler and I. H. Lancey, all local business
and professional men. 40
It was proposed to (build a mill large enough to
accommodate eight "sets" of cards; to put in four "sets"
at first and later if business warranted to put in the other
four "sets". The Dobsons and their associates were to put
up $60,000, and the citizens of Pittsfield the remaining
$40,000. A corporation was organized with a capital
stock of $150,000. 41
At first the response to the subscription was slow, so
to prod the people into action the Dobson threatened to
withdraw the offer. This apparently frightened the
people for by April 14 the town had raised $25,000 and
planned to raise the rest the following week. The reason
for this sudden surge of community spirit was that other
towns such as Newport were interested in the mill, and
the thought of Pittsfield losing her prestige to a
surrounding town hurt more than the loss of money
from a Scotsman's pocketbook.
40News item In the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 10, 1892.
41News item In the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 10, 1892.
William Dobson now went to Augusta where he was able to
raise $11,000 in a few hours, and as the money began to roll in the
idea of a bigger mill began to grow. The idea of a twelve "set" mill
circulated through the town. The Pioneer Mill was a twelve "set"
mill and employed three hundred hands. As the idea grew more
people wanted to subscribe, but as the Advertiser stated, "our
citizens all had a good chance to invest, and, if any now desire to
join, and find it too late, they certainly cannot blame
the soliciting committee."42
After two weeks William Dobson returned to Pittsfield laving
raised the required amount of money. The subscriptions now totaled
$157,500. The large stockholders felt it best to start with $160,000 and
while many people wanted to buy more stock the subscription was
closed. The break-down in round figures of money raised was;
Pittsfield, $63,000; Boston, $23,000; Waterville, $3,000; Bath, $5,000;
Augusta, $20,000; and Bangor, $25,000.43
On the local scene the businessmen raised the following
amounts. Robert Dobson $20,00.0; A. P. McMaster $5,000; F. O.
Jenkins $3,000; J. F. Connor, J. C. Connor, F. H. Lancey, J. W.
Manson $2,000; G. H. Hunter, N. L. Perkins,
42News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 21, 1892.
43News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. May 12, 1892.
Dr. Drake, the Haskills, and Emman B. Longley $1,000.
Sixty-eight other people contributed lesser amounts.44
One hundred thousand dollars went into the
building of the mill while the extra amount was used in
the purchase of the Douglas Dam and the property of
the water power company. An electrical system was put
in the mill and other additions added as William Dobson
saw fit. One of these additions was a new street called
Waverly Avenue.45 The avenue was to run from North
Main Street to the new mill, a distance of a half mile. A
town meeting was held which voted $5,000 for a new
bridge to cross the Sebasticook from the west end of the
Park's estate to meet Waverly Avenue. It was used to
accommodate people coming from Hartland and other
western areas who had business at the mill, and would
save over two miles of travel.46
Events now moved rapidly. A large boarding house,
was built at once near the site of the mill and numerous
other buildings began to go up to accommodate the
workers. The new mill was to add at least a thousand
people to the population of the town, an increase of
almost 50 percent.47
On June 20, 1892, a meeting was held at the law
office of J. W. Manson. At this time the stockholders
44Sanger M. Cook, Pittsfield on the Sebasticook (Bangor:
Furbush-Roberts Printing Co., Inc., 1966) p. 75.
45News item In the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 5, 1892.
46News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 5, 1912.
ratified the increase in capital stock to $160,000 and
accepted the resignation of officers. The number of
officers was then increased from three to seven. Robert
Dobson was elected President, Gardiner Cushman of
Boston, Edward Blake of Banger, Oscar Holway of
Augusta, and Robert Dobson, William Dobson, J. F.
Connor, and F. O. Jenkins, Directors. J. W. Manson was
elected Secretary-Treasurer.48 The Board of Directors
consisted of those men who had invested the largest
amount of money in the new operation.
Ground was broken for the construction of the mill
Tuesday, July 2, 1892, at 7:30 in the morning. Robert
Dobson threw out the first shovelful of dirt at the
north-east corner in the presence of a large crowd of
workmen and others. He then made a short address to
the onlookers. He said that this additional industry was
to be a great factor in the future of the town, and he
hoped the products of the Waverly Mill would become
as well known throughout the world as were the
celebrated Waverly novels from which the mill derived
The mill was 298 feet long, 60 feet wide and three
stories high. A wing sixty feet by seventy feet ran south
from the western end of the main building, and another,
wing, sixty feet by sixty feet, east from the southern end
of the west wing - forming a roomy court. The wings
were only two
48News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. June 23, 1892
49News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. July 4, 1892.
stories in height. The wheel house and other buildings
were additional and also of brick.50
Some idea of the major undertaking of such a project
may be seen in the amount of materials used; 1,800,000
bricks, 600,000 feet of lumber and a large amount of
granite in the foundation. It would require 350,000 feet
of four-inch spruce and 65,000 feet of one-inch
hardwood for floors, and upwards of 150,000 feet of
W. H. Snow of Lockwood, Green, and Company was
the supervising engineer; Preston Hersey in charge of
the construction. M. C. Poster of the firm M. C. Poster
and Son had the contract and was ground
superintendent. The excavation for the eastern end of
the mill was quite extensive. The crew was gradually
enlarged, "and things will hum for the next few
months", said the local newspaper in the commentary on
The contract provided that the roof of the new
building had to be on not later than the first of
December and the buildings completed by February.
The mill was located on what had been for years
known as the Pecker Farm on the east side of the river,
and the farm house was already opened as a boarding
house for the
50News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 4, 1892,
men. "No pleasanter, lighter, or healthier location for
a large factory and its surroundings can be found
anywhere. High and live is the site and it seems by
nature to have been designed for the purpose to which it
is now being put. A park is to be laid out and
perpetually dedicated to the public." Unfortunately the
future park never took shape, but the location of the
factory did live up to its expectations.
Robert Dobson now began to build two
two-dwelling houses with two more planned for the
The foundation was started in July and a spur track
from the Sebasticook and Moosehead Railroad was put
in to handle the six hundred freight cars that were
needed to haul the materials for construction.54 By
August the work on the foundation was nearly
completed and two steam and a hand derrick were in
use to build the foundation and chimney, which was
some twelve feet high by this time.55
The building fever now spread to the residents of
Pittsfield. The Towle brothers completed two new
homes on Waverly Avenue and began a third one for
53News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 4, 1892.
54News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 28, 1892.
55News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 18, 1892.
Further down the street a Mr. Basford from Detroit,
Maine, began a house, and across the street Jason Pinnell
was ready to build one for a Mr. Tibbetts as soon as the
foundation was prepared.
On September 29 the chimney was ready and the
society editor of the paper handled it this way.
Mrs. Wilbert Quinn went to the top of the tall chimney at
the Waverly Mill, 100 feet high, and triumphantly laid the first
brick. Mrs. Quinn showed herself to be a lady of nerves as she
displayed no trace of uneasiness under circumstances that
would appall most women, not to say a few men. Contractor
Poster at once presented her a check for ten dollars as a
memento of the occasion.57
The walls of the new mill began to rise, and as the
cold weather of fall set in the crew began to take more
than coffee and tea to stay warm. One Saturday night a
large amount of spirits was consumed and over forty
men on Foster's crew failed to report for work Monday
morning.58 The local chapter of the W.C.T.U. rose to the
occasion and for the next few months the evils of "devil
rum" were the subject of church sermons and pot-bellied
stove discussions in the Pittsfield area.
By December the walls were up, floor beams in place
the smaller buildings almost completed.59 As December
progressed the roof was tarred and the boiler put into
57News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. September 29, 1892.
58News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. October 20, 1892.
59News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 8, 1892.
First steam was raised in the boilers by January and the
water wheels set into place.60 By February the contracts
for the shafting, lighting and piping were let and it
looked as if the completion date for the new mill would
The mill was completed by April and the end result
was slightly different than had been originally planned.
The main mill was 298 feet and eight inches long and
sixty feet wide. On the west side of the tower was the
"picker building fifty by forty feet, three stories high.
South of the picker house was the dye house, fifty by
seventy-four feet and two stories high. Running easterly
from the picker house to the chimney was the boiler and
heating house. The chimney was eleven feet square at
the base and one hundred feet high. The wheel house
was thirty by forty feet and rested upon solid ledge. It
contained two Hercules water wheels. 61
The mill and all connecting buildings were built
brick with stone trimmings. All buildings with the
exception of the tower were covered with flat roofs
coated with tar and gravel. The tower was seventy-nine
feet high and contained a 10,000 gallon tank to supply
the automatic sprinklers. There were also two wooden
tanks of 1,500 gallons each, one to supply the sinks and
the other for wool and cloth scouring purposes. The
tower also contained
60News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 18, 1893.
61News item In the Pittsfield Advertiser. April 11, 1893.
a spiral staircase connecting the floors and provided a
fireproof stairway. There was another fireproof stairway
at the northeast corner of the mill. Automatic sliding fire
doors were provided on all inner doors to prevent the
spread of fire from room to room.
The floors were covered with four-inch spruce plank
covered with maple flooring. A part of the first floor,
where the wet finishing was done, was laid in concrete.
About 200 feet of the easterly end of the first floor was to
be used for finishing purposes; next on the same floor
was the machine shop 20 by 46 feet, and that part
between the machine shop and picker house was used
for storage of wool. The dye house floor was laid with
slits in the floor for the water to drip through.
Underneath was concrete. A shaft tunnel, 13 by 48 feet, 7
feet high, covered with bush arches, ran from the wheel
house under the dye house to the sheave pit.
The second floor was devoted to weaving and the
third to carding and spinning.
The mill was heated by a Sturtevant steam hot blast
apparatus. It consisted of brick subterranean flues
connecting with upright flues similar to chimneys.
Through these the hot air was forced into the rooms by a
rapidly revolving fan seven feet in circumference.
The shafting was put in by Jones & Laughlins, Ltd.,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Mather Company,
Boston, put in the electric lighting plant. The automatic
steam piping, and all the water piping was supplied by
the General Fire Extinguisher Company of Providence,
Rhode Island. The fire pump service consisted of one
Hercules power pump and one steam underwriters
pump furnished by the Dean Steam Pump Company of
Holyoke, Massachusetts; two Hercules water wheels,
furnished by Holyoke Machine Company, Worcester;
boilers by the Portland Company, Portland, Maine.
The textile machinery was furnished by the
following; cards and machinery for dressing and
spooling by Cleveland machine Works, Worcester,
Massachusetts, mules by Johnson and Bassett,
Worcester, Massachusetts; extractor by W. H. Rolhurst
& Sons, Troy, New York; for pulling and scouring by J.
Hunter Machine Company, North Adams,
Massachusetts; cloth dryer, by Kenyon Brothers,
Raritan, New Jersey; gigs, brushes and shears, by Parks
and Wooson, Springfield, Vermont; cloth press by Miller
Press and Machine Company, Woonsocket, Rhode
The wool pickers were located on the second floor of
the picker house and the stock was conveyed by the
Sturtevant system of blowers to the third ready for the
cards. The same system also conveyed the colored wool
from the extractors to the wool dryer. All in all this
mill must have been constructed in as modern and safe a
fashion as any of its time.
The mill was to commence production in June and
manufacture fancy cassimires [a smooth, twilled wool
fabric] and Scotch cheviot [a heavy, rough-napped plain
or twill fabric of coarse wool or worsted]. The
mill started with four sets of cards and thirty looms. The
cards and spinning had to be run extra time to keep up
with the looms. Employment began with eighty hands
and the owners expected to increase this to two hundred
when ten more sets of cards were introduced into the
mill. According to the builders of the mill "it was one of
the most modern in the world."62
In conjunction with the opening of the mill the town
held a grand two-day celebration. The first night a group
of young ladies were secured from Old Town by
William Dobson to give a program of "amateur
minstrelsy" supplemented by readings of three talented
Pittsfield ladies.63 The account of a local historian
The concert and ball the following evening was a magnificent
affair – one of the finest ever to be put on in Pittsfield. Special trains
brought guests from all parts of the state. Businessmen from Boston
and representatives from nearly every woolen mill in Maine were
present. Even though there was a snow storm of considerable
proportions early in the evening, it did not dampen the enthusiasm
of the crowd that made their way to the mill by private teams or by
D. E. Fiske's five barges. The interior of the mill was bathed in a
flood of electric light. The floor was in charge of T. G. Lancey, with
H. F. Libby and E. M. Shaw as assistants. At 8:30 Pullen's Orchestra
mounted the platform in the center of the immense room and played
five concert numbers. Dancing began at 9:30 and 130 couples
appeared for the grand march led by S. R. Haines and Miss Hattie
Dobson. The order of dances consisted of eighteen numbers. 64
62News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. April 11, 1893.
