Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/June 1891/The Development of American Industries Since Columbus: Wool Industry I

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I REMEMBER the interest inspired in boyhood days by a certain colored map in a curious and recondite book in my father's library. This map undertook to group the ancient world into divisions according to the raw materials principally utilized in the clothing of the people. As a boy I was impressed by the fact that the sheep's-wool and goat's-hair countries, marked on the map in red, comprised nearly the whole of its space in a broad belt running from Hispania and Gaul on the west, covering the greater portion of what is now Germany and Austria, all of Italy, much of Russia, European and Asiatic Turkey, Arabia, and Persia. The northeast corner, occupied by the vast terra incognita of the ancients which we now call China, was marked on the map as the only part of the globe whose people dressed in silk fabrics. Egypt was christened the home of the ancient linen manufacture, and the map was colored in a manner to indicate that flax was also indigenous in several other small sections, mostly contiguous to the upper Rhine, and all of it bordering on rivers. India stood alone, the solitary country whose primitive inhabitants possessed and utilized the priceless inheritance of cotton. The great regions north of the wool belt were vaguely outlined on the map as peopled by barbarians who clothed themselves in skins, furs, and felts, and to whom the art of weaving was presumably unknown. One fond of the contrasts of history could not fail to be struck by the fact that the British Isles, now the home of the textile industries, were included by the map-maker in this vast expanse of country where the wheel and the distaff added nothing to the comforts of life.

If we were now to construct another map on the same principle, we should find the vivid colors which stood for the several fibers on the old map so blended and run together through the great belt line of the temperate zones that neither fiber would here predominate over any other. To-day all the fibers known to the ancients are used by all the civilized people of the globe, each for the purpose for which it is found to be best adapted. Each has had an evolution peculiar to itself, and each has been the gainer by every discovery or invention that has simplified the manipulation and thus extended the use of the other.

The sheep was the first animal which man learned to domesticate for his own service, and none has proved more useful to him. The whole object of primitive living may be said to have been compassed in the domestication of the sheep. His pelt and wool were the covering for man's nakedness, and his flesh was his food. Thus the sheep was the most important of all the instrumentalities PSM V39 D189 A merino ram.jpgFig. 1.—A Merino Ram. Weight, 192 pounds; weight of fleece, 35 pounds. which contributed to the evolution of the primitive man, by slow, uncertain steps, from a state of barbarism akin to that of the beasts, into the first dawn of civilization. The evolution has been accompanied by a scientific attention to the breeding of the sheep, with a view to increasing its wool-bearing powers and improving the quality of the fiber, not surpassed, if indeed it has been equaled, in the care or training of any other animal, and achieving results commensurate with the effort. The history of this evolution is hardly less interesting than that of the manufacture itself.

Wool is the only fiber which possesses the felting property in any considerable degree. This quality of felting imparts to woolen fabrics a firmness, an elasticity, a strength, a warmth, PSM V39 D189 Magnified fibers of silk wool and cotton.jpgFig. 2.—Magnified Fibers of (A) Silk, (B) Wool), and (C) Cotton. and a durability altogether lacking in the products of any other fiber. There is no fiber used in textile manufacturing which has an affinity for dye equal to that of wool. Aniline colors may be fixed on this material by simply bringing the fibers into contact with the liquid containing the coloring matter. Where richness of effect is desired, and a fabric sought which shall possess all the characteristics of artistic development, wool remains, as in the days of the lost effulgent royal purple, the unrivaled material of the artisan. From the pedestal of supremacy where these characteristics placed it wool can never be dethroned.

Again, the manufacture of wool is the most laborious, the most intricate, the most delicate, the most variable, of any of the fibers; and for this reason among others it deserves to rank, as it does, as the textile industry requiring the most brains and demanding the largest resources of art and skill. The intricacies of its manipulation are unending. They commence with the purchase of the wool itself. The variations of the fiber in quality and character and condition are almost infinite. Particular fabrics can only be produced from particular wools. The successful blending of the fiber preliminary to manufacture is an art in itself. Both the dye-house and the loom-room are schools of art, where the successful manufacturer must feel the pulse of the popular taste, and learn to minister to its whims and caprices. His weaves must change, his patterns must be varied, his coloring must be in good taste, his finish must be perfect. The broadest education in mechanics, in chemistry, in art, is necessary to the perfectly equipped woolen manufacturer.

