In 1790, the first textile factory to produce spindles of yarn was opened by Samuel Slater. By 1900, the textile mill was a well-established feature of urban America, producing goods in response to the ever-increasing consumer demand. Although found throughout the country, textile mills were particularly prevalent in New England and the Carolinas.
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In the early 1900s, the production of textile was a mechanised process, with much of the machinery imported from England. According to the Public's Library and Digital Archive, the process began with the cleaning, carding and spinning of raw cotton, either completed on-site, at an integrated textile mill, or bought wholesale. The fabric was then made by weaving the cloth and then placing it on a loom. Depending on the type of loom used, workers could produce fabric of varying width, length, pattern and style.
According to the Public's Library and Digital Archive, the working hours for a textile mill were around 12 hours per day for six days each week. Entire families were often employed, with younger children helping parents before being employed in entry-level jobs, like spinning, around the age of 10 years old. In North Carolina, African-American men were often employed to perform the physically challenging jobs, like moving bales of cotton and loading, while black women were excluded from working in textile mills altogether. Average weekly wages from North Carolina in 1904 show an average weekly wage of £2.
Working in a textile mill could be a dangerous occupation. According to IHS Child Slave Labor, nerve and eye strain were common among the young spinners who watched the rows of bobbins for breakages. Poor ventilation and the humid air, often filled with lint and cotton, could cause workers to develop bronchitis and tuberculosis. Injuries were also commonly caused by trapping fingers or clothing in machinery. When this happened, workers could not rely on medical insurance or compensation to ease the financial burden.
By 1900, 92 per cent of textile workers lived in villages owned by their employers. A typical worker's house consisted of one-story, with water drawn from common wells or pumps. Although workers had the advantage of living close to the mill, they were under near-constant supervision by their employers. The employers did, however, often provide a village school for children and sometimes provided recreational opportunities to keep workers satisfied and prevent them from seeking employment elsewhere. Moreover, communal living in a village often promoted a sense of community and created strong bonds between workers.
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