64Cook, op. cit., p. 76-78.
A supper was served at twelve to over six hundred people.
The corps of eighty waiters was led by D. M. Parks.65
A shifting of the office building and the erection of a new
one now took place at the Robert Dobson Company. The old
office building at the Pioneer Mill was moved up to Waverly
Mill to be used as a superintendent's office.66 Robert now built
himself a new building of Queen Anne architecture. It
measured forty by forty and was built by Preston Hersey.67
The other problem that arose was that the whistles on the two
mills sounded alike so a new one was placed on the Pioneer
Mill. "Now the Waverly Mill has its own distinctive toot."68
65Cook, op. cit. p. 76-78.
66News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 20, 1893.
67News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 16, 1892.
68News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 23, 1893.
Depression and Doldrums
While a bright future seemed to be the prospect for
his town, fate had other ideas. Less than a month after
the opening of the Waverly Mill it was shut down
entirely and the Dobson Company gave notice to the
employees that they planned to shut down one-half of
the Pioneer Mill after August 18. The other half of the
mill was to be run shorter tours until the situation
improved. Dobson answered the people of Pittsfield's
questions by saying that he "firmly believes that relief is
to come speedily and it is evident to all that a
conservative course now on the part of the mills is better
for the entire community than running full time, which
under the circumstances might result in large loss to the
proprietors and perhaps a permanent shut down. The
pinch does not arise from lack of orders, but scarcity of
money throughout the country.69 The mills of course
were caught up in the Panic of 1893.
Dennison Walker did not seem affected by this
money shortage. His mill continued to run full-time and
he and his wife left for a trip to California. Upon his
return to the east he stopped off in Westerly, Rhode
Island, and made an oral agreement to purchase a nine
"set" mill.70 This purchase looked good at first but later
proved to be his undoing.
69 News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 17,1893.
70News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 8, 1892.
By January of 1894 the woolen industry in Pittsfield was
languishing. Most of the machinery in the mills lay idle
and the Robert Dobson Company now announced a
reduction in wages effective February 1. The reason the
Company gave was that the other manufacturers
throughout the country had also reduced their wages
and had placed goods upon the market on the basis of
such reduction. They had to do likewise in order to
compete. They assured the town that they would
continue to employ all their old hands.71
The town found itself in serious financial difficulties.
Many were unemployed, and in order to keep hands
that would be needed at the mills in case of a sudden
upswing in production local stores were forced to issue
credit slips. In turn they had to buy their merchandise
from the wholesalers on credit and they slowly slipped
into deep trouble. To further compound the problem the
Dobson Company now demanded that the Waverly
Woolen Company be given a ten-year tax exemption.
The town fathers fought this measure to the
Superior Court in Skowhegan for the Waverly Mill was
one of the main sources of revenue for the town. The
powerful Maine Woolen Manufacturers Association
backed up the Dobson Company, and due to their
powerful lobby the Dobson Company won the suit.72
At the Maple Grove Mill the weavers went on strike
claiming that their wages before the cut down should be
71News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 18,1894.
72News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, September 21, 1893.
Dennison Walker explained that this was impossible
due to a shortage of orders. The weavers mulled the
problem over during the weekend and then returned to
work Monday morning.73
Throughout the remainder of 1894 the depression
continued. At the annual meeting .of the stockholders of
the Waverly Woolen Company in February of 1895 the
company announced that it had managed to stay in the
black and the directors felt that prospects for the coming
year looked good.74 The depression unfortunately did
not let up and many of the mill hands now left town to
seek jobs. Local merchants were left holding credit slips,
foremost of the workers' had nothing that could be
foreclosed upon in order to receive payment.
At the stockholders meeting of 1896 the company
again issued a favorable report concerning the future of
the Waverly Mill and voted that the Dobsons should if
they saw fit increase the machinery of the mill to full
capacity, Apparently they did not see fit to do so.
Dennison Walker was now in serious trouble. He
had made only partial payment on his mill in Westerly,
Rhode Island, and due to the national depression that
was occurring his creditors demanded full payment. His
Maple Grove Mill
73News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 18, 1894.
74News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 21, 1895.
75News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. February 20, 1896.
was assigned to his brother Joseph Walker, and the mill
in Westerly was leased to another group. The income
was used to defray the interest costs on the balance.76
People in the town now became quite alarmed for if
this mill closed, approximately one third of the labor
force would be out of work. Two weeks later Walker's
creditors met in Boston and the local editor reported that
"the meeting was a most amicable one in every respect,
and all were disposed to extend every courtesy and
accommodation at this time."77 Walker was loaded with
an impossible debt that finally forced him to sell the
mill. Courtesy and accommodation could not save him.
The second tragedy to strike was the death of Robert
Dobson in April. Dobson who had not been feeling well
for the past few months went to Hot Springs, Virginia,
for the cure. On his way home he died of Bright's
The remainder of 1896 was quiet. The mill's
production was cut back even more during the summer.
For a mill to get orders samples had to be sent to the
buyer for his approval. Samples were made and sent to
the buyers in New York City for approval for fall
production. These samples were rejected and with lack
of orders the Pioneer
76News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 16, 1896.
77News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. April 30, 1896.
78News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 16, 1896; he
was buried in the Pittsfield Cemetery where his grave
stone remains one of the more prominent in the
Mill was forced to cut back. By October, the Pioneer
went on an eight-hour shift and twenty-five looms were
stopped, cutting the capacity of the mill by two-thirds.79
As the country began to come out of the depression
in 1897 large quantities of raw wool began to arrive in
Pittsfield. In the first two weeks of January, twenty-five
car loads were received with more on the way.80 Word
spread through the nearby towns that the mills were
hiring and people began to filter back to Pittsfield. "Little
Scotland" which had been somewhat vacated during the
past three years began to fill up as more people were
brought from Scotland to continue work on the mills.
This immigration differed greatly from the trend of
workers in the rest of the state. Most of the other mills
had French-Canadian workers.81 The reason for
Pittsfield's differences was that Robert Dobson made
several visits to his homeland to recruit cousins and
other distant relations to come and work in his mills.
Over the years immigration had snowballed and many
families came to work in Pittsfield and other nearby
mills. The adjustment was made more easily knowing
one had friends in the area.
79News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, October 11, 1896.
80News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 28, 1897.
81Arthur Harrison Cole, The American Wool Manufacture
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926) p. 115.
In February the Joint Committee of Labor from the
State Legislature arrived to inspect the mills. Led by the
Honorable A. H. Burse of Pittsfield, a member of the
Committee, the members were led on a tour by William
and Gordon Dobson. They dined at the Lancey House
and returned to Augusta on the afternoon train. Before
departure they expressed themselves as very much
pleased with the appearance of the thriftiness among the
labor population in town.
In August an unfortunate accident occurred at the
Waverly Mill. A pair of work horses owned by Charles
O. Burns were at work on a scraper excavating earth
near the flume on the west end of the mill. The work
involved the horses being driven near the edge of the
wall. In hauling out, the scraper caught on a rock
throwing the near horse off its feet into the flume,
dragging the other horse on top of her. The water in the
flume was eighteen to twenty feet deep. The horses
thrashed around desperately entangling themselves in
the harnessing. One of them drowned before the water
could be drawn off. A derrick was rigged and the
horses hoisted out. The live horse lay in the sling very
quietly while he was swung over the wall "'til he made
things lively by starting a 2:40 gate" suspended in mid
air. His struggles broke the chain and he came down on
top of the wall, he would have gone over the wall had
not the crowd rushed
82News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 19, 1897.
in and pulled him back. One workman had his left hand
quite badly injured by being caught in the ropes of the
The last two years of the nineteenth century proved
to be very poor for both the Dobson interests and the
Maple Grove Mill. Gordon Dobson began to take more
trips to Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., in
search of new business, but little was found. In the early
summer of 1898 the mills were on short time again and
continued this way on and off until July. The Pioneer
Mill shut down completely with the Maple Grove and
Waverly soon following.84 Most operators began to give
up hope. The industry had now reached its low point
and when and if production would begin again was
unknown. In August a few orders came in but not
enough to get the mills rolling.85 To keep some hands
employed the Dobson Company erected a building on
the island between the bridges connecting the Pioneer
Mill to North Main Street. The building was two stories
and occupied by Hersey and Delano who were to run a
machine shop. It was hoped that a foundry would be
With little money coming in the town now decided
to raise the taxes of the Dobson Company. Gordon and
83News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 19, 1897.
84News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 9, 1898.
85News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 28, 1898.
86News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 17, 1898.
Dobson sued for an abatement before the County
Commissioners, saying that the appraisal of the mills
were more than they could possibly be sold for.87 An
abatement was granted.
The Maple Grove Mill was finally closed in 1899.
Dennison Walker, hard hit by the depression and
heavily in debt due to his purchases of the Westerly
Mills, was forced to go through bankruptcy. His mill in
Pittsfield was sold to Fred Smith. Smith had started as a
bookkeeper for the Robert Dobson Company in 1892
and stayed with them as paymaster until 1900. He
bought Walker's Mill in partnership with Ernest
Maxfield and T.B. Knowles,88 and it now became known
as the Riverside Mill. Walker quietly moved his family
from Pittsfield to New Hampshire where he managed a
five-set mill. Later he went bankrupt and retired to a
farm in Massachusetts. While at the farm, he went blind
in his late seventies and died in poverty at the age of
In retrospect it was unfortunate that Walker could
not have been able to hang on for one more year. 1900
brought with it new prosperity. The Riverside Mill
began to boom with orders that required the mill to
operate day and night so that the mill could make a May
A new self-regulating engine plant was introduced. The
87News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 22, 1898.
88News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 29, 1918.
plant operated all twenty-four looms day and night and
employed one hundred men. The mill adopted a policy
to hire none that were not of local origin. Apparently
they had some trouble with "bum weavers."
Four of these wandering workers began work for the
mill and a few evenings later a messenger arrived at
Smith's house with a note that the looms had been shut
down, and the workers felt that the rates being paid
were not fair. The other owners were now notified and
they hurried to the mill. A short conference was held
with the workers and they were informed that the rates
would not be changed and it was for them to decide if
they wanted to continue working. The four "bum
weavers" were notified to don their coats and get out,
the other help returned to their jobs, "and harmony
These "bum weavers" were independent agents and
had no union connection whatsoever. Unionism at this
time was almost nonexistent. A small group in
Lawrence, Massachusetts and Woonsocket, Rhode
Island had united into a special and distinct "trade"
union and were admitted into the United Textile
Workers, but this is as far as unions went in this time
period. The reasons for little unionism was the short
stay of many workers and their replacement by recent
arrivals from abroad.90
89News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 1, 1900.
90Arthur Harrison Cole, The American Wool Manufacturer
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926), p. 124.
The company also informed the town that they planned
to expand the mill and when offered a tax abatement,
until they were financially capable, they issued this
statement, "No, we do not ask for an abatement of our
taxes, the most we ask for is a nominal value placed
upon our plant until we shall have got firmly
established then we will be willing to pay our
proportionate part of the tax whatever that may be."91
One assumes the Dobsons simply observed this
The Pioneer Mill also began to introduce advanced
machinery. A new system of conveying wool from the
picker house to the mill was added and a system of
blowers was installed.92
Not only did production improve but the treatment
toward the worker changed. Saturday was payday at
the mills and the workers instead of picking up a check
at the end of the day got paid in cash during the
afternoon. As assistant from the bookkeeper's office
would go to each room with a large tray. On the tray
were piles of money. Each worker had his own pile and
it was given to him.
The Pioneer Mill which employed the most men had
a payroll of $3,900 during the peak season. The men
were paid bi-monthly. The Riverside Mill paid $2,500
for two weeks' work or about $25 per person.93 The
91News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 1, 1900.
92News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 5, 1900.
93 News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 20, 1902.
persons working in the mill were the overseers of the
various parts of the mill. They earned three dollars a
day or thirty-six dollars for every two weeks.
