The firm of E.C. Kilburn & Company was founded in 1846 in Fall River, Massachusetts by Elijah C. Kilburn, Mrs. John J. Kilburn and Jonathan T. Lincoln. John J. Kilburn, before his death in 1846, had been associated with J.T. Lincoln in building power looms. Lincoln's eldest son, Henry C. Lincoln, entered the business in 1856 and the firm was renamed Kilburn Lincoln & Son. In 1868 the business was incorporated as Kilburn Lincoln & Company. The name of the company changed again in 1915, when it became known as Kilburn Lincoln Machine Company.
As was typical of early machine shops, Kilburn Lincoln offered a diverse product line, including turbine water wheels, shafting, hangers and pulleys, cotton looms and various kinds of machinery for print works. During the period 1846-1869, the firm's most successful product was a turbine water wheel of the Fourneyron type. The Fourneyron wheel, developed in France, had become known to George Kilburn, the master mechanic at a Fall River print works, in the early 1840's, when his employer returned from a trip to Europe. Kilburn built a similar wheel which was put into operation in 1844. George Kilburn was the brother of E.C. Kilburn and John J. Kilburn. When E.C. Kilburn and Co. was established in 1846, the Fourneyron wheel became the prototype.
The Fourneyron wheel was immediately successful and became the best-selling product of the company. It was sold not only in New England but as far away as New York, New Jersey, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Kilburn Lincoln did not long have the field to themselves. Competing wheels were designed, most notably by Uriah A. Boyden and James B. Francis in Lowell.
After the Civil War, the textile industry in Fall River grew rapidly. At the same time the Fourneyron wheel was being superseded by newer developments in water wheel technology. Kilburn Lincoln, seeing the huge expansion of the textile industry in Fall River, chose to concentrate on the manufacture of looms rather than re-invent the wheel. The firm eventually became known as a specialist in the manufacture of power looms.
With a strong local textile industry, Kilburn Lincoln did not spend much time cultivating business elsewhere. When Fall River declined as a cotton manufacturing center, the fortunes of the company declined as well. Kilburn Lincoln was liquidated in 1927.
Scope and Content:
The collection consists of material documenting the growth and development of a textile machine company, during the era when such companies were coming into existence as entities completely separate from textile mills themselves. The records indicate that although the building of turbine water-wheels was the largest part of Kilburn Lincoln's business, the firm was typical of other machine shops of the era that made a wide variety of machinery. There is also material referring to the growth of power looms as the chief source of the firm's business after the Civil War.
Material in the collection includes correspondence, orders, bills, invoices, contracts, indentures, statements, patents, receipts, circulars and price lists. By far the largest part of the collection covers the period from 1846-1869, but there is a small amount of correspondence, several patents and one folder of loom specifications dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The bills and invoices give a fairly complete picture of expenses incurred by the company in the course of doing business. The correspondence largely consists of inquiries about Kilburn Lincoln's products and the shipment and installation of water wheels. Correspondence during the Civil War years documents the firms involvement in making guns for the Union.
Of special interest is a series of letters written to Kilburn Lincoln by William Fay, agent for Prattville Manufacturing Company in Prattville, Alabama in March and April, 1861. Fay has ordered a wheel and, working with Kilburn Lincoln and their shipping agents, is trying to avoid paying the large tariff that might be imposed by the newly formed Confederacy. The tariff matter being resolved, Fay is at pains to assure Kilburn Lincoln that any man they send to Alabama to supervise the installation of the wheel "...will run no risk whatever in coming to our state..." despite the uncertain political climate. (Letters received, April 10, 1861)
This series includes administrative correspondence, contracts, agreements, patents, loom specifications, circulars, memoranda, price lists and an undated inventory. They are arranged by subject.
Series 2: Financial.
This series includes accounts, invoices, statements and receipts, but is made up primarily of bills. The bills are arranged alphabetically by subject.
Series 3: Purchase and Sales.
This series is composed of records of inquiries and orders placed with Kilburn Lincoln & Co., purchases completed and sales made. It is arranged chronologically.
Series 4: Correspondence.
Provenance : Gift of Jonathan T. Lincoln, 1931 and Mrs. Jonathan T. Lincoln, 1952.
Amount: 7 cartons, 1 box
Placed with Trade Catalogs: Kilburn Lincoln & Co....Looms
Placed with Photographs: J.T. Lincoln (portraits)
:526, folder of photographs of machinery
For materials of J.T. Lincoln, who was in charge of the Placement Office at HBS, 1927-1929, see GA 49
Lincoln, Jonathan Thayer. "Material for a History of American Textile Machinery: The Kilburn Lincoln Papers," Journal of Economic and Business History, Vol. 4, February 1932, pp259-280.