Prior to the spinning and weaving, and undoubtedly the first artificial clothing worn by man, was the felted cloth, which originated in Asia, the cradle of the human race. Those primeval men discovered and utilized the felting property of wool that singular peculiarity which distinguishes it from all other fibers—but without the slightest understanding of the philosophy of the property or the causes which led to it. It was not, indeed, until 1853 that the explanation of this property was revealed. In that year William Youatt, to whose investigations we owe our first real knowledge of the character of wool, discovered by the microscope that the roughness and friction of the fiber, when rubbed by the fingers in the reverse direction of its growth, were due to an indefinite number of imbricated rings, or scales, around the stem of the fiber. He detected as many as twenty-four hundred of these scales, or serrations, to an inch of fiber, and the number has since been found to reach as high as four thousand in some instances of fine Saxony wools. It is a suggestive illustration of the crab-like methods of human progress that the first utilization of wool should have grown out of a property the nature of which remained unknown down to the last generation of manufacturing.

An illustration of the intimacy of the most modern and most ancient of civilizations is found in the fact that it was left for an American citizen to first successfully essay the mechanical fabrication of felted cloths. Thomas Robinson Williams, of South Kingston, R I., invented the process of making felted cloths of commercial length, and patented it May 22, 1830.[1] Since that day felts have appeared in innumerable forms—as printed and embossed piano-cloths, ladies' skirts, floor coverings, often with highly artistic designs, material for roofs and protectors against weather, piano-hammers, shoe-linings, etc. It is difficult to imagine any department of industry in which wool, in its felted form, does not somewhere play its part. Thus we have taken the simple discovery of antiquity and made it among the chief instrumentalities of civilization. The Tartars and kindred peoples who occupy the middle and northern regions of Asia, and whose manners and customs have remained unchanged from the most remote antiquity, employ the felted wool in a variety of functions, only less important than the supplying of foods. Both their clothing and their habitations have consisted of felt since a knowledge of them first went upon record in the fourth century. The process of felting was generally known among ancient nations. The Greeks gave to it the name πίληδις, from πιλέω, to compress; literally, a compression, or thickening, of the wool. The ancients employed felt for a great variety of uses, just as we do, the chief being to make coverings for the head, the most common form among the Greeks and Romans being the skull-cap.

When and where and how the discovery was made that the fiber of wool could be drawn and twisted into a thread, which in turn could be woven into a cloth, can not be told. The process devised at the dawn of civilization remains to the present day, viz., the producing of a long, continuous thread from the short fiber, and then weaving these threads into a compact network. The honor of the original discovery was claimed by all the nations of pre-Christian civilization, and probably belonged exclusively to none.

The distaff and loom must have had contemporary origin in different countries, for they were equally utilized, with little variation in form, in the spinning and weaving of wool, silk, linen, and cotton. Always it was the occupation of the women, and generally a domestic operation; although there are evidences that the factory system, so far from being a modern institution, existed three thousand years ago in Egypt, where many women spun in one building together. One of the discoveries at Pompeii is a veritable woolen factory, containing various machines for carding and weaving wool.

Spinning was the occupation of the lowly and the high born alike. Among the pastoral nations the men tended the flocks, while the women spun the wool. This arrangement of the domestic economy of the ancients has found its parallel in all countries and all ages.

The peasant's wife and daughters made their own homespun, and ladies of royal rank occupied their leisure in the fabrication of the garments with which they adorned their persons. Golden and ivory distaffs, highly jeweled, are described by classic writers, and no theme more frequently inspired the poet than the skill and graceful movement of the beautiful spinners.