This money went far for some because prices were
still reasonable in relation to these salaries. Clothing
was somewhat inexpensive. Ladies' cloaks ranged from
$2.98 to $8.00; night robes, 98¢; flannel, 3 ¾ cents per
yard; and dress goods were 23¢ per yard. Large size
linen towels were 19¢. Suits for the men ran from $3.00
to $8.00. Food was also about the same. A barrel of flour
cost $4.00; a pound of tea, 45¢; a dozen cans of peas, 60¢.
Beef ran 12¢ per pound, while other meats were
available from the Pittsfield Produce Market. Pork was
6 ½ cents per pound, fowls 8 to 12¢ per pound, English
herring scaled and packaged 20¢ per box. Salt was 20
cents for a fourteen pound bag.94
Paternalism on the part of the owners ran high. For
the bosses of the mills, the Dobson family made sure
that they had the best of rents. Dr. T. N. Drake's house
was purchased, papered, painted, and bathrooms added
and let to James Dodd, superintendent of the weave
room at the Pioneer Mill.95 Contractor Bowman had the
work of remodeling the large double tenement on Park
94News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 20,
95item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 25, 1903.
cellar was extended full length and a new cement
bottom put in. New chimneys were built and rooms on
both floors converted to bathrooms. Other conveniences
were added to make them the best tenements in town.
The upper tenement was occupied by Mr. Bedwell, the
boss finisher at the Pioneer Mill and the lower floor
occupied by Mr. Cathcart, boss dresser at the same
mill. Luxury decreased 96 as one went down the labor
scale. The several cottage houses located in "little
Scotland" occupied by the mill operatives were shingled
and received a new coat of paint. In the past they had
been painted the color of the Pioneer Mill but the new
shade was a slate color.97
The mills also sponsored baseball teams. The games
were well attended on Sunday afternoon and the
spectators sometimes let their enthusiasm get the best of
them. Over the years the umpires supplied by the home
team had life and limb threatened for some of their calls.
It was generally their own townspeople who did the
threatening. If a team got beaten too badly or did not
like the officiating they did not show up for the next
game. The local papers then wrote editorials on the poor
sportsmanship of that team, or if it was the local team
why it was a good idea not to show up.
96 News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 13, 1903.
97News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 21, 1907.
The owners also looked after their own.
A small riot in the weave room of the
Pioneer Woolen Mill caused considerable excitement Friday
and in the general matter of discussion among the
employees of the mills. Two of the young weavers got into
a wordy argument which ended in a rough and tumble
fight. In the excitement a number of friends of the
combatants got into a mixup and for a short time, the event
made things lively and interesting for the numerous hands
employed in the room. Some of the principals in the fight
are minus front teeth and several eyes are dressed in deep
mourning as a result of the blows which were struck. Most
of those who were directly concerned in the trouble were
rounded up in the mill office and severely reprimanded for
the disturbance while the two weavers who started the
trouble were taken before Judge Drake to answer the charge
of disturbing the peace and affray. Both partners promised
to let the matter drop where it stood and not attempt to
settle the difficulty more fully, and on the promise of good
behavior in the future, the judge let them off with a
reprimand and cost which were settled.98
Had they not been employed by the mill they would
have been shipped off to the county jail.
During this period the Robert Dobson Company had
mild corporate shakeup. At the annual meeting of the
Waverly Woolen Company A. P. MacMasters was
elected President; Gordon Dobson, Treasurer; J. W.
Hanson, Clerk. Directors were A. P. MacMasters,
William Dobson, James Connor, Melvin Halloway, E. H.
Blake, G. S. Cushman and S. R. Haines. A two and a
half per cent semi-annual dividend was declared.99
98News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 20, 1902.
99News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 20, 1902.
Of special note was the election of Samuel R. Haines as
director. Haines had worked for the Dobson family for
some years when he married Mae Dobson, daughter of
William Dobson. He was later promoted to
superintendent of the Waverly Mill on merit not
marriage. Haines soon became one of the king pins of
the Dobson Company and later went on to be an
executive with the American Woolen Company.99
Haines’s marriage to Mae Dobson was one of the
social events of the year. The wedding was held in the
Dobson home with all the social elite of Pittsfield
attending. After the wedding the couple made their
way to their new home next to the Waverly Mill that
had been built for them by her father, William. There a
large reception took place. The next morning Samuel
Haines reported to work at 7:00 A.M. as if nothing had
ever happened. Marriage did not interfere with work
when you married into the Dobson family.100
99News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 20, 1902.
100News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 6, 1895.
The Early 1900's
The early 1900's saw the last great expansion of the local
mills under private ownership. Soon they were to be
taken over by outside interests, but before this happened
the Dobson Company made their last improvements to
keep up with the modern woolen industry.
The mills had been concerned in the past with lack of
water. However with the general improvement in steam
engines these mills began to put in these engines and
change from water power. The Riverside Mill had a
foundation for an eighty horsepower engine,101 while the
Pioneer planned to double its horsepower capacity and
use the old engine as an auxiliary.102 Samuel Haines
went to New York City and purchased a 125 horsepower
boiler to supply auxiliary power in case the water ebbed
or they had trouble with the main engine.103
The Pioneer Mill did most of the expansion during
the 1900's. By December of 1903 a new steam plant had
been built and two new boilers were in place. Miss Mary
Dobson was given the honor or starting them. The
reason for building the new plants was a great increase
of business and the need for more power to be used
independently or in conjunction
101News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 11, 1900.
102News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 19, 1903.
103News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, October 29, 1903.
with the water wheels. The building and equipment
were placed under the direction of Chief Mechanic
Nathaniel B. Rummal. Rummal made his own plans
and blueprints and selected all the equipment.104
The power house was built of brick 120' by 50' with a
wing on the south side 20' by 40' to be used as repair
shop. The building was covered with a flat gravel roof.
The foundation of the chimney was 18 feet square, built
of trimmed granite. The base was ten feet square and
built in cylindrical form of radial chimney brick
imported from Germany. The boiler room was 40' by 50'
and had ample space for six 125 horsepower boilers, The
fuel for the boilers was fed by a Jones Underfeed
Automatic Feeder. The coal was forced into the boilers
through a trench, with an air blaster to make sure that
all the gases were consumed making the furnace
absolutely smokeless. The stokers were all automatic
and the engineer had complete control of the steam
pressure at all times. By using the stokers the fireman
was free to make sure the iron coal bin was kept full.
The boilers were connected by a flange-bend pipe with a
fourteen inch steam main eighty feet long extending into
the engine room. The steam main was set upon
substantial brackets with roll blocks to allow expansion
and contraction without any unnecessary strain or
104News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 3, 1903.
on the pipe which may cause a leak or break. This idea
was devised by Rummal, and was the first to be used in
New England in this class of piping.105
The engine room was 30' by 46'. The engine was a 50
horsepower moderate speed Harris Coiles Form Valve
Engine, eighteen by twenty-two feet and was
manufactured to order by the Harris Coiles Engine
Works of Providence, Rhode Island. It was capable of
developing 300 horsepower. The power was transmitted
to the main shaft of the mill by six wire belts running
over a fourteen foot drive wheel weighing eight tons.
The belt pockets in which the big wire belts ran were
heavily trussed and braced to prevent any undue strain
on the frame work of the mill. An automatic shutoff was
placed near the main shaft in case of accident. The
engine had sufficient power to run the entire mill or
could be used in conjunction with the water wheels.
Underneath the engine room was a 700 horsepower
water heater which heated the water for the boilers feed
to 180 degrees. In this room there was a large Knowles
Steam Pump capable of pumping 1,000 gallons of water
per minute. The pump was connected with the town
water system and was ready for use in the case of
emergency to supply plenty of pressure. Another large
steam pump was placed in the same room for tank
service and boiler feed.
105News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 3, 1 903.
At the end of the steam main was an automatic pressure
reducing valve which could be set to cut the steam
pressure from 150 PSI to whatever pressure was needed
as it continued to the other parts of the mill.107
It is to the credit of the chief mechanic that so many
modern innovations could be added by local talent. The
Dobsons selected excellent personnel to keep the mills
As it happened the mills did not have difficulty with
too little, but rather too much water. In April of 1901 a
freshet raced down the Sebasticook towards Pittsfield,
when it reached the upper dam of the Waverly Mill the
waters backed up causing the bridge at Palmyra to be
buffeted by blocks of ice and pushed off its foundation
and down the river. The town of Palmyra sued the
Waverly Mill owners for $1,751.51.108 The case reached
the State Supreme Court in 1905. The court decided that
the mill was not at fault. It said that there had been other
freshets during the ten year period that the dam had
been built. Some of them had been unusually high and
water had never passed over the bridge. In this case
water also had not passed over the bridge and it was the
ice that had taken it out. Therefore the defendant was
not at fault.109 The decision was a feather
107News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 3, 1903.
108Maine Reports No. 99; Cases Argued and Determined the
Supreme Judicial Court in Maine, 1905 (Portland; Wm W. Roberts,
1905) p. 99.
109Ibid., pgs. 136-138.
in Attorney J. W. Manson's cap and boosted his
reputation throughout the state. He also had much to
gain from the decision for he was a director of the mill.
William Dobson died on January 15, 1905, which left
Gordon as the last of the original Dobsons that had
started the mills.110 He now rose to prominence
throughout New England and on March 4, 1909, was
elected the first president of the newly formed Maine
Woolen Manufacturers Association. The Association
was made up of most of the woolen mill owners in the
state. The primary function of the new group was not to
keep an eye on local conditions, but to watch what was
happening in Washington, D.C. The Association had
strong connections with the Carded Woolen
Manufacturers Association that was formed that year to
look out for their interests when the Payne Aldrich tariff
came up for passage.112
The battle over the tariff on wool had been going on
since the end of the Civil War. The types of wool
imported into this country varied greatly upon the
quantity of grease and dirt contained in the fiber. A
ratio was worked out that four pounds of raw wool
equaled one pound of clean wool. This so called
"shrinkage" of raw wool
110News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 19, 1905.
111News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 11, 1909.
112Arthur Harrison Cole, The American Wool Manufacturer
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 192b) p. 23.
varied greatly among the different types of wool fleeces
imported. It ranged from twenty to seventy-five per
cent in extreme cases. The ratio selected for tariff
purposes was based on the maximum degree in the real
manufacturing purposes.113 The intent of this ratio was
to place the American manufacturer in a position to use
any type of imported or domestic wool and still let him
be a competitor on equal terms with foreign
manufacturers. This ratio was fine as long as the mills
were carded type mills. When the worsted process was
introduced the ratio took on a completely different
meaning and had drastic effects on the competition
between the carded and worsted mills.
The shrinkage rate of raw wool needed for worsted
material was much less than that of carded wool. If both
types of mills imported four thousand pounds of raw
wool the worsted manufacturer could get three
thousand pounds of clean wool while the carded mill
could get only one thousand pounds. Yet both these
men paid exactly the same duty on the raw wool.
Using the same amount of imported wool but
figuring the amount of duty paid per pound of finished
wool the worsted manufacturer paid only fourteen and
three fourths cents per pound, while the carded
manufacturer had to pay forty-four cents per pound.
113Arthur Harrison Cole, The American Wool Manufacturer
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926) p. 23.
Another problem was the carded mills, making a
better quality of wool such as cashmere, could only use
certain types of wool so when one reduced the eleven
cents pound duty to an ad valorum equivalent the duty
on worsted wool ran down as low as twenty-two per
cent while the ad valorum equivalent of the same duty
on wools for the carded mills ran as high as seven
hundred and thirty-three per cent.
The solution, it would seem, would be for the carded
manufacturers to use more domestic wool. However,
wool products from the western states were of a poor
grade and quite unacceptable to the mill owners.114
Gordon Dobson went to Washington, D.C. to appeal
to the members of the Senate for a lower tariff or to
equalize the differences between the carded and worsted
mills. His appeals went unanswered for he now clashed
with the largest controller of the woolen industry in the
United States, the American Woolen Company. William
Wood, President, had long held back on an opinion of
the Payne tariff. The bill, as read, favored the worsted
industry and since American Woolen owned mostly
worsted mills they were not willing to advocate change.
Wood made a statement denigrating the tariff as a factor
and Gordon Dobson sent a stinging open letter to
114News item in the Boston Herald, March 18, 1909.
115See Appendix A.
