Waltham-Lowell system

The Waltham-Lowell system was a labor and production model employed in the United States, particularly in New England, during the early years of the American textile industry in the early 19th century.

Made possible by inventions such as the spinning jenny, spinning mule, and water frame in England around the time of the American Revolution, the textile industry was among the earliest mechanized industries, and models of production and labor sources were first explored here.

Before industrialization, textile production was typically done at home, and early industrial systems such as Samuel Slater's Rhode Island System maintained housing for families, with only spinning done in the factory. Weaving was "put out" (subcontracted) to surrounding villagers. The Waltham-Lowell System saw all stages of textile production done under one roof, with employees living in company housing, and away from home and family.

The system used domestic labor, often referred to as mill girls, who came to the new textile centers from rural towns to earn more money than they could at home, and to live a cultured life in "the city". Their life was very regimented - they lived in company boardinghouses and were held to strict hours and a moral code.

As competition in the domestic textile industry grew and wages fell, strikes began to occur, and with the introduction of cheaper imported foreign workers by mid-century, the system proved unprofitable and declined.

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American History

Economic History

Early and Antebellum America (1789-1860)

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