This occupation of the women continued down to the advent of the modern factory system, which has done more than all else to change the aspects of domestic life. The modern factory-girl has superseded queens and princesses in the manipulation of the fleece, and the whir of machinery and the grime of the factory town have robbed the poet of his inspiration.

The ancient distaff was generally about three feet long, commonly PSM V39 D192 Ancient distaff spinners.jpgFig. 3.—Ancient Distaff Spinners. (From Montfaucon.) a stick or reed, and held under the left arm. The fibers of wool were drawn out from the projecting ball, and at the same time spirally twisted by the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. The thread so produced was wound upon the spindle until the quantity was as great as it would carry. The spindle itself, made of some light wood or reed, was generally from eight to ten inches in length. At its top was a slit or catch, to which the thread was fixed, so that the weight of the spindle might carry the thread to the ground as fast as finished. The process of primitive spinning is described by Catullus:

"The loaded distaff, in the left hand placed,
With spongy coils of snow-white wool was graced;
From these the right hand lengthening fibers drew,
Which into thread 'neath nimble fingers grew.
At intervals a gentle touch was given
By which the twirling whorl was onward driven;
Then, when the sinking spindle reached the ground,
The recent thread around its spire was wound,
Until the clasp within its nipping cleft
Held fast the newly finished length of weft."

These rhymes describe the whole process of spinning the various yarns out of which the clothing of the people was made before the Christian era and for centuries later.

Illustrations are given of the distaff and spindle of ancient Egypt, taken thence to Greece, Rome, Padua, Miletus, referred to

PSM V39 D193 A primitive spindle.jpgFig. 4.—A Primitive Spindle.

so frequently in the Scriptures, and still used in parts of India and elsewhere. For at least thirty centuries no other means of spinning was employed.

The Egyptians wove in an upright loom, beginning at the top and weaving downward, so as to sit at their work. In Palestine the loom was also upright, but the weaver, weaving upward, was obliged to stand. There was also a horizontal loom of very ancient date, the earliest known of which was sold in London, together with some " staves," "shuttles," and a "stay," in 1316.

Just what the primitive hand-loom was we know to exactness, for there are still countries in which it is used, particularly in the manufacture of carpets, precisely as it was used before the Christian era. Ouskak, the seat of the Smyrna carpet industry, where five hundred looms are kept busy, illustrates the strength of tradition in resisting innovation as well perhaps as any locality in the world. Here to-day may be seen the female population of the town busily at work, sitting crosswise at the foot of their looms, often as many as ten in a row, each working at a two-foot width of carpet. Their looms consist of two thick poles fixed firmly in the ground; two others are joined, one above and one below, and to these the warp or chain of the carpet is fastened. The yarn is taken from bobbins suspended above their heads and tied to the warp. It is then cut with a sharp knife and the pile and woof driven together by means of a comb.

This primitive method of manufacture has the advantage of permitting a looser texture than is possible where power is used, and in consequence the colors blend more readily and beautifully, and the carpet is soft and pliant to the tread.

The Romans carried the art of wool manufacture to the highest point of perfection that it reached in ancient times. They bestowed the utmost pains upon the improvement of their breeds of sheep, and the fleeces of their finer animals sold for fabulous prices. Woolen garments formed almost the exclusive attire of the Romans, male and female, of every rank, and the enormous supplies of clothing sent to their armies prove that the manufacture must have afforded occupation to large masses of the people. Pliny's Natural History supplies many clews to the character of the fabrics woven and worn by these chiefs among the wool manufacturers of antiquity. The excellence and variety of the fabrics they made were wonderful in view of their simple tools. The almost infinite variety of forms and textures of fabrics now familiar are simply variations of typical fabrics which these people—as great in the arts of peace as they were great in war—invented or adapted from other nations.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Florence, Venice, Pisa, and Genoa were the seats of vast wool manufactures conducted on a system somewhat akin to the modern factory system and forming the basis of the great commerce which built up those cities and made them the centers of a wealth, culture, and magnificence which modern times may rival but not surpass. Florence had attained such pre-eminence. in the wool manufacture that in 13-40 it had more than two hundred establishments, making annually more than eighty thousand pieces, and employing in their production thirty thousand persons. At Genoa were made all descriptions of carded and combed fabrics. The wool industry is forever associated with the discovery of the American continent, for the father of Christopher Columbus was a wool comber at Genoa; and the great discoverer himself, in the intervals of his schooling, assisted his father in the preparation of the fleece for the spindle. From the Italian cities came the woolen cloths which for centuries clothed the world with which they traded. Thence the wool manufacture gravitated to the Netherlands, and from Flanders, its chief seat there, it spread to all the great manufacturing nations of Christendom.