Apparently this letter impressed the other carded
manufacturers for Dobson was elected first
Vice-President of the National Carded Wool
By July the first phase of the fight over the tariff
ended and the carded manufacturers had lost their case,
Congress claimed that the carded manufacturers had not
stated their needs therefore Congress had no idea on
how to change the tariff. Dobson now became very
indignant and hastily published a copy of a letter sent to
It is interesting to note that Senator Aldrich was
from Rhode Island where the main source of income at
that time was wool manufacturing. Checking the lists of
mills owned by American Woolen Company in that
state all eight mills were worsted mills.118
The fight to get the tariff modified continued for the
next two years. The same arguments of shrinkage were
used over and over again. The directors of the Carded
Woolen Manufacturers Association issued an appeal to
all Senators and Representatives to prevent a specific
duty from being placed on wool. Rather than pay a high
tax upon wool grease and dirt they would rather pay a
premium upon wools of lighter shrinkage. The Ways
and Means Committee paid heed and levied a fixed
duty of five cents a pound on
116News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 27, 1909.
117See Appendix B.
118American Woolen Company Mills (Boston: Livermore
Knight, 1921) pgs. 81-82.
wool.119 The pressure on the Carded Owners now
became very intense and it is probably for this reason
that Gordon Dobson later decided to sell out to the
American Woolen Company.
While Gordon Dobson was off fighting the tariff
wars the local mills continued along at full production.
There was a general slow down throughout the country
in 1907, but it apparently did not affect Pittsfield.120
The thing that did affect the mills were strikes. The
first took place, at the Riverside Mill (the old Walker
Mill). On Tuesday, August 6, some of the weavers
became unhappy with the system of fining weavers for
imperfect work and the discharge of one of the
employees.121 The matter was quickly settled and the
weavers returned to work. Two days later the weavers
went out on strike again and Smith was forced to close
down the mill. All the workers were paid off and sent
on their way. The mill had been running on overtime
and apparently the workers missed the
extra pay for they were back the next week under the
same terms as before.122
A month later the spinners at the Pioneer and
Waverly Mills went out on strike over the wage scale.
Instead of firing the workers as had been done in the
past a workers committee met with the mill owners and
120News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 28, 1907.
121Twenty-first Annual Report of the Bureau of Industrial and Labor
Statistics for the State of Maine (Augusta: Kennebec Journal Press,
1907) p. 117.
122News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 8, 1907.
for a satisfactory wage scale. The matter was settled and
work resumed the following Monday.123 Obviously the
profits and production overruled the previous discharge
The mills continued at a strong pace for the next
seven years and prosperity in the town continued.
In 1913 William McGilvery, a superintendent at the
Waverly Mill became associated with D. E. Cummings
of Old Town, and they set up the first shoddy mill in the
state at Pittsfield. A shoddy mill takes woolen remnants
from other mills and makes them into woolen cloth to be
used for the manufacturing of cheap woolen goods.124
The mill they bought was the old Bryant Saw Mill
that had gone bankrupt. It was continued as a lumber
mill until McGilvery and Cummings bought the place
and sold the lumbering equipment and shipped it out of
state. The mill was located on the Sebasticook River next
to Hunnewell Avenue near the railroad tracks. It had a
spur line running from the mill to the main tracks.125
From its purchase the mill was equipped with the
latest equipment. The size of the mill was about 40,000
square feet and it was equipped with an automatic
sprinkler system, electric lights, and the machinery was
run by electricity throughout.
123News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, September 19, 1907.
124The term "shoddy" dates from the Civil War and manufacturers
who attempted to cheat the government on uniform cloth.
125News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 19, 1914.
Between thirty-five and forty people including
several women were employed at the mill. The weekly
payroll was about $1,200 to $1,500.
The capacity of the mill to process wool was 50,000
pounds of wool per week and most of the finished
product was sold in Maine.
The owners were fortunate to have L. P. Menard in
charge of the carbonizing department, the most
important part of the mill. Menard had been with the
John T. Slack Company of Springfield, Vermont, the
largest shoddy mill in New England. The other
departments were headed by Charles Boston; boss
carder, F. Leslie Dinsmore, machinist; and F. J. Pooler, in
charge of the picker room.126
The business partnership was a bit unusual.
McGilvery had been associated with the Robert Dobson
Company for fourteen years and had married the other
daughter of William Dobson. His business partner was
from Old Town, served as President, but did not take an
active part in the running of the mill. The corporation
was capitalized at $30,000.127 While Dobson money
may have built the mill, it was not part of the Dobson
The Riverside Mill which had been idle the first few
months of 1913 now reorganized itself into the Smith
126News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 19, 1914.
Textile Company. A certificate of organization with a
capital stock of $100,000 was filed with the Register of
Deeds Office in Skowhegan. The Company had
produced woolen goods but with this reorganization
they expanded into the production of cotton textiles
along with the woolen production. The local directors
were Fred R. Smith, Elmer D. Smith, Esther Smith, Lou
Hutchinson and George H. Morse. Fred Smith continued
128News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 17, 1913.
American Woolen Takes Over
The era of the local mills in Pittsfield came to an end
of 1914. The Robert Dobson Companies were absorbed
by the American Woolen Company. What caused the
sale of the Robert Dobson Company is hard to say. Some
feel that Gordon Dobson felt he would do better if he
sold it. The tariff was no doubt hurting the business and
the pressure being exerted by the American Woolen
Company was very strong. I, myself, believe that
Gordon was worn out by his tremendous fight over the
tariff. Reading his letters that were sent in defense of the
carded mills one sees a complete dedication and even a
trace of paranoia. With his ideals now shattered and
without the aid of his departed father and brother he
just gave in to the pressures of the modern day world
that had broken forth so violently on his once peaceful
Very quietly an announcement was made in the local
paper that the Pioneer Mill had been conveyed to Henry
P. Binney of Canton, Massachusetts, agent for the
American Woolen Company. Samuel Haines was
renamed the manager of the mills while F. W. Briggs,
grandson of Robert Dobson, was renamed
superintendent of the Pioneer Mill, and Ernest Maxfield,
superintendent of the Waverly Mill.129
129News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 19, 1914.
The transition of ownership proceeded in an orderly
fashion. The workers remained on the job and the
transfer of personnel was almost non-existent. Yet from
personal insight into the articles then written in the local
paper and in interviews with persons connected with
the mills an air of sadness existed in the town. The old
personal touch of local ownership, and the close
relationship, between the workers and owners was
dying rapidly. The mills now were beginning to become
just a cog in the massive and impersonal wheels of the
American Woolen Company. The Company which
Gordon Dobson had fought so hard against now owned
what was once his and his family's.
Gordon Dobson passed away May 21, 1915. He was
sixty years old. In his lifetime he had been President of
the Robert Dobson Company, Treasurer of the Waverly
Woolen Company, Director of the First National Bank of
Pittsfield, Newport Woolen Company, Sebasticook
Power Company, Trustee of the Pittsfield Union Hall,
Vice-President of the National Association of Carded
Woolen Manufacturers, and President of the Maine
Woolen Manufacturers Association.130 Samuel R. Haines
also left Pittsfield for Boston where he was promoted to
assistant manager of the American Woolen Company.131
George E. Mayo was appointed agent of the Pioneer Mill
to fill Haines's place.132
130News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 27, 1915, Obituary.
131News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 10, 1915.
132News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 13, 1915.
With the advent of World War I the mills now went
into full-time production and the town of Pittsfield went
Perhaps the largest order for the mill during the war
came from the Russian Army. The Russian government
had signed a contract with the American Woolen
Company for 5,000,000 yards of heavy woolen cloth to
supply overcoats for one and one quarter million
Russian soldiers. The contract was the largest single
order or purchase ever made of any one particular style
and quality of cloth in this area. 133
The order was expected to take six months to
complete with 85,000 operatives using 1,800 weaving
machines and looms134 consuming 13,000,000 pounds of
clean wool stock. The cloth would then be sent to the
Russian factories to be made into uniforms. These
shipments of material would take place in January,
February, and March and would be sent directly to
Vladivostock and Archangel.135
In a speech given at the contract signing, Mr. Wood,
President of American Woolen said the following.
These overcoats are to serve the Russian soldiers both as
a uniform and as a blanket. As may be known the Russian
Army does not furnish
133News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 4, 1915.
134The contract had been signed in Washington at the Russian
Consulate by Colonel Nicoli Golyevski, military attache, and
Lieutenant Mikhail Alexeew, a Russian fabric expert. William Wood
signed for the American Woolen Company. The total amount of the
contract was $7,350,000.
135News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 4, 1915.
its soldiers with a blanket as a part of the general equipment.
Instead the long overcoats are made with hoods which the
soldier draws over his head for protection when asleep on the
Wood also pointed out in his speech that an order as
large as this came to the United States because of the
wartime conditions. Normally because of the higher
wages paid to American workers the Russians would
have given the contracts to European firms who paid
lower wages and would have been able to underbid the
United States manufacturer.137
Wood's concern with post-war protection was
brought up when he suggested that it might be a good
idea for a protective tariff to be enacted to keep out
cheap European goods when its industry revived. He
felt that the Payne Aldrich tariff was too low in this
respect.1 3 8
On December 14, 1915, a meeting of the stockholders
of the Waverly Woolen Company met to dissolve that
corporation and sell it to the American Woolen
During that same year the Linn Woolen Mill failed
and the Pittsfield Bank was forced to foreclose its
mortgage. The mill had been built with Dobson money
and had been closely linked with the Dobson enterprise.
Since it was the main
136News item in the Pittsfield. Advertiser, November 4, 1915.
139News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 2, 1915.
140News item In the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 4, 1915.
industry of Hartland (a town located next to Pittsfield),
an attempt was made to raise the $146,000 needed to
keep it going.141 The attempt failed and the American
Woolen Company bought it at auction for $95,000. Leon
Haines (brother of Samuel R. Haines) was kept on as
The Smith Woolen Company had been idle for the
past year and the American Woolen Company had
decided it would be a good idea to control the entire
production of wool in Pittsfield. They purchased this
mill as well.143
This was the final phase of acquisition for the
American Woolen Mills. They now had control of
sixteen mills in Maine and fifty-six mills in New
England thereby making them the largest manufacturer
of woolen and worsted fabrics in the world.144
A readjustment of wages for the workers took place
after the purchase of the new mills in Pittsfield. Under
the new schedule the workers with the lowest wages
received the greatest pay raise. The schedule read: all
employees earning less than $7.50 per week received a
2% per hour raise; $7.51 to $8.26, 1 ¾% per hour raise;
141 News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 17, 1916.
142News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 4, 1916.
143News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 8, 1917.
144American Woolen Company Mills, (Boston: Livermore and
Knight, 1921) Preface.
$9.50, a 1 ½% per hour raise; $9.51 to $10.90, a ¾¢ per
hour raise and above $10.91 a straight 5% raise. Piece
workers also got a 5% raise.145
As the United States entered the First World War,
Pittsfield and her industry became quite involved.
Patriotism soared and the town became war-minded.
The American Woolen Company announced that it was
placing what vacant land it held in the hands of the
Food and Provision Committee of the local Public Safety
Board. The land would be tilled by the mill workers and
their families for additional food.146
The war not only worked hardships on the people
but also in the mills. In February of 1918 the Pioneer
and Waverly Mills were forced to shut down due to a
lack of coal. Clarence E. Bodfish, agent for the Waverly
Mill, went to Boston to see what could be done. He was
able to get an emergency supply shipped to Pittsfield
and after a two-week layoff the mills resumed
The workers of the mills readily dug down in to their
wallets to help the boys who had left the mills to join in
the fighting and the organizations that aided the
soldiers. The subscription to the Liberty Loan was
tremendous for the
145News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 6, 1916.
146News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 19, 1917.
147News item In the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 21, 1918.
workers, In total they subscribed $24,250. The
breakdown according to mills was:
Sebasticook (Riverside Mill) $2,300
Pittsfield Yarn $950148
Two local boys, who were at Camp Devens and
about ready to leave for France received a gift package
from the Sebasticook Mills. It contained ten boxes of
tobacco, ten packages of Camel cigarettes, six packages
Durham tobacco, seven packages chewing gum, two
boxes of Nabiscos, four boxes of candy, two suckers, one
soap cupid and seven packages of cigarette paper.149
As the war closed the American Woolen Company
hired Otto Nelson of Bangor to build four
bungalow-type houses on North Main Street for the
employees at the Waverly Mill.150 Other benefits were
also introduced into the mills. A group insurance plan
was issued by the Travelers Insurance Company for the
workers, free sick and accident benefits were introduced,
and a Homestead Association was set up whereby
workers were able to obtain loans for new or used
148News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 16, 1918.
l49News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, September 26, 1918.
150News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 5, 1918.
