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The Gilded Age

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Submitted By jhlspaz14
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The Gilded age refers to the brief time in American history after the Civil War Restoration period. From 1877-1893, Americans were wealthy, hard working, and willing to do what they could to better the country. While some went and put thier money into stocks (which didn't help them in the long run) others put thier money towards the mills. One mill in Manchester, NH was one of these Gilded Age marvels.
Through this era, there was a huge growth of different industries and a wave of immigrants marked this period in history (Morgan, 54). Because of the success of Western expansion, the gold rush in California and resources in Western North America, the demand for railroads led the way for the Gilded Age. The production of iron and steel rose dramatically because of improved technologies in factories and western resources like lumber, gold and silver increased the demand for improved transportation. There were mining operations that led to incredible profits and the owners of companies dealing with these were suddenly swimming in lots of money,many men used these new found riches to invest in the Mills that were in New England at the time. The Mill that is most interesting to me is the Merrimack River Mills in Manchester, NH. Growing up in Manchester only a mile from the mills has made me want to learn the history of this landmark and how the gilded age affected Manchester.
In May 1807, Samuel Blodget completed a canal and lock system beside the Merrimack River at Derryfield. His enterprise allowed boats traveling between Concord and Nashua to bypass Amoskeag Falls, opening the region to development. Blodget envisioned here "the Manchester of America," a water-powered textile center comparable to the Industrial Reveloution English city he had recently visited. The name stuck, and in 1810 Derryfield was changed to Manchester. That same year, Benjamin Prichard and others incorporated the Amoskeag Cotton & Woolen Manufacturing Company. He and three brothers—Ephraim, David and Robert Stevens—had purchased land and water power rights the year before on the west bank of the Merrimack near Amoskeag Bridge, where they built a mill. From Samuel Slater they bought second-hand mill machinery, but it didn't work well. In 1811, new machinery was built to spin cotton into yarn, the currency with which factory wages and dividends were paid. Weaving became a cottage industry for local women, who earned between 2 and 7 cents per yard, depending on the type of fabric. A good weaver could average 10 to 12 yards per day. But the mill was unprofitable.
In 1822, Olney Robinson of Rhode Island purchased the company, using money and equipment borrowed from Samuel Slater and Larned Pitcher. Robinson proved incompetent, however, and the business passed to his creditors. Slater and Pitcher then sold three-fifths of the company in 1825 to Dr. Oliver Dean, Lyman Tiffany and Willard Sayles of Massachusetts. In April 1826, Dr. Dean moved to the site and oversaw construction of the new Bell Mill, which was named for the bell on its roof to summon workers. Also erected was the Island Mill, located on an island in the Merrimack. Boarding houses and stores were built, creating the factory village of Amoskeag. The three-mill complex prospered, becoming known for its excellent "sheetings, shirtings and tickings," especially the latter. Success attracted investors. With capital of 1 million dollars, the business was incorporated on July 1, 1831 as the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Offices were established in Boston, where the treasurer ran the firm, with an agent (manager) in Manchester to oversee personnel and operation of the mills.
Engineers determined that the east bank of the Merrimack River was best for the extensive mills, tiered canals and mill town the company planned. Consequently, most of the land on the east side was purchased in 1835, where property holdings would eventually encompass 15,000 acres. It would also purchase all nearby water power rights to prevent competition. A foundry and machine shop were established to make and maintain mill machinery. In 1838, Manchester was laid out and founded. In 1839, Stark Mill No. 1, an Amoskeag affiliate with 8,000 spindles, was completed, together with six blocks of boarding houses for employees. Throughout the company's history, its engineering department designed and built all mill facilities, whether for use by Amoskeag or others, giving the complex a unity of design. It had unity of color as well, the warm red brick made at the firm's brickyard upriver in Hooksett. Towers containing bells and stairwells added decorative flourishes to utilitarian factories. To take advantage of natural light, workshops were long but narrow, pierced with rows of windows. The Concord Railroad entered Manchester in 1842. Freight cars ran on spurs beside the mills to supply raw materials, particularly cotton from southern states, then carried away finished fabrics to markets around the country. One customer would be Levi Strauss, whose riveted blue jeans were made with cloth from the Amoskeag Mills. Incorporated in 1846, Manchester was intended to be a model of utopian factory-city planning, as Lowell, Massachusetts, had been before it. William Amory, the cultured company treasurer, together with Ezekiel A. Straw, the first Amoskeag agent, influenced the style of Manchester's urban design. It had broad avenues andsquares graced by fine schools, churches, hospitals, fire stations and a library. Row houses (called corporations) were built and rented to workers with families after years on a waiting list. Italianate, Second Empire and Queen Anne style mansions accommodated the company elite. Parks provided employees with fresh air, recreation and rest. Twenty acres were donated by Amoskeag Mills to create Valley Cemetery. The city's main thoroughfare, Elm Street, ran atop a ridge parallel to the mills below, but at a remove to lessen their clamor.
Locomotives and fire engines were built by the Amoskeag Locomotive Works. During the Civil War, Southern cotton became scarce, so the company's foundrymade over 27,000 muskets and 6,892 Lindner carbines. It would also make sewing machines and, of course, textile machinery. Following the rebellion, the country's rapid industrialization resumed, with Manchester becoming a textile center greater than its namesake. Company engineers built more factories, lining both sides of the Merrimack. Mill No. 11 was the world's largest cotton mill, 900 feet long, 103 feet wide, and containing 4000 looms. Gingham, flannel, and ticking were company specialties, although numerous other fabrics in cotton and wool were produced. The noise from thousands of looms running simultaneously in the weave rooms was deafening, so workers had to communicate by shouting in eachother's ears or lip reading. Amoskeag peaked by World War I, supplying the federal government with materiel. It employed up to 17,000 workers in 74 textile departments, with 30 mills weaving 50 miles of cloth per hour. Defense patronage brought workers an increase in pay combined with a reduction in hours, from 54 to 48 per week.
Everything in the company town seemed influenced by the benevolent paternalistic management ,including the moral and physical habits of the help. Women in particular were monitored both at work and home in accordance with the Lowell System. At first many came to Manchester from surrounding farms. But as the need for labor increased, immigration was promoted from Canada, particularly Quebec, where many were desperate after unscientific farming exhausted the soil. Other workers arrived from Greece,Germany, Sweden and Poland, with each nationality claiming a neighborhood in the city. This brought many cultures to Manchester as well as a divide in the rich and poor that was shown throughout the United States during the Gilded age. With the immigrants working in the companies, getting paid very little, there was more money for the companies' owners. This was how the rich became richer and the poor stayed poor. While the mills were one of the main reasons Manchester became a thriving city, it was also a reason for a division of power with-in the state. The Gilded Age was the beginning of a shift in American history that created class distinction, new cultures, and child labor regulations. This era was an amazing one, and having a piece of it in my back yard is a history that hits close to home. It is my history. It is America's history.

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