During the middle ages the working of wool was conducted by small groups of special workmen in various French cities, Paris, Tours, Arras, in the gynecia of the princes and dukes, and especially in the interior and dependencies of the monasteries. In Monteil's History of the French in Different Periods is given a description of the manner of working wool in a French convent in the fourteenth century, which is worth quoting for the light it throws upon the process of manipulating wool before and at the time of Columbus's discovery, and as illustrating the similarity in methods between that time and the present: "Let us examine what operations wools of the abbey farm must undergo from the moment the sheep are sheared, up to the moment when they are placed upon the shoulders of the respectable dames of the convent. I shall first carry the wools to the boilers to get out the grease and wash them; afterward I shall spread them on the drier; as soon as they are dry I shall beat them up; and I shall sort them, and divide them into two lots. On one side I shall put the long wools, suitable for the warp; on the other, the short wools, suitable for the filling. I shall afterward oil the wools for the warp with hog's lard or butter; after which I shall comb them; and, since now the king finds it best that we should card the wool for the filling, I shall card them. I shall have the first spun on the distaff, and the last only on the spinning-wheel. I shall put two harnesses on the loom, for stuffs with a simple web, like cloth, and three or four harnesses for twilled stuffs, according to the kind or quality of the cloth, sometimes fourteen hundred, sometimes eighteen hundred yarns of warp. I shall full the cloths in the mill, to cleanse and felt them. I shall give them a turn of the teasles, to draw out the hair from the wool. I shall full them again, and sometimes I shall sulphur them; sometimes, also, I shall shear them with the big shears. I shall give them a light turn of the teasles when they want my cloths all ready finished. I shall repeat these operations once or twice; and, finally, if I don't want to leave my cloths in the white, I shall carry them to the dyer; if not, I shall press and colander them." The operations here quaintly described remain the same, in principle, as five PSM V39 D195 Hand weaver.jpgFig. 5.—Hand-weaver. (From Schopfer's Panoplia, 1568.) centuries ago. Only the means of attaining identical results have been profoundly modified. Outside the Low Countries, the wool manufacture had made little progress on the Continent, at the time of the discovery of America. The industry received its first great impulse in France near the close of the sixteenth century. The Edict of Nantes restored to that country the scattered merchants and workmen of the Protestant faith. They brought from the Low Countries, where they had wandered, the arts of spinning, weaving, and dyeing woolens, and founded the first establishments for making woolen cloths. The infant industries were finally planted in their present nourishing seats by Colbert, the illustrious minister of Louis XIV. Seductive offers attracted skilled artisans to her towns. The foundations were laid for the splendid industries of Elbeuf, Sedan, Rheims, and Roubaix; and the French rapidly came to excel all the rest of Europe in the finish, coloring, and softness of their superfine cloths.

Great Britain, famous for her wool for so many centuries during which it was her chief source of national wealth, long remained dependent upon the Continent for the great bulk of her supply of the fabrics—especially the finer qualities—of which her wools formed the raw material. When Julius Caesar invaded England he found the inhabitants of the southern portion of the island well acquainted with the spinning and weaving of both flax and wool. Wherever the Romans went they carried their arts and their manufactures with them. They were at great pains to send their best artificers to the island, forming them into colleges or guilds, endowing them with certain privileges, and placing them under the great office of the empire, the Court of Sacred Largesses. The first woolen factory was established by them at Winchester, about one hundred years after the conquest of the island, to make the clothing of their army of occupation; but, on the departure of the Romans, the woolen manufacture became practically extinct again.