151News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 14, 1919.
The result of these innovations was probably
brought about by the strike of 1919. The workers were
discontented with their wages and their working
conditions. They left the Pioneer Mill on Monday, May
12, 1919. On Wednesday, Horace A. Reviere of
Manchester, New Hampshire, a union organizer
affiliated with the American Federation of Labor
arrived in town and a mass meeting was held that night
at the Union Hall. Conferences with the mill
management were held on Thursday. The settlement
reached consisted of a raise in wages and a guarantee to
the employees that a certain scale of payment per week
would be made even if the mill had to be shut down for
repairs or for other reasons. The workers were satisfied
and returned to the mill the following Monday.152
While wages and benefits went up orders for the
mills decreased. The war had caused a heavy
overproduction of wool material and had created a false
prosperity. The mills continued production for the next
two years but a raging [sic, perhaps flagging, i.e.,
dwindling] market caused the following notice to be
published in the local paper:
There is no fact more firmly established in the public mind
than the long continued and consistent friendliness to labor
in general, and to the labor of his own mills in particular of
Mr. William W. Wood, President of the American Woolen
Company. In season and out for many years past he has
fought for liberal wages to his employees and has often
announced his intention of continuing to do so in time to
152News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 15, 1919.
But at the present Mr. Wood is between the 'devil and the
deep blue sea' as an old saying goes. On one hand he does not
want to reduce earnings of his employees and on the other he is
confronted by the fact that unless he does so the mills will have
to stand idle to a less or greater extent. That he has a duty
towards the stockholders as well as to his employees is
self-evident. At a meeting of the representatives of the company
held in Lawrence, Massachusetts, recently, he stated the
situation as follows.
I am advised by our selling agent that we cannot hope for
any substantial business from the clothing manufacturer until
they learn that not only have the raw material markets been
liquidated, but all other items going to make up the cost of cloth
which of course include labor, [sic, are going up]. Today orders
are not obtainable.
Commodities have receded in prices yet notwithstanding
all this there have been something wanting to invite confidence
to start-the public buying.
We stated to you that we should be among the last to
reduce. We have kept our word. But economically reduction
seems inevitable for we are confronted with the serious question
of competition. We cannot hope to secure orders for our mills
against both foreign and domestic competition if they pay
wages lower than ours.
It is necessary that we should put on the market the very
best goods at the lowest possible price to meet all competition,
in order to secure the necessary work that you all may be
constantly employed, or nearly that as possible. And it must be
obvious to you that this cannot be done by paying higher wages
than our competitors.153
153News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 20, 1921.
The effects were also felt on the McGilvery Mill for it
had to close for lack of orders. All mills reopened in the
spring of 1921.154
As business picked up and the "Roaring Twenties"
commenced, the great age of advertising took command
over the American Woolen Company. Not one to be left
behind advertisements began to appear under President
Wood's name such as the following:
From the backs of sheep to the backs of men the story of
wool and how it is converted into one of life's greatest
necessities by the American Woolen Company reads like a
romance. The transportation of raw wool thousands of miles to
the mills, the operation of fifty-nine modern mills, where
intricate textile machines scour, card and spin and weave with
dexterity surpassing that of human hands the activity of 35,000
skilled workers and finally the distribution of more than 30,000
weaves and patterns of woolen and worsted fabrics the world
over – all are the achievements of shoulder to shoulder
co-operation and fair play.
Fairness to employees and fairness to the public – both
weave value with every thread on the looms of this company.155
In May of 1923 the spring runoffs were faster than usual causing
major flooding at the Pioneer Mill and McGilvery-Cummings plant.
The flood waters were so swift that it was impossible for the
workers to get at the office the Sunday the flood started. Some
wearing hip boots were able to reach
154News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 17,
1921; News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 10, 1921.
155News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 7, 1923.
the Pioneer Mill to get the stock and other materials to
upper floors for safety. Several families living in
"Scotland" behind the mills were forced to flee from their
homes early Monday morning as the waters rose higher.
Efforts to return to the mill Monday were hampered as
large amounts of cord wood cut into stove lengths came
floating down the river. Several cases of carbonizer and
acid were also floating about the area. McGilvery's plant
was completely crippled by the waters entering the first
Several transfers took place that year. Albert
Spaulding, the agent for the Waverly Mill was
transferred to another American Woolen Mill in
Manchester, New Hampshire. Leon Haines came back
from Hartland to take Spaulding's place, a position once
held by his half-brother, Samuel.157
Business continued at a rapid pace throughout
the twenties. The auditor for the American Woolen
Company reported a very bright future for the mills in
1925, for instance.158 Unfortunately this prophesy did not
156News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 3, 1923.
l57News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 26, 1923.
158News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, September 17, 1925.
In 1929 the bottom dropped out of the stock
market and with it went the woolen business. Since the
mills were the main industry of the town the following
depression caused the near death of Pittsfield. It took
the town almost thirty years to recover from the effects
and even today the town still remembers the devastating
effects of the depression.
In 1929 the Waverly Mill was closed for lack of
work. It never reopened as a woolen mill, but was sold
some twelve years later to a shoe company. When the
Waverly closed one third of the townspeople became
unemployed. In this same year William McGilvery was
forced into retirement and the McGilvery-Cummings
Mill was now run by his wife. It continued operation as
a shoddy mill, and was sold in 1932 to Lancey Milliken.
Milliken had been the chief salesman for the mill.159
The only mill in operation for the American
Woolen Company was the Pioneer Mill. The first thing
the company did was to ask the town for a tax relief on
its property. The townsfolk met and voted not to reduce
the taxes. After much talk a special town meeting was
called in June to reconsider the vote. The American
Woolen Company told the people that if they could not
reduce the taxes they would be
159Personal Interview, Mrs. Joseph Buker, March 21, 1969.
forced to close the Pioneer and the remaining 160 employees
would be out of work. Since the mill was the chief industry
the voters had no choice. In a heavy turnout and by a vote of
5 to 1 the tax relief was given.160
With so many out of work emotions ran high. People
searched for a scapegoat and too often it was the wrong
person. One such person was the boss of the weave room. In a
parting letter to the Advertiser he made clear the feelings of
the town and the pressure upon him.
I hope that the people of Pittsfield do not credit me
with the present depression that exists throughout the whole
nation. The town of course is hit hard because of lack of
industries. Other towns that have different kinds of industry are
not feeling the depression so bad because there is something else
to do besides depending wholly upon a woolen mill like our
town. I have worked at the American Woolen Company ever
since they organized and have seen depression before in other
towns. It seems to me that the people in the town of Pittsfield
take hard times more to heart than in other towns. It seems that
the town's people can and do appreciate the good times like good
people should do, but when hard times strike it seems that the
people are [too] willing and ready to blame someone for the
There are 166 weavers in the town divided as they were
40 in the Waverly, 40 in the Sebasticook and 86 in the Pioneer.
The Waverly Mill has been closed for some time, also the
Sebasticook. At the Pioneer Mill looms have been doubled up so
that the weavers run two looms, throwing out of employment
about 40 more weavers making a total of 120 weavers out of
work and only 40 at work. Is it humanly possible for any boss
weaver, may he be who he may, to give employment to the 120
that are lingering around town waiting for the boss to leave so
that they may all get a job at the Pioneer?
l60News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 11, 1931
If any of you venerable gentlemen who think that
you can overcome the difficulty, you will please apply to
the management of the Pioneer Mill, and I am sure the job
will be given to you. I much rather think that if each and
every one of us would put our concentrated effort into our
own business and let the other fellow run his we would all
be much better off.
Upon leaving June 12, the help of the Pioneer
weave room presented me with a handsome traveling bag
and a beautiful fountain pen. I was surely surprised when
bringing my books completed to the Pioneer office that
night when the paymaster handed me a small box. Upon
examination found that the overseers of the mill had
presented me with a twenty dollar gold piece. I want to
thank the people of the weave room and the overseers who
so generously contributed for these gifts.
Mr. F. Ramm 161
Not only were the workers suffering but the
town now ran into serious financial difficulty. The tax
base of the town was completely wiped out in 1933,
when American Woolen decided to sell all property not
connected with [the] manufacturing end of the business.
Over the years the mills had built homes for the owners
and workers. When American Woolen bought the mills,
these homes also went with the sale.
The American Woolen now transferred all its
property to a subsidiary with instruction to liquidate as
soon as possible. In Pittsfield the company owned
twenty-two cottages, five two-family homes, two
four-family, homes and sixteen automobile garages.162
An auction of this property was held. Samuel T.
Freeman & Co. were the auctioneers. The terms were 75
l6lNews item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 18, 1932.
162 News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 24, 1931.
cent down and a 6 per cent mortgage.163 The cottages
brought an average of $75 while the beautiful homes of
the former owners went for $900 to $1,500.164 Today
these homes would sell for $20,000 and could not be
built for under $50,000. With the tremendous drop in tax
valuations the town almost went bankrupt.
The Pioneer Mill was forced to close down for a
period of time due to lack of orders. By May of 1933
however it reopened with nearly every department in
operation as the National Recovery Administration
created a short boom. The company also announced a 12
½ per cent raise in wages. Milliken's mill was also
running at capacity with forty men employed and they
too raised the workers' wages 12 ½ per cent.165 Much of
this was due to the N.R.A. codes that were being put
into application in national industries.
Life in these early years of the depression were
not the easiest. Joe Buker, the chief salesman for the
Milliken Company, was forced to take a fifty per cent
pay cut. He now earned $25 a week. Out of this he gave
his wife $10 a week for shopping and bill paying.
Because of the high price of coal the Bukers purchased
pulp wood for fuel that a local dealer was unable to sell.
The cost was five
163News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, November 24, 1932.
164Personal Interview, Mrs. Seymore Birch; March 16, 1969.
165News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 25, 1935.
dollars a cord for debarked hard wood. The winter of
1932 was very cold and Mrs. Buker remembers stoking
the furnace late at night as the -40 degree temperatures
surrounded her home.166
A great shift in ownership of the mills now took
place. In the early thirties the American Woolen
Company underwent a strike in Massachusetts. The old
mechanics and machinists were notified to get the
Waverly Mill ready for reopening to be used in strike
breaking. The Central Maine power Company ran in
new lines and truck loads of machinery were sent up
from Massachusetts. The old looms were torn out and
automatic looms put in. New machinery was also
placed in the other departments and it looked as if
things would soon be humming. Machinery from the
striking mill also began to arrive, and it was made
known that if the strike was not settled by the night the
last truck left for Maine from the striking mill, it would
be closed. The strike was settled one half hour before
the truck left, the new machinery was pulled out of the
Waverly Mill, one reinstalled in the Pioneer and the rest
sold to the other mills in the area.167
The Old Yarn Mill owned by the American Woolen
Company was sold to Carl Weymouth of Newport,
given a new coat of paint and was run as a wool
166Personal Interview, Mrs. Joseph Buker, March 21, 1969.
167Personal Interview, Morice Morgan, March 19, 1969
168News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, June 7, 1934.
storehouse of the yarn mill was purchased by Frank M.
Fairbanks and turned into a saw mill to produce short
and long lumber.169
On December 6 the Sebasticook and Waverly Mills
were put up for auction to the highest bidder. All the
machinery was removed and what could not be used by
the American Woolen Company was sold or scrapped.
Willard Cummings of Newport bought the Waverly Mill
for $9,200.170 He turned it into a storehouse for the next
few years. Cummings was remembered in Pittsfield as
having gone into partnership with McGilvery. His
interests were bought out a few years later and he went
on to found and operate Guilford Industries which are
still in operation.
The Sebasticook Mill was purchased by Clyde
Martin for $3,500. A small piece of property near the
Waverly Mill was sold to the town for $100.171 A year
later Lancey Milliken bought the Sebasticook Mill for his
shoddy plant, tore down his old factory and moved into
the new mill.172
The Pioneer Mill began a series of improvements in
1935. It installed its own generating, plant and only used
Central Maine power in case of emergencies.173 The old
169News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 12, 1934.
