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Amoskeag: Life and Work in an American Factory-City

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First published in 1978, this classic book, through vivid oral histories and historic photographs, documents the social and cultural impact of the industry during America’s rise as a manufacturing power. For nearly a century, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was chief architect of the social, ethnic, and economic existence of Manchester, New Hampshire. In the early 1900s First published in 1978, this classic book, through vivid oral histories and historic photographs, documents the social and cultural impact of the industry during America’s rise as a manufacturing power. For nearly a century, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was chief architect of the social, ethnic, and economic existence of Manchester, New Hampshire. In the early 1900s, it was the largest textile mill in the world, employing 17,000; its red brick facade stretched for nearly a mile along the Merrimack River and its payroll drew immigrants by the thousands. In their own words, laborers, foremen, managers, and town residents paint a detailed portrait of the mill’s nearly feudal dominance of every aspect of their lives and offer their response to this existence, with fierce pride and an unshakable sense of community. When competition, labor unrest, and obsolescence caught up with the mill in 1936, a weaver recalls, “the mills went out and the world stopped for everybody.”


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First published in 1978, this classic book, through vivid oral histories and historic photographs, documents the social and cultural impact of the industry during America’s rise as a manufacturing power. For nearly a century, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was chief architect of the social, ethnic, and economic existence of Manchester, New Hampshire. In the early 1900s First published in 1978, this classic book, through vivid oral histories and historic photographs, documents the social and cultural impact of the industry during America’s rise as a manufacturing power. For nearly a century, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was chief architect of the social, ethnic, and economic existence of Manchester, New Hampshire. In the early 1900s, it was the largest textile mill in the world, employing 17,000; its red brick facade stretched for nearly a mile along the Merrimack River and its payroll drew immigrants by the thousands. In their own words, laborers, foremen, managers, and town residents paint a detailed portrait of the mill’s nearly feudal dominance of every aspect of their lives and offer their response to this existence, with fierce pride and an unshakable sense of community. When competition, labor unrest, and obsolescence caught up with the mill in 1936, a weaver recalls, “the mills went out and the world stopped for everybody.”

30 review for Amoskeag: Life and Work in an American Factory-City

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    When this first came out I used Hareven's Amoskeag, about the huge NH mill, to teach Freshman Composition in Fall River, a larger mill city, though with no one mill so massive. Hareven learned from Blythe's Akenfield, though the speech patterns of Yorkshire (?) and New Hampshire must share little. Both authors, however, developed an admirable, enviable gift, to inscribe the blank page with a virtual recording, the written equivalent of a cassette. For both, the speakers come alive before us. Alm When this first came out I used Hareven's Amoskeag, about the huge NH mill, to teach Freshman Composition in Fall River, a larger mill city, though with no one mill so massive. Hareven learned from Blythe's Akenfield, though the speech patterns of Yorkshire (?) and New Hampshire must share little. Both authors, however, developed an admirable, enviable gift, to inscribe the blank page with a virtual recording, the written equivalent of a cassette. For both, the speakers come alive before us. Almost as if Chaucer came into the late twentieth century and did social history. Of course, Chaucer would have expanded the speakers range into more bawdy recollection. Here's such an exchange; Mary Daneuse's brother was left back in Canade, but years later came to NH. Mary's