There is scant evidence of any revival of the woolen manufacture in England until the time of Edward III. Early in the fourteenth century the English are spoken of contemptuously as "only shepherds and wool merchants," dependent for their clothing upon the Netherlands, the only wool weavers in Europe; but even at this time (reign of James I) wool was said to constitute nine tenths of the national wealth of England. Wool was styled "the flower and strength, the revenue and blood of England"; and from time immemorial the lord high chancellor has presided over the House of Lords on a wool-sack, which gave its name to his office, the emblem of the close association existing between the kingdom and its leading industry. Edward III, in the fourteenth century, began the systematic encouragement of the woolen industry. He attracted to England many Flemish families skilled in the art of fabricating wool, investing them with privileges and immunities beyond those of his native subjects.

The king who was wise enough to import citizens to teach his people a new art, sought also to foster its development by restrictive legislation. The exportation of English wool was forbidden, the importation of foreign cloth made illegal, no subject was permitted to wear any clothing save that of native manufacture, and finally a tax of twenty shillings a sack was imposed upon all wool entering into the home manufacture; for this shrewd king did not propose to neglect his own treasury while laying the foundations of new wealth for his people. These laws were the beginning of a series of protective and restrictive statutes in Great Britain, relating to wool and its manufacture, which, extended over a period of nearly five centuries. Sometimes this legislation was wise and beneficial; at others it hampered, by almost incredible restrictions, both the growing and the manufacturing interests. A curious study of the relations of legislation to industrial enterprise is offered by the experience of England on this subject.

The development of the industry was certainly very rapid at the commencement of this policy. At the beginning of the reign of Edward III more than half of the cloth worn in England was imported; and, in his twenty-eighth year, it is stated that the exports of cloth were threefold the imports. From that time the progress of the industry was steady, if not rapid; for in England, as everywhere else, until toward the close of the eighteenth century, the manufacture remained a hand operation, and, therefore, essentially the same operation as throughout the middle ages. Some improvements in hand-spinning and in the hand looms were made, but they were not of a kind that radically changed processes or notably facilitated production. The advance consisted largely in the modification of patterns, the introduction of new designs, and the better application of the art of dyeing. With our present knowledge we may indeed wonder how the capacity of this hand-machinery sufficed to supply the clothing of the world. These were centuries of almost constant war, in which great armies were uniformed in wool. Occupation enough there must certainly have been for the weavers, notwithstanding the fact that there are repeated accounts in the contemporary histories of great depressions and constant dispersion of the cloth manufacture. They were nimble-fingered experts, and could perform feats at the loom which would astonish a modern day weaver. Some of the fabrics they wove, specimens of which remain to us, were marvels of ingenuity both in pattern and coloring. We have not greatly gained upon them in any of these respects. But the advantages of machine-made cloth over handmade are obvious, apart from greater productive capacity. No hand-spinner, however dexterous, can impart absolute uniformity to a yarn. Machinery can accomplish a uniformity so perfect that when the scales will detect the variation of the fraction of an ounce it is attributable to carelessness. For the same reason the spinning of the very light yarns, such as are used in that wonderful creation of French genius, the all-wool dress-goods—yarns as fine as two-eighties or two-nineties—was an impossibility before the application of power to spinning. No human skill, however trained and expert, can throw the shuttle with the precision of power.

The contemporary progress of civilization is shown by the fact that the textile arts were quite as fully developed in America when the existence of another continent was revealed to the Europeans as in Europe itself. Spinning and weaving had been practiced among the ancient people of Peru and Mexico for a period of time which can not be limited by any knowledge we possess, and by practically the same methods which obtained in the nations whose records came within the ken of history centuries earlier.