170News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 13,
172News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 4, 1934
173News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, October 1, 1936.
flume that had been built in Robert Dobson's days was
taken out and replaced. It took two shifts of men and
several trucks to cart away the rocks and earth and
replace it with clean fill. The job lasted four months and
a call went out to all able-bodied men who wanted to
work to show up at the site. The mill itself was working
at full capacity with employment at over 300.174
The mills now entered the war years of the forties
going full steam. While no records are available for
production it seems that the mills were concerned with
the making of cloth for uniforms and blankets. Since
many men left for the war a large number of women
were employed. Many of the employees of the mill left
every day covered with blue from the dye house where
thousand of yards of material were dyed for the Navy.175
The Waverly Mill still remained closed and many
local people thought the factory could be used in the
war effort. Clyde E. Martin proposed a plan whereby
the town would purchase the mill and sell it to another
corporation. Others thought that perhaps the federal
government could find an industry. Senator Brewster
and Representative Margaret Chase Smith were notified
of the Waverly's availability and they in turn notified the
Office of Production management.
174News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, October 11936.
l75Personal interview, Mr. Robert Smith; April 2, 1969.
176News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 1, 1941.
Little was done by the federal government. Periodic
reports were offered concerning potential activities for
the mill, out nothing ever turned up.
One night in August a group of men remained after
a Kiwanis meeting to discuss the Waverly Mill and what
could be done with it. J. R. Cianchette, one of the leading
contractors of the state, suggested that this group of
men, Earle Friend, W. W. Lehr, Sr., H. L. Goodrich and
Sanger M. Cook, all prominent local men, purchase the
mill from Cummings if the price were right and attempt
to locate a tenant.177 The mill was sold to this group for
$10,000 and they in turn sold the water rights to the
town for $10,000.178 Cianchette now set about to fix the
roof, repair the floors and get the mill in shape to sell. In
September of 1943 a contract was signed by Pinchos
Medwed of Bangor to purchase the mill for a shoe plant.
Medwed did not move to the location until 1945,
however, and then he started a training program for the
workers. By 1948 he employed some three hundred
people in this shop.179
Tragedy struck the town in February of 1945. E.
Earle Hodgkins had set up a small mill in one of the old
American Woolen buildings which produced rayon and
other synthetics, apparently a workman was smoking
near one of the bins and the
177Cook, op. cit., p. 132.
178Personal Interview, Mr. Sanger Cook, April 1, 1969.
l79cook, op. cit., p. 132.
rayon ignited. Three women were burned to death in the
raging inferno that followed. Loss to the plant was
estimated at from $60,000 to $100,000.180
After the fire Hodgkins set up a new mill on Central
Street. He took into partnership Perley Wright who had
started his own mill on Park Street. The name of , the
new company was the Pittsfield Hand Knitting
Company. The partnership lasted until 1947 when Mr.
Wright bought out Hodgkins's interest. The mill, still in
operation today [closed September 2003], is known as
the Pittsfield Woolen Yarns Co., Inc. It is run by
Wright's three sons: Clifford, President and Treasurer;
Neil, Vice-President; and Carl, Clerk.181 It is the last
remaining woolen mill in Pittsfield.
The unions became powerful in the Pioneer Mill in
the wartime period. A new wage contract was
negotiated which gave 4¢ differential payments to the
second shift and 7¢ for the third shift. The workers were
to get a two-week paid vacation, 60¢ per hour minimum,
group insurance and wage brackets for specific jobs.182
The mill continued to boom on full time and a call for
more workers, 60 men and women, went out to take
care of the post-war orders.183
In 1948 more benefits were given the workers. They
l80News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, February 8, 1945; an
employee was later held on manslaughter charges but they were
dismissed for lack of evidence.
181Cook, op. cit., p. 133.
182News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, July 19, 1945.
l83News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, September 27, 1945.
a fifteen cent per hour increase, six paid holidays, a
union shop and a five hundred dollar insurance
policy.184 Post-war inflation created this rapidly
In 1950 the Riverside Mill was sold for the last time.
A corporation known as Pittsfield Industries was formed
consisting of J. R. Cianchette, Roy U. Sinclair,
and Joseph S. Buker. Buker was manager of the
Riverside Mill and one day Lancey Milliken decided he
wanted to sell the mill, some say due to union
problems.185 The mill was sold to Pittsfield Industries for
$25,000 and each partner put up $1,400 for working
capital.186 Buker continued as manager of the new
company and head of the mill. After a few years Lewis
Rosenthal of Waterville who owned several mills around
the state bought out both J. R. Cianchette and Roy
Sinclair's interest in the mill. Buker continued as
manager and part owner of the mill until his retirement
in 1963.187 The mill continues to operate today as a
shoddy and knitting mill [destroyed by fire around 1999].
In 1952 in a speech given before a wool convention
the President of American Woolen said that the outlook
for the company was very grim. Competition from the
184News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, January 29, 1948.
186personal interview, Mrs. Joseph Buker, March 21, 1969.
industries was strong and many of the mills had not yet
converted to produce these new goods.188
In 1953 due to this competition the American
Woolen Company petitioned the Massachusetts State
Labor Board for a 20% pay cut for their employees. This
petition was denied and wage negotiations were to open
the first part of 1954. The employment of the Pioneer
Mill had already been cut from 335 to 225 employees.189
American Woolen did not take that long to decide
what to do. The Pioneer Mill was closed down
September 19, 1953 with a notice that the property
would be for sale to anyone who wanted it.190
The reasons for the closure were many. The unions,
top-heavy management, lack of progress within the
industry, high taxes within the town, lack of orders,
outdated equipment, one could go on forever. The one
thing however that was a fact was a chief industry had
closed with nothing to replace it. The Kiwanis Club of
Pittsfield took it upon itself to search for a new industry.
The Legal Affairs committee was asked to form a
corporation with the authority to seek funds for the
purpose of finding and financing a new industry if
188News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser,. January 24,
News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, May 21, 1953.
190News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, August 27,
191Cook, op. cit., p. 137; The Legal Affairs Committee of Lloyd
Stitham, John Furbush, and Harry Coolidge.
On February 1st 1954 Clair L. Cianchette who had joined
the legal staff of J. R. Cianchette and Sons, prepared the
necessary papers for such a corporation and the Pittsfield
Development Association was born. The directors were J .R.
Cianchette, Chairman, H.R. Coolidge, George A. Moore, L. A.
Dysart, John McMann, Robert Hubbard, and Clair L. Cianchette.
An Industrial Committee was appointed with S. M. Cook and
W. W. Lehr, Jr., Co-Chairmen; and R. U. Sinclair, Donald
Fendler, and Harry H. Friend.
The first act of the new corporation was to sell stock to the
amount of $50,000. A committee was chosen to head up the
drive consisting of Roy U. Sinclair, Chairman, Roosevelt T. Susi,
Ford Grant, Harry Anderson, and Harry Friend. In January of
1954 Chairman Sinclair announced that $53,570 had been
subscribed by 477 persons.192
The local business and professional men knew
clearly the impact of the textile business in their town.
The officers of American Woolen who were aware of
the activities of the town now began to work out the
details of a new streamlined plant to be put in the
Pioneer Mill as a pilot project. The mill was to have 60
new looms. This news was confirmed by Ex-Governor
Joseph B. Ely of Massachusetts, General Counsel for
Five months passed, but no more activity took place
concerning the new mill. W. Bartlett Cram of the Maine
Development Commission continued to meet with the
Development Committee of Kiwanis and assured them
that the outlook was still bright, but that an internal
problem was beginning to develop within American
192Cook, op. cit., pgs. 137-138.
The problem was that Textron, a rival firm, wanted
to get hold of the $26 million dollar American Woolen
Company. The directors of Textron kept giving
assurances that they would give great consideration to
the New England mills but as rumor had it they were
interested in moving the mills south to a cheaper labor
The end of the fight came the day before Christmas
when J. R. Cianchette (who was involved in a legal suit
in Aroostook over an airbase) was contacted by
Governor Ely to meet him in Boston as soon as possible.
Ely had learned that Textron would probably win its
proxy fight and wanted to make sure that the agreement
to build a new plant would be signed before Textron
gained control. Cianchette flew to Pittsfield aboard his
private plane, picked up Lawyer Harry Coolidge and
flew on to Boston to sign the agreement.196
The final contracts were signed on December 30,
1954 calling for a complete modern one-story building to
be constructed on the side of the Pioneer Mill and to
employ 200 persons after it is in operation. The new mill
was to cost $300,000, be 45,000 square feet, and with no
windows and fully air conditioned.197
195Personal Interview, S.M. Cook, February 28, 1969. I96Ibid.
197News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, December 30, 1954.
Textron won the proxy fight in a very bitter battle
that ended up in representatives of both sides scouring
the countryside to find shareholders willing to give
proxies.198 The equipment from the mills was moved
south and the mills closed for good.
The contract they had signed with J. R. Cianchette
was binding but Textron refused to open any new mill
in Pittsfield. Instead they agreed to help build a plant
for future industry. All properties of the mill and its
water rights were sold for $16,000 and it was agreed to
lend the Pittsfield Development Association enough
money to build a 48,000 square foot building for
manufacturing purposes, and assist in finding a
The Industrial Committee now contacted Mr. Cram
who uncovered a lead that the Edwards Company, a
door bell firm of Norwalk, Connecticut, was looking for
a new location. J. R. Cianchette again used his private
plane to pick up the directors of the company in order to
show them the town. To further impress these people
the Industrial Committee informed the Edwards People
that they ought to submit their plans for a new plant
and that Pittsfield would build it. The company took up
the offer and the Edwards Company now
198personal Interview,.N. Young, April 5, 1969.
199cook, op. cit., p. 140; News item in the Waterville
Sentinel, October 25, 1955.
occupies much of the property where part of the Pioneer
Mill once stood.200
During the summer of 1956 much of the Pioneer Mill
was torn down. The beams taken from the mill were
over thirty feet long, hand hewn and pegged. Bulldozers
were called in to smash the walls in and rip the floors
apart. However they could not do it. It was as if the mill
refused to die. Finally a huge crew of men had to be
employed to take the place down by hand.201
Today much of the three main mills still remain
[except that the Riverside Mill has burned down] part of
the landscape of Pittsfield as a remainder of an era gone
by. The houses of the owners, once stately and
dominant, serve as boarding houses or offices. A few
are owned by people who have preserved their charm.
The days of wool are over in Pittsfield. What was once a
one-industry town has kept pace with the future and
diversified. The personal feelings of owner-worker
relationships have given way to the impersonalness of
the sixties. Pittsfield was made a town by wool and
nearly destroyed by its benefactor.
200Personal Interview, S. M. Cook, February 28, 1969.
201Personal Interview, N. Young, April 5, 1969.
Reading through the Census of Manufacturers from
1905 to 1954 I find a steady decline in the Production of
wool and worsted goods in the United States and in the
state of Maine. By 1931 the Census of Manufacturers
devotes only a few pages to wool and worsted
manufacturing because much of it was replaced by
From 1880 to 1905 there was a steady decrease in the
number of woolen mills in the United States, while the
number of worsted mills was on the increase.
Year Number of Woolen Mills Number of Worsted Millsl
1880 1,990 76
1890 1,311 143
1900 1,035 186
1905 792 226
Maine ranked as the third largest producer of
woolen goods with assets of $14,990,211.2 The number of
woolen mills had decreased by ten from 1900 to 1905
while the number of worsted mills had increased by
The worsted industry in Maine also had the greatest
increase in overall growth in the state. Employment rose
1United States Bureau of the Census, Special Reports of the Census
Office, Manufacturers, 1905, Vol. 1, Washington: Government
Printing Office, p. 20.
2lbid, Vol.1, p. 462. 3ibid, Vol. I, p. 374.
3lbid, Vol.1, p. 462. 3ibid, Vol. I, p. 374.
89.3 per cent while wages rose 108.9 per cent and the
value of the product rose 102.9 per cent.4
From 1909 to 1921 there was a further decrease in the
number of woolen mills in the United States, from 587
mills in 1909 to 493 mills in 1921. The only increase
during this period was a short boom which occured
during World War I. The number of worsted mills also
dropped from 324 to 321 during this same period.5
The state of Maine had dropped to sixth place in
national production, while the number of woolen mills
had decreased to fifty-seven.6
By 1931 the number of woolen mills in the United
States had dropped to 381. The state of Maine dropped
to thirty-six mills in operation, but recaptured her third
place position in production.7
The depression caused a further drop to 323 mills
in 1935, but by 1937 the woolen industry was operating
some 332 mills throughout the country.8
4United States Bureau of the Census, Special Reports of the Census
Office, Manufacturers, 1905, Vol.11, Washington: Government
Printing Office, p. 374.
5United States Bureau of the Census, Biennial Census of
Manufacturers, 1921, Washington: Government Printing Office,
1924, p. 289.
