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Mind chum number 10 building of an empire
Posted to Open Discussion Forum on 11/25/2016 28 Replies

Well it seems like its that time once again. Hello to all, This posting has been inspired by my visit to the Manchester N.H. Mill yard museum. Visiting my oldest daughter for the thanksgiving holiday. After the meal of plenty, we stayed overnight.

Next morning ,and after coffee, the girls decided to go on their shopping spree,this left my future son in law Jake and my self to fend for ourselves. Jake was a self declared couch potato.As i am not into video games at all, I went off solo ,to the museum. And what a museum it is.Here is some of what I learned about the Amoskeag mills corporation,which shall be referred to as AMC ,not to be confused with American Motors Corp.

The AMC was one of the original monopolies,before the word had the meaning it does today.In other words ,they took complete control of every thing.And i do mean every thing.Manchester N.H. ,as many New England mill towns was purpose built.AMC was the king with the main mill building stretching for over a mile in length and six stories in height, it dominates the Manchester riverbank, in its red clay brick guise. And it is still magnificent in its size, one hundred and sixty years later.

Located on the Merrimack river 21 miles south from Concord N.H. This areas location, has a plentiful water supply with a high set of falls, this was the most important factor for running and constructing a successful mill operation. AMC took this to a level that had never been seen before.

The name Amoskeag comes from the native american definition for the falls , Amuskeag ( place of falling water)The name Merrimack also has native meaning, from the Abenaki tribes definition, it means deep waters. At 117miles in length ,the Merrimack river has a considerable place in industries history as well as all of its tributaries, that feed into it ,which are considerable in number.

A stone dam and power generation station were completed in the early 1920's. Laid out with an upper and a lower canal all of the mills had pen stocks for water turbines ,used to power the machinery.

The city was first laid out in 1838 by Ezikiel Straw.At nineteen years of age he was an assistant engineer .The senior engineer very suddenly took ill. Young Ezikiel finds himself promoted ,to be the new engineer in charge of how the city was to look. By laying out the city in a simple grid pattern similar to New Yorks Manhattan. His older brother Herman F. Straw was also involved as the companies agent.As i have been doing my research i find that many young men had jobs and titles that belied their young age.Pretty amazing stuff.

The mill company, as an entity encompassed all and i do mean all aspects of its being.From owning the quarries that the stone was wrestled from.To brick yards for the tens of thousands of bricks needed for the construction of these massive buildings ,in AMC's employ were carpenters,machinists,masons,steamfitters,mechanics,(which by our job definition is not even close).Foundry men, loggers, millwrights, as well as simple laborers. In essence, all that was required to build a city and construct the factory, AMC owned it all .Lock stock and barrel.

Financed by wealthy Boston businessmen ,AMC was no ones fool.By purchasing the land on both sides of the Merrimack river they made certain that no competition could gain a foothold anywhere near them. This also meant control of a river that would eventually hold a huge part in AMC's downfall.

The mill complex took shape very quickly.Machine and foundry shops were among the first to be completed.Need equipment? No problem, we will simply design and build our own,and British Tudor laws, be damned.In England the working and living conditions were described as being deplorable.Often overcrowded ,filthy with refuse ,this included human,animal and household garbage.And no safe way of disposing of the nasty stuff, an English mill workers life was spent living and working around an open sewer.

AMC sent their agents to England,for recruitment purposes.Now i asked the question of the museum staff "How did they get folks to move to the USA?" The answer was a simple one.'The workers were promised a higher and better quality of life.And it was true,AMC provided the workers with clean modern(For that time) safe and sanitary housing.Coal for heating and cooking, could be purchased for cost. indoor plumbing, gas lighting,as well as snow removal,and schools for their children, a playground. Company owned recreation areas. And an opportunity to own a piece of the AMC complex.

As AMC's claim to textile fame was a simple cotton gingham fabric.But this fabric had its own little secrets ,in the fact that skilled weavers and dyers were needed to produce it. This was where the agents smooth talk got them the workers that AMC desperately needed.In the end ,the workers living in Manchester,they came from some 90 countries and over 70 languages were spoken. Talk about a melting pot!Build it and they will come,and come, they sure did!

By being smart,and holding all of the notes on the company housing,they were assured of workers staying on for the long term.But unfortunately what they did not count on were worker strife.As good as the jobs were made to sound, once the workers agreed to the terms your soul was sold to the company store.The first work bell for an average day was sounded at 4:30AM you were allowed a breakfast break at 7:00 am.7:30 back to work. The lunch bell sounded at 12:00 back to work at 12:45 and you worked usually until 6:00Pm or later if there was still daylight,six days a week. This is the main reason that mills have so many large window units,and it is also the reason that mills are rarely more than 80 feet wide.Electrification dd not happen until the early part of the 20th century.

Now i wish i could tell you it was easy working in the mills,all i can go on is written first person accounts. It was very tedious ,grueling, dirty ,dangerous work,in a noisy place. Hot in the summer, with cotton dust hanging in the air,breathing maladies were very commonplace. Power looms that had few if any guards in place, were hungry for any bit of flesh or loose clothing article that came into feeding distance.Accidents were frequent,many left workers mangled and disfigured. and keep in mind small children were also at work in these mills ,around dangerous machinery. Pictures of early period mill girls,you will see them wearing aprons and their hair is short or tied up.

The mills in Lowell,and Lawrence mass,were not any different,and in 1912 the Bread and Roses strike happened,and workers walked off of their jobs in protest of the long days and unsafe conditions.Manchester's AMC had managed some how to keep its workers insulated from this labor movement,until the year 1922. That is when all hell broke loose.

On April the 10th 1922 ,17,000 mill workers went on strike. The reason? AMC had decided to lengthen the working hours by four hours per week to over 54 ,and cut back on wages by 20% The strike went on for nine long months.When all was settled there were only 10,000 workers left to continue on. But the pot continued to simmer,when it was revealed that the stock holders had continued to receive dividends while the strike was happening.The lid blew off of the pot again.

After the stock market crash in 1929 the mills were hit hard .Worker unrest in the treatment they had received from some seven years earlier was still very much a present thing.As the depression took greater hold on the nations economy an excess of product and lack of sales,this was not doing AMC or the work force any good.In the years 1933 and 1934,with the threats of job losses imminent,this set the city of Manchester to levels of violence never seen before.

In the spring of 1936 a flood of unexpected flow and proportion destroyed much of the mills infrastructure and equipment housed in the lower basement levels,in 1937 a decision was made to shut down.On Christmas eve 1937 AMC made the announcement they were bankrupt. The end was near for AMC, then an event of war happened in this place called Hawaii. AMC would prosper with another chance to be the biggest textile operation in the world.

As always the mill buildings are mere shadows of what they once were.Many now house high tech start ups or schools. As i left the museum today i looked at all of the buildings ,and believe me when i tell you there are still plenty of these survivors,with one dating back to 1844,that was the oldest i saw here today. I will start posting some pictures of these magnificent structures. Soon i promise.till then enjoy,and thanks for reading ,Bruce.

Bruce Caron
Educator/Instructor/Technician
Robison Service Company
Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

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