The Mexicans spun and wove cotton, and the Peruvians both cotton and wool, into fabrics which the Spaniards found in every way equal to anything they had known at home. The Peruvians, in particular, were adepts in the art. When Pizarro made the conquest of their country in 1533, he found in the empire of the Iricas four species of animals little different from each other, which he called the sheep of the country (carneros de la terra), because of their general resemblance to the Spanish sheep, and the similar utilization of its fiber. Two of the species, the llama and alpaca, had been in a state of domestication from time immemorial, the remaining varieties, the vicuna and the guanaca, living in a wild state in the fastnesses of the Andes. From a variety of sources we are able to obtain minute details of the importance which the Government attached to these animals, and the large part which they played in the domestic economy of the country.

The Peruvian woolen fabrics were of three kinds—a coarse woolen cloth, which they called avasca, which formed the raiment of the common people; a finer variety, called compi, worn by the captains and officials; and still another, also called compi, but of much finer quality, reserved for the use of persons of royal blood. Specimens of this cloth, still preserved, reveal a fineness of texture and an exquisite finish which modern ingenuity rarely equals. Both sides of these cloths were woven alike. The delicacy of the texture gave it the luster of silk, while the brilliancy of the dyes employed excited the envy and admiration of the European artisan. The Peruvians made also shawls, robes, carpets, coverlets, and hangings in great varieties of patterns. They knew how to produce an article of great strength and durability, by mixing the hair of animals with the fleece of their llamas.

Garcilasso gives a very pretty picture of the domestic life of the Peruvians, which was largely occupied in this manufacture. There was little sewing to be done, according to his accounts, because the cloths worn both by men and women had few seams. All they wove was first twisted. All the cloths were taken from four selvages. They did not have the warp longer than was required for each woolen shirt. The vestments were not cut out, but were entire, just as the cloth came from the frame, for before they began to weave they settled the required length and breadth, more or less."

That these two civilizations should have existed for centuries on the American continents, with high forms of civilization, including the textile arts, developed in both, but neither in any way springing from the other, or from any European source, is not more surprising than that the rest of the population of the Western hemisphere should have been without these forms of civilization. There exist to-day communities in which the arts of spinning and weaving have never been known, and are still unknown. Wherever civilization is indigenous, there these arts have existed as one of the first evidences of it, and the progress in these fields has everywhere been indicative of the general progress of civilization and the capacity of the people of the several countries to adopt and take advantage of the new sources of wealth and comfort which steam, with the mechanical inventions of which it is parent, places at the disposal of capital and labor. The transformation of the woolen industry, through these agencies, has been complete, as we shall now show.


The Evolution of the Card.

When primitive woman made the first discovery regarding the capacity of the fleece of the sheep to be spun into a yarn, and that yarn to be woven into a cloth, she compassed the whole of the discovery with reference to wool manufacture. All that has since happened has simply been the perfecting and the enlarging of that original discovery. We still spin and we still weave; and the fabrics we make are of no firmer texture or more beautiful design than those which existed in prehistoric times. We have substituted steam for the human hand; we have simplified and multiplied processes and thus increased the variety and the amount of the product and decreased the cost of production. But throughout all the changes in yarn-spinning, the rotary spindle continues to be the essential implement; all the improvements have had for their objects, first, the application of mechanical methods for rotating the spindle; second, automatic methods for attenuating the fibers; and, third, devices for working large groups of spindles simultaneously. Weaving has always been done by warp yarns, or threads, running longitudinally, and weft or intersecting yarns thrown at right angles across the warp by hand, by hand-shuttle, or by power-shuttle. Invention seems, at first sight, to have carried the automatic principle as far as it can go, in both operations, and in all the preliminary and subsequent processes. But a study of the steps of this evolution will convince us that past inventions, so far from diminishing the field for the exercise of the human mind in the woolen manufacture, have greatly increased it.