6Ibid, p. 291
7United States Bureau of the Census, Biennial Census of
Manufacturers, 1931, Washington: Government Printing Office,
1935, p. 362.
8United States Bureau of the Census, Biennial Census of
Manufacturers, 1937, Part 1, Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1939, p. 440.
After World War I the number of woolen and
worsted mills in the country stood at only 495, five more
than in 1935.9
In Maine the combined total of woolen and worsted
plants was forty-six but it still was the largest employer
in the state.10
With the close of the American Woolen mills in
Pittsfield in 1954 the number of woolen and worsted
mills had descended to thirty-eight,11 while on the
national level the number of mills reached a new low of
Trying to compare the production and capitalization
figures over the years would not have been a good
indicator as a result of the many depressions and other
economic factors involved. Also many of the mills, both
worsted and wool, were incorporating new machinery
which did not decrease the number of employees, but
did raise the value of the plant.
Comparing the Pittsfield mills and the state of Maine
mills, and national growth and decline, I find a great
similarity as to progress and retardation. During the
early years of the Dobson mills, production was up as it
was everywhere. American Woolen enjoyed the boom of
World Wars but
9 United States Bureau of the Census, Census of Manufacturers, 1947,
Vol I, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1949, p. 171.
l0Ibid., Vol. Ill, pp. 264-266.
11United 'States Bureau of the Census, Census of Manufacturers,
1954, Vol III. Washington: Government Tinting Office,1954, p.
l2lbid., Vol. I, Part 1, p. 22A-3.
suffered greatly in the depression of 1930 through 1937
and also after the war years. While many mills closed
during these years it was the foresight and improvement
of the mills in Pittsfield that let them last so long.
American Woolen Company Mills. Boston: Livermore and
Cole, Arthur Harrison. The American Wool Manufacturers. Vol.
II. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926.
Cook, Sanger M. Pittsfield on the Sebasticook. Bangor:
Furbush-Roberts Printing Co., Inc.,1966.
Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. Boston B.
B. Russell, 1886.
Maine Reports No. 99; Cases Argued and Determined in the
Supreme Court in Maine, 1905. Portland: William M. Roberts,
Statistics of Industry and Finance for Maine for the Year 1883.
Augusta: Sprague and Son, 1883.
The Wealth and Industry of Maine for the Year 1873. Augusta:
Sprague, Owen and Nash, 1873.
Twenty-first Annual Reports of the Bureau of Industrial and Labor
Statistics for the State of Maine. Augusta: Kennebec Journal
United States Bureau of the Census, Biennial Census of
Manufacturers, 1921. Washington: Government Printing
United States Bureau of the Census, Biennial Census of
Manufacturers, 1931. Washington: Government Printing
United States Bureau of the Census, Biennial Census of
Manufacturers, 1937, Part 1. Washington: Government
Printing Office, 1939.
United States Bureau of the Census, Census of Manufacturers,
1947. Vol. II and III. Washington: Government Printing Office
United States Bureau of the Census, Census of
Manufacturers, 1954. Vol. II, Part 1 and Vol. III.
Washington: Government Printing Office, 1954.
United States Bureau of the Census, Special Reports of the
Census Office, Manufacturers, 1905.Vol. 1. Washington:
Government Printing Office, 1908.
Boston Herald, March 18, 1909.
Pittsfield Advertiser, June, 1884 - December, 1954.
Waterville Sentinel, October 25, 1955.
Replied to Wood
Gordon Dobson sends open letter to head of
American Woolen Co.:
Gordon Dobson of Pittsfield, President of the Maine
Woolen Manufacturers' Association, has sent the
following open letter to William M. Wood, President of
the American Woolen Company, in reply to a statement
by Mr. Wood regarding the regulation of the wool tariff
in the Payne Bill, published recently.
"I want to call attention to the opinions you have
expressed, and ask you some questions in regard to
"Why do you want to study the Payne wool and
woolen schedule before venturing a conclusive opinion?
With the exception of the duty on tops it is practically
the same as the Dingley Tariff, under which you have
formed the largest wool manufacturing corporation in
the world, and which you state was the most evenly
balanced bill ever enacted in the history of the woolen
"You say that 'unless a greater duty than six cents (in
addition to 33 cents) prevails upon the tops, industry
will not flourish in this country.'
"Is it not a fact that the Payne Tariff on worsted
tops is excessive, that it grants a large amount of
concealed protection? For example, the Payne Bill
provides that the duty on tops shall be the same as (sic)
upon scoured wool, of which they are made, and six
cents per pound in addition. Do you not know that this
Payne top schedule is so framed, if not for the deliberate
purpose, certainly with the result of giving the worsted
top mills excessive protection and a monopoly of the
"To begin with, tops are made not from scoured
wool, such as, if imported, would bear a duty of 33 cents
a pound. The raw material for tops is imported in the
grease, and none of it is subject to a duty equal to 33
cents per scoured pound. The difference between the
Payne compensatory rate of 33 cents and the actual duty
you pay on the wool goes to swell the Payne protective
rate of six cents. You import practically no wool
shrinking over 55 per cent. (sic) and yet every point
below 66 2/3 per cent. means concealed protection for
the top maker.
"The enormity of the Payne duty on tops is seen by
reducing it to an ad valorem equivalent. Cross bred 40s
tops are selling in Bradford, England, at about 24 cents a
pound, the Payne duty is 39 cents a pound, or 162 per
cent. of the cost at Bradford, and yet you talk about the
top industry not flourishing under that rate on a product
that is little more than scoured wool. Why is it that the
one criticism that appeals to you is that a rate of 162 per
cent. is too low on worsted tops? Is it not because you
and your representative, Mr. Whitman, are largely in the
"You say it would be a happy thing to arrange the
schedule to satisfy the Maine manufacturers if it would
not do an injustice to the wool grower who is entitled to
protection because he works hard in the lonely
occupation in the wild mountains of the northwest. His
life is dreary and hard and he feels that he is entitled to
protection. Do you think it would be an injustice to the
wool grower if the duty on light shrinking wool which
you use were raised?
"That is just what the Maine woolen manufacturers
advocate. The wool grower is now suffering from an
injustice by reason of the specific tariff on light shrinking
wool, by which you and the other worsted spinners are
able to import about 90,000,000 pounds of wool every
year at a comparatively low duty per scoured pound.
The carded woolen manufacturers ask for no reduction
in the tariff on wool. They ask if wool is to be imported
into the United States that they (the carded woolen
manufacturers) shall have equal privileges with the
worsted spinners in buying it. To bring about that
square deal without reducing the protection to the wool
grower it will be necessary to deprive you and the other
worsted spinners of the special privileges you now
possess under the law.
"Now, is not your expressed sympathy for the wool
grower a pretense? Do you not oppose an equalization
of the duty on wool because it would deprive you of an
advantage and place you on even terms with us, the
carded woolen manufacturers? Have not you, the
worsted spinners, deluded the wool growers into
thinking of an equalization of rates on wool would
injure them ,(sic), when in fact it would benefit them?.
And are you not keeping up this deception for fear you
will be deprived of the special privilege of importing
light shrinking, worsted wools at the low 11 cent rate?
Now, tell me without evasion, is that not the truth?
"You say the American Woolen Company has more
looms on woolens than all the woolen manufacturers of
Maine combined. Compared to the gigantic
combination of which you are the head; the Maine
industry may look small but as was said of Dartmouth
College 'there are those among us who love it.'
Moreover it is not only the woolen industry of Maine
that is involved, although I speak officially only for that
section. The welfare of the carded woolen industry of
the entire country is at stake and in 1905 that industry
give employment to 75,000 persons and yielded
$32,000,000 in wages, as compared to 71,000 employees
and a payroll of $20,000,000 in the worsted industry.
"You say, 'certainly, if it (the tariff) would affect their
looms (on woolens) it would affect ours.' Are not your
carded woolen mills affected? Is not a large part of your
carded woolen machinery idle? Is not half the carded
woolen machinery of New England idle along with
And are not the profit (sic) you make on your worsted
products larger than what you would be likely to gain
by having the depression in your carded woolen mills
checked by a fair tariff on both woolens and worsted? Is
not this the reason why you favor the Payne bill?
"And at this point let me ask you, is it not a fact that
under the tariff law of 1883 the worsted industry was
burdened by an unfair construction of the schedule and
did not the National Association of Wool Manufacturers
made strenuous efforts for seven years to correct that
inequality? Why is it that this association is so
indifferent to inequalities which now oppress the carded
"You talk about wool for woolen mills being a drug
on the market and sold in such begging quantities that it
could be piled up as high as Bunker Hill monument in
height. As for the Atlantic Ocean, how fine are you
spinning the yarn to reach across it? Now, Mr. Wood,
drop such comparison and let us get down to solid
business facts. Tell us what wool has been a drug on the
market. I have been buying wool continuously and
have not found it going a-begging.
"You say the carded woolen business would have
been bad anyway because woolen goods are not
fashionable. Now answer this question. How long do
you think worsted goods would be fashionable if
conditions were reversed and the worsted mills were
deprived of raw material by prohibitory duties of 400
per cent., and 600 per cent., while the carded
woolen mills could import their raw material with a
duty of 25 per cent, to 40 per cent.?
"You say there are always people looking around for
some excuse for non-success in their business. That is
so, and the carded woolen manufacturers believe that
they have found the reason in the tariff that deprives
them of raw material while giving it to you at a low rate.
"And we want some better proof than your
argument to convince us to the contrary, especially
when, in the same breath you admit there is an
inconsistency in the tariff. Why do you not try to remove
the inconsistency? Is it not because you are now
profiting by it and are willing to have others despoiled
providing you can hold on to the advantage the law
"You say the American Woolen Co., has been
regarded as a trust. Isn't it a trust, and isn't a trust
supported by special privileges, under the law? Of
course, you have all the facts in your possession, but
enough is generally known to warrant the belief that
you are a trust. Take your worsted 'combs' for example.
You have about 325 now in operation, and it is reported
that the new Ayer Mill, which will be the largest
worsted mill in the world, is to have about 125 more
combs. That makes 450, or practically one-third of the
total in all the worsted mills of the country.
"Your 'combs' will soon be able to consume about
60,000,000 pounds of wool, scoured weight, a year. That
one-half of all the wool combing and clothing grown in
the United States, and considerably more than all the
combing wool grown in the country. Doesn't that look
like the beginning of a trust?
"When we consider that your company, using more
combing wool than is grown in the entire country, is
able to import what more you need at a low rate of duty,
while you[r] carded woolen competitors are prohibited
by the tariff from importing any wool whatever, doesn't
the American Woolen Co. look like a trust nursed by the
Government at the expense of the people of the United
"You say that 'the American Woolen Co. has had
nothing whatever to do with influencing the present
tariff; that you have studiously kept away from the
House Committee, and that, although you were invited
to send a representative, you declined to do so, because
you were willing to leave it to the other woolen
manufacturers of the country, believing
they were competent to take care of the situation and
whatever would be to their advantage would certainly
be to ours.' Such self-effacement by a company like
yours is very touching; but give me direct answers to a
few simple questions.
"Have you not recently disregarded former
estrangement and worked hand and glove on this tariff
revision with William Whitman, President of the
Arlington Mills, and of the National Association of Wool
Manufacturers? Have you not practically delegated him
to act in your behalf at Washington
and elsewhere in connection with tariff revision? How
does it happen that the only witnesses who appeared
before the Ways and Means Committee from the
National Association of Wool Manufacturers were
William Whitman and Charles H. Harding, two worsted
spinners, neither of whom is interested in carded woolen
"Hasn't there been some arrangement by which the
carded woolen manufacturers deprived of raw material
were also to be denied a hearing at Washington,
although a number of them are members? Why do you
think that undue attention has been to the top schedule
by the controversy between Mr. Bennet and Mr.
Whitman? Is it possible to give too much attention to
tariff schedules? Are you in favor of the Dingley top
schedule under which the duty on tops was greater than
on the finished cloth made from them? and if you are
not, why talk about the question having been raised in
such an unfortunate way? Don't you know that it would
not have been raised at all if it had not been for the
controversy on Dec. 2 which you deplored? why not
apply the same scrutiny on every line of schedule K?
The carded woolen manufacturers are willing, are you?
