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Mind chum#12, The kiss of death shuttle
Posted to Open Discussion Forum on 3/18/2017 20 Replies

Well hello to all,I have a slightly different bent on a story that i started doing research on,and as usual i often get my self sent off in a completely different direction,so be it. I think that you will find this story as interesting in its subject matter as i did.

Work in the textile mills of the late 1880's, to the beginning of the 20th century was not for the feint of heart. It was often work performed under very harsh conditions.Stifling heat in summer,freezing cold in winter. And the ever present dust from the fibers which were inhaled and created breathing difficulties for many.

Add to this dangerous machinery, with very little protection from rapidly moving parts.Hence personal injury was a commonplace affair. Long hours of work set by the seasons rays of sunshine,made for long work days Not until the earliest of the twentieth century,with labor strikes enacted,to help improve the conditions do things start to get better. Heat in the winter.The advent of electric lighting,to aid in visibility.

Yet it was still grueling, and working six days a week was not uncommon.The pays for that time were not much more than 2.50 to 5.00 per week. If you were lucky enough to be an overseer then you might be as high as Ten dollars per week. That was a lot of money back then.

One of the items of interest that i discovered was known as the "Kiss of death shuttle".Disease and sickness was still one of those things that were not very well understood. Not until a few very smart and clever men, took the initiative and started discovering common causes as to why people got gravely ill. This was the beginning of what we now call micro biology. Unfortunately many never recovered from their sickness,and premature deaths were rather commonplace.

One of those illnesses was known as "Consumption" now it is known as Tuberculosis or TB for short. Mill workers were getting sick with consumption in very large numbers. And the hunt was on to find out what was causing it. Something as innocent as changing the threads in the loom shuttles was finally found out.

Looms at that time were often only able to weave only the most simple of patterns.When it came time to reload the thread bobbins in the shuttles,it was not uncommon for the workers to simply take the end of the thread and using their mouth,suck the thread through the shuttles. It was found that this practice was the culprit in spreading this often fatal disease from worker to worker.

Enter James Northrop who was the inventor of the suck proof self loading shuttle. Invented in the year 1912, and a patent granted in July of 1915,it was gradually put into production. As the word of what was causing Tuberculosis to be spread to mill workers got out,The state of Massachusetts drafted laws to prevent any more workers from using their mouth or lips to thread shuttles.Tools were developed to help aid in threading the shuttles from the bobbins. But old habits die hard and these tools were oft not used.This was the reason for the above mentioned law.

For those that are not familiar i shall try my best to describe a shuttle. Made of wood, most from maple.The Shuttles were boat shaped approximately a foot in length,and two inches square.With metal caps shaped to a point on either end,they were hollowed out in the middle which is where the bobbin resided.The bobbin was about ten inches in length.and 3/4 on an inch in diameter.This was wound with the thread used to weave the cloth,and inserted into the center of the shuttle.Early looms the shuttle would have speeds of 60 MPH and would be driven back and forth at around 125 strokes per minute,or SPM

New looms the speeds are mind blowing and the shuttle is a blur with speeds approaching 800 SPM All modern looms are now computer controlled and basically once the tedious job of hand threading a loom is done it is simply hit the start button and go.

The shuttle was run horizontally between the warp and the weft. These were threads run on the loom from the rear to the front of the looms frame and moved mechanically in a vertical fashion alternately as the shuttle moved between these rows of thread.in and out ,up and down,simple patterns were woven into the fabrics, with the aid of a Jacquard attachment more complicated patterns could be made.This could be the basis for another story all by itself,as it was one of the earliest know mechanical computers.

From the Mass. state archives, this is word for word the act that passed into enforceable law,from the year 1911

Commonwealth of Massachusetts acts of 1911,chapter 281 An act to prevent the use of suction shuttles in factories

Section 1. It shall be unlawful for any proprietor of a factory or any officer or agent or other person to require or permit the use of suction shuttles,or any form of shuttle in the use of which any part of the shuttle or any thread is put in the mouth or touched by the lips of the operator. It shall be the duty of the state board of labor and industries to enforce the provisions of this act.

Section 2. Violations of this act shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty dollars for each offense.

Consider that fifty dollars in the year 1911 was a lot of money, change came very quickly to the textile industry. The inventiveness of a few very clever individuals made new loom designs a necessity Enter James Northrop, he immigrated to the U.S.A. in the year 1877 from Keighly ,Yorkshire in England. Born May 8 1856 ,James had a knack for machinery and was a skilled mechanic.

He arrived in Boston at the tender age of 25 years,and decides to try his hand at being a chicken farmer. He finds that chickens and he, are a rather disagreeable combination.He later moves to Woonsocket Rhode Island and begins to work in the textile mills. His reputation grows as a gent that can find solutions to problems the machines develop.

He finds work for the Draper family in the small farming community of Hopedale ,Mass. this town was once a part of Milford ,Mass. When the Draper family began the building of the factory and surrounding community,Hopedale is incorporated as its own township . The Draper Corporation begins to develop a fully automated loom.Northrop's new loom is put into a trial run in October of 1889. The Northrop loom is soon to be known as one of the most popular looms ever made. He works on the bobbin self loading battery and also begins work on the self loading shuttle. As the bobbins need to get loaded into the shuttle, the timing needs to be quite exacting. A lot of trial and error work is required to get it just right.

In 1894 his Northrop automatic loom is perfected and will be made continuously for many years, well into the late 1930's The next loom variant is the Draper X series which had a production run from the early 40's up until the 1970's.Draper corporation was eventually acquired by Rockwell international. With the development of the Northrop loom it allowed the mills loom operators to over see upwards of 100 looms.A lot for one person,generally forty to fifty was a much more manageable number. The first order for the Northrop automatic looms are to a cotton mill in Burlington, Vermont , for a total of 794 looms. This puts the Draper Corporation into the pages of history for many years,and tens of thousands of looms are produced.Weaving hundreds of thousands of miles of cloth. With the decline of textile manufacturing in the United States and the closures of the textile mills.The machinery installed in the mills went to scrap.Only a handful of these very innovative looms are left today.

Doing my research for this story led me to the "Little Red Shop Museum" which is the official Draper Corp. museum located in Hopedale,Mass. I spent a considerable amount of time going through many links, just fascinated by the town. Again i can not help but to comment on the varied styles of buildings and homes. For so many to still be standing to this day says a little something about the build quality,and also something about the layout of the community itself.

The Hopedale town hall,the library, and community building, fire stations,boarding houses for the single workers. As well as the more than ample houses for the workers that had families.All were planned to be functional as well as very aesthetically pleasing to look at.

James Northrop was just one of many men that helped the Draper Corporations road to success. Mr. Northrop retired at the young age of 42 and bought a fruit farm in Santa Ana, California.He lived out the rest of his days a gentleman farmer and also loved to go fishing.He died in December of 1940. His numerous achievements included over 100 patents,and his genius helped to make the art of weaving cloth, a simpler process.

This all from trying to eradicate Tuberculosis.It still amazes me how the halls of history have these stories hidden from view,with just a little corner sticking out for the curious to come along and grab hold of.I hope that you all enjoy my curiosity. So until next time,there are many, many more stories to follow. Thanks for reading, Bruce.

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

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