The Lawrence Manufacturing Company, in Lowell, Massachusetts, wasincorporated in 1831 and began operations in 1833. The company initiallymanufactured shirtings, sheetings and printing cloth, but added themanufacture of knitted goods such as hosiery and underwear in 1864.
The founding of the company followed the pattern of other mills that hadbeen established in Lowell over the previous decade. Boston businessmenNathan Appleton and Patrick Tracy Jackson recognized that Pawtucket Fallson the Merrimack River, located in the sparsely settled area of EastChelmsford, represented a prime source of water power that could beharnessed for profit. In 1821 Appleton and Jackson, with a group ofinvestors, incorporated as the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on MerrimackRiver. They bought the land and water rights to the area. Those investingin a mill would buy the land outright and then lease the water power fromthe Proprietors of Locks and Canals. Frequently, of course, the investorsin a mill and the Proprietors of Locks and Canals were one and the same.East Chelmsford was incorporated as the town of Lowell in 1826.
By 1831 there were seven mills operating in Lowell. Believing that therecontinued to be room for growth in the textile industry, the same group ofbusinessmen looked to open yet another mill. As before, they were willingto put up most of the capital for a new cotton mill if competent men couldbe found to run the business. Brothers and business partners Amos andAbbott Lawrence, successful Boston merchants who had also invested in theSuffolk and Tremont Mills, were approached. They accepted the offer notleast because their firm of A. & A. Lawrence would thereby becomepermanent selling agents for a group of mills, thus greatly expanding theirdomestic cotton business.
The organization and operating policies of LawrenceManufacturing were representative of other mills in Lowell. A seven-manboard of directors controlled the company from a Boston office, settingpolicies and making decisions. The treasurer, who was a member of theboard, made purchases, paid bills, and managed the day-to-day business ofthe corporation. Subordinate to the treasurer was the mill agent, based inLowell and living in a company-owned house, who was in complete charge ofboth the mills and the boarding houses. After 1844 the mill agent alsohandled payroll and routine factory expenses.
Lawrence Manufacturing maintained its own warehouses forcotton in New Orleans, Boston and Lowell until 1850. At that time the NewOrleans warehouse was sold and cotton was shipped directly to Boston assoon as it was purchased.
Determined to avoid the notoriously harsh conditions foundin English textile cities, the founders of the Lowell mills established asystem designed to attract a "respectable" labor force composed primarilyof young women from rural New England. The Lawrence mills resembled theother mills of Lowell in having an overwhelmingly female work force. In1840, for example, Lawrence employed 1290 women and only 200 men. Most ofLawrence's single female operatives, like other Lowell "millgirls", lived in company-owned boardinghouses and on- or off-duty werebound by regulations designed to keep them on the moral straight andnarrow. Single men also lived in boardinghouses while married men withfamilies lived in company-owned tenements. Beginning in the 1840's and1850's the number of immigrants employed by Lowell mills increased greatly.At first the immigrants were mainly Irish. Later, large numbers of FrenchCanadian, Polish, Portuguese and Greek immigrants, both men and women, cameto Lowell seeking work. In addition, entire families of Yankees came toLowell in growing numbers. Unlike the single women who had come from ruralareas to work in the mills for a year or two before returning home, thefamily groups, immigrant or Yankee, made Lowell their new home. Notsurprisingly, they tended to live as family or ethnic units and were notinclined to live in tightly regulated company housing. Over the course ofthe nineteenth century unmarried operatives temporarily living and workingin Lowell became an ever-smaller proportion of the labor force. More andmore of the mill workers were members of families who had settledpermanently in Lowell. The boarding houses were used less and less andwere finally sold by the corporations around the turn of the twentiethcentury.
Lawrence Manufacturing was affected by economicfluctuations, closing wholly or in part at least three times before theCivil War. In 1862 nine mills in Lowell, including Lawrence, anticipated ashortage of cotton from the south for the duration of the Civil War andshut down entirely. Ten thousand mill workers, approximately 1600 of whomworked for Lawrence, were thrown out of work. Lawrence Manufacturingreopened early in 1864, adding hosiery and underwear manufacture to theproduction of cotton.
By 1865 both Amos and Abbott Lawrence had died, and thefirms of George C. Richardson and Company and R.M. Bailey and Company werethe selling agents for Lawrence Manufacturing. Townsend and Yale (laterE.M. Townsend and Company) replaced R.M. Bailey and Company in 1866 as theselling agents for shirts, drawers and woolen hosiery.
Like the other Lowell textile firms, Lawrence Manufacturingwas adversely affected by a number of factors in the decades following theCivil War. Despite expanded production due to the introduction of steampower (inaugurated at Lawrence in 1871), Lowell was no longer preeminentamong cotton manufacturing cities. Increased labor trouble, the rise ofNew Bedford and Fall River as textile manufacturing centers, and economicshifts all contributed to the slow decline of the Lowell textile industry.In 1896 Lawrence responded to changing conditions by abandoning themanufacture of woven cotton cloth, their original product, to concentrateon the previously supplemental line of knitted hosiery and underwear.
Despite a brief upswing during World War I, increasingcompetition from Southern textile concerns took a continuing toll onNorthern mills, including Lawrence Manufacturing. In 1926 the assets ofthe company were sold to Stevens and Son of North Andover, Massachusetts.The mills continued to operate as a subsidiary of a larger concern into the1980's.
The collection, which is remarkably complete, includes account books,production and sales records, payrolls and correspondence. Of greatestinterest is the correspondence, especially the treasurer's and agent'sletters; the sales records; semiannual reports to the directors and thepayrolls. The treasurer and agent were in daily communication by letter,and this correspondence provides a rich record of the company's activities.Represented in the treasurer's correspondence are Henry Hall, Henry V.Ward, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, L.M. Sargent and C.P. Baker. Agents'correspondence includes letters by and to William Austin, John Aiken,William S. Southworth, William F. Salmon, Daniel Hussey, John Kilburn,Franklin Nourse and E.H. Walker. There are also many letters to and fromthe selling agents, particularly Townsend and Yale (later E.M. Townsend &Co). The payroll records contain records for each mill as well as generalpayroll records. They also include a registry of names and records ofliability insurance.
Researchers should note that in many cases general correspondence, whilefiled alphabetically within a given year, may be filed under either thename of the firm represented by the letter or by the individual who signedthe letter. For example, letters from The Proprietors of Locks and Canalsin the 1870's and 1880's are filed under the name of company agent JamesFrancis, who signed letters with his personal name, but letters from thefirm of Appleton, Amory & Co. that are signed with the name of the companyare filed under the company name.
Vouchers, checkbooks, invoices, cloth and hosiery reports, bills of lading,canceled checks, canceled stock certificates, orders for dividends andcotton purchase reports covering the years 1870-1910 have been sampled at10-year intervals.