father did not recognize him, shut the back door in his face. So her brother went around to the front door, and the father, "It's you again!" Or Arthur Morrill, "I don't know to this day why I ever quit grammar school and went to work in a stinking cotton mill. I can't figure it out" (105). Ernest Anderson, "When I was young, if you saw a loom fixer coming up the street, you tipped your hat to him--you felt he had made something of himself, that he was somebody"(145). Early Fall River drew its loom repairmen from Manchester, England, and ith their children, street tin-can cricket called "Bowlywicket" (See FB, "Bowlywicket Fan Club"). Then, the LaCasse family--"Our family was unusual because instead of work, the oldest sons went into the priesthood. ..Aimé has spent forty years as a missionary with the White Fathers in Africa. He returned last year at age 66, and he's more African than American now"(262). Lottie Sargeant's father ran a numbers game, and she knew all the backstreets of Manchester. "My father felt terrible at Christmas. He cried because he couldn't give us what he would have liked to give us, usually he tried very hard, doing some extra gambling. One year I remember I wanted a pair of skates [for the flooded playground]. One brother had the hat, another one the mittens, the other had the coat. Nobody had a complete outfit.."(369). Because I used Amoskeag in class in the 80s, I recall Hareven better than Blythe, and I remember the challenge of confronting Louis Hines' photographs of child labor--for instance, in my students' own Fall River. Neighboring New Bedford has a good collection of Hines photos, though when I came to use one in our Bristol Community College student magazine, Prevailing Wind, I had to get one from the Library of Congress. I used a Louis Hines photo of the street game "Fives" in my account of three Fall River street games that came over from Manchester, UK: Bowlywicket (street cricket played with a tin-can wicket, a pinky rubber ball, and a broomstick, much harder than a wide cricket bat); Tipcat or Cat (as Shakespeare referred to it, and 19C Dickens, a cigar-shaped stick hit twice by a shorter broomstick--first to raise it, then knock it a distance for scoring by paces; and Peggyball, like Cat but with a little wooden shingle lever, and a large-marble sized wooden ball that came in early soda bottles, and again a broomstick-bat. One student told me about hitting the ball over a water tower still in south Fall River. And I think Peggyball derived like golf from Scotland. [See my article in Vol 3 of Spinner: People and Culture of Southeastern Massachusetts or in Folklore (UK) around 1981.] Of course I also learned from Iona and Peter Opie, Children's Games in Street and Playground. But no-one ever recorded the spoken word on paper better than Blythe and Hareven--except possibly Chaucer, and maybe the other great poets of the spoken word, like Wordsworth. But the challenge of Hines' photos is this: According to the accounts in Hareven, almost without exception, the children LOVED working in these mills; they couldn't wait to quit school and join the rest of their family in the mills. There's nothing even close nowadays, with the passing of family farms. And on farms the work can be pretty dispersed, whereas often several siblings would work in the same room--I seem to recall. Of course, the accounts in Amoskeag were post-shutdown of the mills, hence nostalgic both for their childhood and for a thriving economy. With the accounts of childhood memories of street games, I took them a step further: I went to the fall River Historical Society and found a box of policemen's notepads from 1896-1921 or so. They made fascinating reading, especially on Sabbatarian Infractions--"arresting" or citing kids for playing Bowlywicket on a Sunday. I found big differences in what various cops were asked to do. One Irishman must have been big, 'cause he was always sent to move large things out of the road. Another must have been very confidential, 'cause he was sent to recover stolen or misplaced watches and jewelry. Around 1984 I actually found the names of several of the boys cited in 1914, in the Fall River phone book, but I didn't have the sociological training to proceed. I did call one, talked to him, but I certainly couldn't ask an 85 year old man, "Were you arrested in 1914 for breach of the Sunday Blue Laws?"

