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Modern Machines, Outdated Workers

December 7, 2009

(Hine, The Spinning Room)

In the 1890s, the Northern textile industry saw a major decline in production due to Southern competition with resulting large scale protesting. In an attempt to regain their past success, Massachusetts mills in particular decided to produce finer goods to eliminate competition with the rougher weave Southern products. In theory this was an intelligent and logical step forward because there was no Southern equivalent to a higher thread count, but new product production meant new machines and new training for workers to opperate them. In short, shifting the direction of production would be extremely expensive. (English 29-30).

Despite advancements in technology, the South stayed ahead of the North, mainly due to the Northrop loom, invented in the 1880s. This machine had the ability to hold multiple bobbins of thread and change them out automatically when they were used up. This meant that weaving, previously the most skilled task, now required very little knowledge, fewer workers, and thus, less pay. While cost effective in this respect, technological advancements also further prevented unionization, as the weavers were historically the most organized workers. With the advent of new and simpler machinery that women and children were more able to operate, the union took another blow. Men who were higher paid and more likely to organize could now be let go. (English 30-31).

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