"The carded woolen manufacturers ask only for
justice. They ask for no advantage over you in the
purchase of raw material or otherwise. They concede
the right of the wool grower to ample protection and
they ask for no excessive tariff on their finished products
by which they might be in a position to extort an
excessive profit from the pockets of
the consumer. Now, are you of the same mind? And
are you willing to subject your case to the public? If so,
will you place before Congress a statement of the
combing tests of the worsted wool used by the American
Woolen Co. during the past year so that Congress and
the public may know how much you gain by the specific
duty on light shrinking wools? Will you advise William
Whitman, Charles H. Harding and users of mohair and
coarse combing wools who may be members of the
N.A.W.M. to submit like statements of the wool they
"I repeat, the carded woolen manufacturers want
only a square deal. They ask only that they may be able
to obtain their raw materials on even terms with our
friends, the worsted manufacturers. The Payne bill is
entitled 'a bill to provide revenue, equalize duties and
encourage the industries of the United States'. This is a
clear statement of what a tariff bill should be. If this
principle is carried out the carded wool industry is ready
to abide by it.
"They have appealed to the Ways and Means
Committee for it in vain. If the House of
Representatives denies it to them they will appeal to the
President of the United States, who has proclaimed his
belief in the theory of cost differences as the true
principle of protection, who has announced his devotion
to the square deal, who, since his election, has declared
the tariff revision must be honest and thorough, and
intimated that a veto awaits a dishonest bill.
"If he fails to give us the justice he can if he will, then
the carded wool manufacturers will carry their case to
the court that makes and unmakes Presidents, Senates
and Houses of Representatives, the American people,
confident that they sooner or later will strip from the
tariff law the special privileges that are now giving the
worsted spinners such great advantages at the expense
of the wool growers, the carded woolen manufacturers,
and the consumers of the country.
(Signed) GORDON DOBSON
President of the Maine
1News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, April 8, 1909.
Denies statement that woolen men lost by own fault.
Gordon Dobson, president of the Maine Woolen
Manufacturers' Association, protests that, contrary to
dispatches from Washington, the carded woolen
interests of Maine and other states did not lose their
fight in Congress because they had failed to state their
needs, and cites the following letter to prove his cause:
Letter to Senator Hale
"Hon. Eugene Hale,
"Sir: We have your letter of the 13th inst. in which
you ask us to strike out from a copy of Schedule K. of
the Dingley tariff what we do not wish to appear and
write in what we want to appear to make it as we would
like to have it read when enacted into law. In complying
as far as possible with your request we will at the same
time state why we cannot do all that you ask.
"We are manufacturers of wool goods by the carded
woolen process. Schedule K covers all products of wool
whether in the raw state, partly manufactured or
finished and by whatever process. To comply with your
request it would be necessary for us to recommend
classifications, tariff rates and methods of assessment,
not only for the
goods we manufacture, but also for those we do not
make and for the raw material we have to buy for our
"Let us begin with the raw material. We have
already stated to the Committee on finance our
objections to the present specific duties on grease wool,
which are levied on grease and dirt as well as on wool,
and to the prohibitory duties on by-products. They shut
us out from the supply of foreign wool and by-products
suited for our industry and give the users of light
shrinking combing wools access to the foreign markets
at a very low rate of duty. By this arrangement the wool
grower is deprived of the protection contemplated
under the law, the worsted spinning industry enjoys
special favors of great value, the carded wool industry is
strangled, while the ultimate consumer is deprived of an
adequate supply of wool goods.
"The complete remedy for these inequalities under
the present law is an ad valorem tariff on wool, which
automatically adjusts itself to all conditions by which a
tariff should be regulated. We recommend this
complete solution to Congress. It would be manifestly
improper for us to do more than suggest to you a
particular rate of duty on wool. First, because we are not
familiar with the business or cost of producing wool in
this country or abroad; and second, because we are
buyers and users of wool and, therefore, financially
interested in obtaining a supply of this material at as low
a cost as possible. In revising Schedule K the first thing
is to fix the tariff rate on wool, which
is the basis of the entire schedule of duties. This rate
should be fair to the wool grower and the consumer of
wool goods, and should bear uniformly on all branches
of the wool manufacturing industry. The rate on wool
must be fixed before it is possible for anyone to frame a
system of duties on wool goods. For your guidance on
fixing the tariff rate on wool we want to submit the
following statement showing the quantity and value of
the wool of classes 1 and 2 imported during the five
years ending June, 1907, together with the amount of
specific duty collected and the ad valorem equivalent of
"Quantity, 426,036,605 pounds.
"Duty collected, $47,559,548.
"This statement shows that if the duty collected on
the wool imports for these five years had been of ad
valorem equivalent it would have been 50.8 per cent.
This measures the protection the wool grower has been
receiving under the Dingley tariff on ad valorem basis.
The importations have been confined to grease wools on
which the shrinkage did not exceed 55 per cent., running
as low as 15 per cent., the average shrinkage being about
40 per cent. An ad valorem tariff on wool will remove
completely the inequalities by which the carded woolen
Industry is burdened and the worsted industry favored.
"We also desire to call your attention to the fact that
if the complete remedy for the inequalities in the wool
tariff is not applied by the adoption of ad valorem
duties, a partial remedy is available by levying a specific
duty on the scoured weight. We ask that, whatever
duty is levied on wool, it be applied without the
arbitrary distinctions that now exist between unwashed,
washed, sorted and scoured wools, and that the division
into class 1 and 2 be abolished. The cost of washing,
sorting and scouring is trifling and the ad valorem or
specific rate on the scoured weight can be made to cover
"Either of the methods above suggested would raise
the tariff rate on light shrinking wools to a point at
which all wools, including those heavy shrinking grades
now excluded by duties rising as high as 800 per cent.,
would be admitted at the same tariff tax, and thus the
wool grower would obtain better protection than at
"As a suggestion to you in revising the Dingley tariff
on wool, its by-products and wool goods, we
respectfully call attention to the following abstract from
the political platform of 1908, which stated the principle
that should guide you in the tariff revision in which you
are now engaged:
"'In all farm legislation the true principle of
protection is best maintained by the imposition of such
duties as will equal the difference between the cost of
production at home and abroad, together with a
reasonable profit to American industries.'
"Rates of duty on wool and its by-products that bear
equally on all branches of wool manufacturing and are
satisfactory to both the wool grower and the American
consumer of wool goods will be satisfactory to us. A
tariff on the manufacturers of wool based on the
principal stated in the above extract will also be
satisfactory to us. When the rates of duty on wool and
its by-products are determined it will be possible to
complete the revision of Schedule K.
"We want, however, to call your attention again to
the fact the Schedule K covers a wide range of fabrics
other than carded woolen goods, and that the proper
way to complete the revision is for you to enlist the
co-operation of all branches of the wool manufacturing
industry – wool growing, carded woolen, worsted,
knitting, carpet and felt – under conditions that will
make it impossible for anyone to obtain an unfair
advantage, or for the domestic industry to be deprived
of adequate protection.
"We do not claim to be less selfish or less anxious to
do business under favorable conditions than are those
who may be engaged in wool growing or the other
branches of wool manufacturing that we have named.
What we want to make clear to you is that we, burdened
by the inequalities of the present tariff and conscious of
the powerful popular sentiment in favor of the
transaction of public business with justice to all whether
rich or poor, producer or consumer desire to obtain a
thorough and honest revision of Schedule K,
under which every interest from the wool grower to the
ultimate consumer will have fair p[l]ay (sic) and the
policy of adequate protection to American industry will
be maintained. If your committee will bring about such
conditions for the revision of Schedule K we are
confident that, after the rates of duty on wool and
by-products have been determined, you can, with the
co-operation of all interests affected, complete easily and
quickly the revision of Schedule K, as applied to
manufacture of wool.
"In conclusion we want to state our belief that any
other course by which the existing inequalities in the
Dingle tariff are continued, will result in a continuance
of the agitation for a thorough revision of the tariff and
thus keep the country in a state of uncertainty and
suspense. We appeal to you as friends of protection to
improve the opportunity you now possess and
discharge the duty that rests upon you to revise
Schedule K of the Dingley "tariff so that it will be fair to
all and an enduring monument to the wisdom of the 6lst
"Yours very truly,
1News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser. July 1,1909.
Discusses Wool Schedule K
Gordon Dobson of Pittsfield, vice-president of the
Carded Woolen Manufacturers' Association sends the
Daily Trade Record the following letter regarding one of
the points raised in the recent address of Joseph R.
Grundy before the Wool Growers' Convention at
"Editor Daily Trade Record:
"Sir – The address of Joseph R. Grundy, published
over a month after it was delivered at Portland, Oregon,
is so transparently fallacious that it will deceive few who
read it, but I desire to call attention to one of the
statements in it because they (sic) are repetitions of
arguments that for forty years have been brought into
service whenever Schedule K has been attacked. Mr.
"'It does not require three pounds of all kinds of
wool in its natural condition to make one pound of
scoured wool, yet wools are abundantly produced in the
world, which, in scouring require three pounds to make
one pound of scoured product, and protection for these
insures the full measure of protection to growers of
wools of less shrinkage when levied in this rate.'
"The worsted spinner imports no wool that requires
much more than three pounds for one pound of worsted
cloth. Large quantities of worsted wool are imported
that yield one pound of cloth from two and a half
pounds of wool.
"The carded woolen manufacturers, on the other
hand finds (sic) that not only four pounds, but
frequently five or six pounds of the wool he requires is
needed for one pound of cloth. Under such conditions a
specific duty of eleven cents a pound on grease wool
operates powerfully to favor the worsted spinner and
put the carded woolen manufacturers out of business.
This is always the inevitable result of a specific duty on
"But for the sake of illustration let us suppose that
such discrimination under the wool duty was not alone
fatal to the carded wool industry. Then the
compensatory duty would be equally effective in
putting the carded woolen mill out of business because
the law grants a uniform rate of 44 cents a pound. The
carded woolen manufacturer requires a compensatory
duty as high as 55 or 66 cents if he imports the heavy
wools, while the worsted manufacturer requires but 33
cents at the most, and only 24 3/4 cents on a very large
part of the wool he imports. In other words, the
compensatory duty is too low for the heavy goods
required for the carded woolen goods and is too high for
the light shrinking wool used for worsted cloth. And
yet, under these outrageously unequal conditions,
Joseph R. Grundy, a worsted spinner, comes forward
and says his industry requires the 44 cent compensatory
duty on goods, not because the heavy wools are
imported, but because they are produced in the world.
It would be unfair to charge Mr. Grundy with having
originated this absurdity for the purpose of bringing the
ranks of the wool growers at Portland into line with the
worsted spinners. He did not originate it. It is heavy
with age, and many years ago was stated in the Senate
Chamber by Senator Aldrich of Rhode Island, in order to
defend this schedule framed by the worsted spinners
and for the worsted spinners.
"Mr. Grundy seeks to convey the wholly
unwarranted impression that the carded woolen
manufacturers who now seek relief are advocates of free
wool. The fact is that the worsted industry was brought
into existence in this country by free wool. In 1866
worsted spinners petitioned for free wool, and when
they failed to get it they framed the washed wool joker,
now 45 years old, by which the washed wool then
needed was admitted at 12 cents a pound, while washed
wool for carded woolen goods was excluded from the
country by a duty of 22 cents a pound. Why did not Mr.
Grundy explain these facts to the wool growers at
1News item in the Pittsfield Advertiser, March 16, 1911.
Peter L. Gulick was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 29,
1941. He was educated at Blair Academy and received
his baccalaureate degree from Hobart College in 1963.
Upon graduation he has taught American History at
Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine, for the past
six years. In 1966 he was appointed Dean of Students.
Mr. Gulick is married to the former Ruth Rickie Phillips
of Scarsdale, New York, and they have three children.
THE WOOLEN INDUSTRY OF PITTSFIELD
by Peter Lee Gulick
An Abstract of the Thesis Presented in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master
of Arts (in History). August 1969
A history of the woolen industry in Pittsfield was
written because it was once the main industry of the
town and caused Pittsfield to become the central
economic force in its area.
This thesis traces the development of the Industry
from its small mill day, its expansion under the Dobson
family, and its becoming a part of the giant American
Also included in the history were the effects of the
mill on the town of Pittsfield and the people the mill
helped to support.
With all the few available statistics, a study of wages
and mill earnings is made; as well as a resume of the
complete change from paternalistic industry to
impersonal industry under the American Woolen
Company. The final few pages contain the death of the
American Woolen Company, and the end of an era in
Website design by Snakeroot DataGraphics
In the interest of Pittsfield.
File name: PitWool.html
Version: Wednesday 23 December, 2009