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This book largely consists of recounted stories from interviews by the authors in the 1970’s. The interviews were with those - now elderly - people who had worked at the enormous Amoskeag textile mill in Manchester New Hampshire many decades earlier. The mill directly employed more than 15,000 workers at its peak but came upon some hard times in the ‘20s. The mill shut down permanently in 1935 during the Great Depression when demand for goods was low and Amoskeag was no longer able to compete wi This book largely consists of recounted stories from interviews by the authors in the 1970’s. The interviews were with those - now elderly - people who had worked at the enormous Amoskeag textile mill in Manchester New Hampshire many decades earlier. The mill directly employed more than 15,000 workers at its peak but came upon some hard times in the ‘20s. The mill shut down permanently in 1935 during the Great Depression when demand for goods was low and Amoskeag was no longer able to compete with the more modernized coal powered textile mills in Georgia and the Carolinas. First the pros: 1. The writing is quite good especially for a micro-history book with this much detail. 2. The book does an excellent job discussing the different nationalities of workers including the French Canadians, Irish, Greeks, and Swedes. Ethnic neighborhoods around Manchester were common. 3. The importance of textile mill towns and their histories might be known to much of the populace in New England and in the South but not so much elsewhere. I found much of the book fascinating from a historical point of view. Cons: 1. Amongst the testimonials that make up the preponderance of this book there is some repetition of stories. A good editor could have excised about 1/3 of the content. 2. Some of the stories were quite interesting from a historical perspective but the life of a mill worker is not by its nature especially dramatic. It might have been better to get some views of townspeople who did not work at the mill. I had the opportunity a few years ago to visit the weaving room at the Lowell National Historic Site. Lowell was a rival textile town to Manchester. Clickety Clack, Clickety Clack went the machinery! It was one of the loudest rooms I’ve ever been in. And there were only two machines running not the hundred that would have been historically operating on a floor at Lowell or Amoskeag. In the book the deafening sounds on the weaving floor were mentioned in several testimonials and in one person’s view it was the worst place to work in the factory despite the fact that the workers were some of the most skilled and best paid. The scope of the mechanical machinery at Lowell and Amoskeag - levers and gears rising from the waterwheels in the basement to the upper floor where the looms were located - would have made Archimedes proud. 4 stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    If you want to understand what has destroyed the relationship between corporation and worker in this day and age, this book lays it out in human terms, reporting the rise and fall of an entire industry over the course of just a few generations. The loss of a business model that worked well is even more poignant in that it is obvious it could have been avoided, save for the greed of businessmen who refused to invest profits in either the business or the loyal employees; men who lost sight of the If you want to understand what has destroyed the relationship between corporation and worker in this day and age, this book lays it out in human terms, reporting the rise and fall of an entire industry over the course of just a few generations. The loss of a business model that worked well is even more poignant in that it is obvious it could have been avoided, save for the greed of businessmen who refused to invest profits in either the business or the loyal employees; men who lost sight of the long-term benefits of continuation, and settled for a single generation of personal wealth. The many interviews recall in first-person detail the lives of workers from every social strata in New Hampshire's mill towns; I was impressed with the vast differences that existed between the nationalities that entered the factory-city, and the sense of accomplishment and security felt by even the workers on the lowest rungs of the organization. As long as education and any real knowledge of the outside world wasn't part of the workers' daily lives, they were content with a low standard of living. A large part of that was that they were given the opportunity to stand up for themselves on a personal level without being overly-penalized, and that their basic needs were met by the factory owners. But as the world changed, the factory owners became greedy; thedemands for hours and production went up, as jobs were cut and wages remained the same. When the workers expressed discontent, and unionists rose to negotiate a better balance, the response of the factories was to bring suppression and violence into the homes of the workers. Once the banks entered the picture, and began waving money about, the factories were doomed. I'm yet to figure out, then or now, what purpose the bankers served in encouraging the gutting and destruction of profitable businesses. The real beauty of this book is that all this is presented from oral history, the voices of dozens of workers recounting their daily fears, their sacrifices and joys, the little squabbles between different departments, the respect universally offered to the foremen and office managers. This is a fair and honest depiction of hard-working women and men who spent their entire lives moving from one menial job to another, all within a single factory-city, most of them satisfied with their lot in life. There is no way to read this history without comparing with the currant global economy; the parallels are too obvious, and the final outcome grim. At the same time, you are aware that it is the survivors of that deliberate destruction of a world who are recounting the story -- and they are as strong as ever, while the rich men who traded in their souls and businesses for money are gone, and left nothing behind.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Been through the mill, and the mill's been through me" Nineteenth century American travellers waxed enthusiastic or properly melancholic amidst the ruins of Europe. Writers such as Henry James often contrasted the youth and vigor (and innocence) of America with old, tired Europe. None of them could have imagined that less than a century later, the busy New England mills that turned out huge quantities of shoes, textiles, and useful products of all kinds would be silent, weed-strewn ruins. When I Been through the mill, and the mill's been through me" Nineteenth century American travellers waxed enthusiastic or properly melancholic amidst the ruins of Europe. Writers such as Henry James often contrasted the youth and vigor (and innocence) of America with old, tired Europe. None of them could have imagined that less than a century later, the busy New England mills that turned out huge quantities of shoes, textiles, and useful products of all kinds would be silent, weed-strewn ruins. When I look around at cities like Salem, Lynn, Lowell, Lawrence, and Brockton, Mass., at Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire, at a dozen small towns in Maine, I realize that I grew up during the fall of a whole civilization. I saw the tail end of it. Today so many of those thriving factories and mills have been razed to the ground, turned into condos or specialty shops, or even, into museums of industrial history. AMOSKEAG is the story of one textile mill, once the largest in the world, along the banks of the Merrimack River in New Hampshire. The story is told through 37 interviews after an introduction of thirty-odd pages. The effect is most immediate: you feel as if you had lived the whole experience, grown up around these people. The reader is taken through the lives of management to the world of work---the varieties of tasks and social interactions to be found within the giant factory. Then we get an idea of family life, how the factory permeated every aspect of existence, and finally of the strikes, shutdowns and rising costs that eventually drove the mill out of existence (or rather, the whole textile industry to other states and countries). The text is punctuated by numerous black and white photographs which add to the atmosphere of "bygone days" that emanates from the whole book. If you are looking for a book on industrial history or early 20th century New England, you must read this one, it's unforgettable.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rick Reno

    As an anecdotal story of Manchester's decline, it's a pretty good read. Throw in the similarities between Manchester's story and those of dozens of other, smaller New England mill cities and towns, and maybe that makes it a little more interesting. Add the very different perspectives of different generations, ethnic groups, and castes, and there are a few more layers to peel. If that kind if things interests you, then this book probably will as well. I'm glad to have stumbled across it and gone t As an anecdotal story of Manchester's decline, it's a pretty good read. Throw in the similarities between Manchester's story and those of dozens of other, smaller New England mill cities and towns, and maybe that makes it a little more interesting. Add the very different perspectives of different generations, ethnic groups, and castes, and there are a few more layers to peel. If that kind if things interests you, then this book probably will as well. I'm glad to have stumbled across it and gone to the trouble of finding an old copy...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Will Albers

    fascinating look at the lives and times of American factory workers in the early 20th century. as someone who works in the manufacturing sector in Asia the similarities between then and now are amazing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    I grew up in Lowell and read about their mills. Since the Amoskeag Mills make up Manchester, New Hampshire's beginnings and I presently live in one of its suburbs, I decided this was a good place to start in learning its history, and I am not disappointed. The authors interview many immigrants who came to Manchester to begin a new life. While many of them left their poor home countries to start anew in the United States, they had to work extremely hard to earn the little they did have. Many of t I grew up in Lowell and read about their mills. Since the Amoskeag Mills make up Manchester, New Hampshire's beginnings and I presently live in one of its suburbs, I decided this was a good place to start in learning its history, and I am not disappointed. The authors interview many immigrants who came to Manchester to begin a new life. While many of them left their poor home countries to start anew in the United States, they had to work extremely hard to earn the little they did have. Many of their young children had to work for the families to remain above the poverty level. Child labor laws hadn't come into effect yet. Later on, some lied about their age in order to work. These interviewees note how much Americans have today without doing much for what they do have. It is obvious that these people paved the way to ease for future generations. I would have loved to have gotten to know these people to hear firsthand about their lives, their work, their struggles. I find it fascinating. Many worked 12 hour days. Some didn't like the atmosphere. Some loved their work. Seems it could have been called "legal" slavery with the hard labor, tiny salaries, and long work days, 6 days a week. They were compelled to attend church and the young women could not imbibe in liquor. Their lives were clearly not their own. The Amoskeag considered them to be "their children." It was conditional though. If they spoke up too loudly for what they wanted, they could lose their jobs. Yet they continued in it because many believed they had no choice if they wanted to survive. There were benefits to this way of life, however. The mills paid higher wages than in non-factory jobs (such as in being a nurse's aid or office worker). They also supplied housing for the workers to rent from them. One would have to wonder though if these little bennies weren't just a carrot to dangle before them to ascertain their loyalties. When the management couldn't cut their wages any further, they sped up the machines, compelling the workers to produce more, work harder.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Berlinguette

    Well-documented and recounted stories about the textile mills told by the people who worked there. My grandparents spent a good portion of their lives in the mills, and this gave me a good perspective of what they went through, what the environment was like, and why they were never openly bitter about what had to have been an unpleasant way to make a living. The book's tone is down-to-earth, and very respectful of its subject and participants. I would recommend it to anyone who grew up in Manches Well-documented and recounted stories about the textile mills told by the people who worked there. My grandparents spent a good portion of their lives in the mills, and this gave me a good perspective of what they went through, what the environment was like, and why they were never openly bitter about what had to have been an unpleasant way to make a living. The book's tone is down-to-earth, and very respectful of its subject and participants. I would recommend it to anyone who grew up in Manchester, or otherwise has an interest in this period.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joe Vess

    Fascinating, fascinating book though I suspect it would not be of that much interest to the general reader. But it's a comprehensive, details and often extraordinary account of life in an American textile factory town. The only thing I would have liked were more narrative and context and history from the authors. The oral histories are terrific and very well done, but I was often wanting more from around the edges, things that the interviewees may have been taking for granted that the reader kne Fascinating, fascinating book though I suspect it would not be of that much interest to the general reader. But it's a comprehensive, details and often extraordinary account of life in an American textile factory town. The only thing I would have liked were more narrative and context and history from the authors. The oral histories are terrific and very well done, but I was often wanting more from around the edges, things that the interviewees may have been taking for granted that the reader knew.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shibbie

    A series of interviews with workers at a huge factory in Amoskeag. Their tales are compiled and organized based on topic and while I only read the selected bit that was assigned in class, I intend on finishing it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bhaskar Sunkara

    I had to read this over the course of 36 hours for my American Labor History class, so I wasn't immediately endeared to it, but it was an interesting account. I had to read this over the course of 36 hours for my American Labor History class, so I wasn't immediately endeared to it, but it was an interesting account.

  12. 5 out of 5

    scrivenatrix

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Belmont-Earl

  15. 5 out of 5

    Helen Andrews

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mattinfo

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  19. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Francis

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim Nason

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

  23. 5 out of 5

    Barry

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie M

  25. 5 out of 5

    Booksnob

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy Liz

  27. 5 out of 5

    Camiwar

  28. 4 out of 5

    Du

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

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