The evolution of the wool manufacture has not succeeded in reducing the number of the processes through which the wool must pass in its long journey from the back of the sheep to the back of man. It has only expedited and simplified them. When Dr. Ure exploited the philosophy of manufactures in 1835 he gave PSM V39 D200 Ladies carding and spinning wool.jpgFig. 6.—Ladies Carding and Spinning Wool. (From a fourteenth-century MS. in the British Museum.) a list of the operatives whose separate manipulations were necessary to the woolen manufacture—twenty-four in all. The list is remarkable alike for its length and for its nomenclature—it being plain how words were coined, out of the nature of the occupation, to meet each case. In tracing the evolution of the manufacture, it is well to have this list before us: "Wool-sorters, pickers, willyers (winnowers), carders, scribblers, pieceners, slubbers, spinners, warpers, sizers, weavers, scourers, dyers, burlers, fullers, boilers, giggers, driers, croppers, singers, glossers, pressers, brushers, and steamers."

Each of these names stood for a distinct process in the manufacture through which the fiber must pass before it was converted into cloth. Many of them are now known by different names, but all of them represented successive steps in the manufacture, some of which are now combined, but all of which are still necessary, and all of which, except the first, are now performed automatically, by a great variety of machines, bewildering in their number, complicated in their movement, and representing a body of inventions, as applied to all the textile industries with the necessary variations, which finds no parallel in any other of the human arts. Each of these processes was by hand up to about the middle of the last century.

It will be necessary to confine our attention in this paper to the historical development of the main processes of the manufacture—the carding, the combing, the spinning, the weaving, and the finishing—the processes in which the mechanical advance has been fundamental. The various machines which now expedite the supplementary processes have grown out of the inventions which have attended these fundamental processes, and they are of special interest only to those practically engaged in the manufacture. Their invention has been suggested—in fact, compelled—by improvements in the primary machinery. We shall be struck, as we proceed, with the dependence of each forward step in this evolution upon some preceding advance, one invention making possible others, which without it would not have been dreamed of.

The wool comes into the mill dirty, greasy, burry, sometimes washed by the farmer, but generally just as it is sheared from the sheep, a filthy and unwholesome thing, giving little sign of the beautiful white and flossy substance into which it is soon converted. It must first be sorted, each fleece containing from six to eight qualities of sorts, which the careful manufacturer separates, devoting each quality to the purpose for which it is best suited. No skill in carding, spinning, weaving, or finishing, can possibly produce a soft or fine piece of goods from a coarse, hard fiber. When a woolen thread is to be spun to the length of 15,360 yards to a pound, or in the case of a worsted thread to twice that number of yards to a pound, everything depends upon care in the selection of the fleece and in the sorting. These sorts are impregnated with a greasy substance called the yolk or suint, caused by the animal secretions and the perspiration of the skin, a compound of potash and animal fat, which must be completely eradicated. The elimination of the yolk, dirt, and foreign substances, common to all wools, results in a shrinkage of from fifty to seventy per cent.

Our ancestors scoured their wool in tubs, much as our wives and daughters scour our clothes to-day. In the hand-washing of wool, a tub was filled with the suds, in which one or two men with long poles stirred the wool until clean, when they lifted it upon a traveling apron, which carried it between a pair of rollers which squeezed out the water. The same principle is applied in the automatic scouring now in vogue. Great forks or rakes seize the wool as it is carried by rollers from a feeding apron into the iron tanks, and by alternating motions of their teeth give it a thorough scouring. Thus cleansed, the wool is delivered by rollers to the drying machines, where hot air and great fans are now utilized to extract all the moisture without tearing the fiber. The ventilation—drying of wool by means of hot air—effects the object in one tenth of the time occupied by the old method of drying by exposure in the open air. So enormous has been the increase in the production of wool, stimulated in all quarters of the globe by the enlarged capacity for its manufacture; so different are the quality and characteristics of these wools, collected from all countries and grown under all conditions; so illy prepared is much of it for manufacture, that the art of the manufacturer is now largely shown in the skill and care with which he selects, sorts, mixes, prepares, and treats his raw material, the processes preliminary to its carding. Potash, carbonate of soda, silicate of soda, ammonia, and soap are all more or less used in wool-scouring. So delicate is the fiber that the ingredients employed must be most carefully considered. The character of the water used is often an element which affects the fiber throughout its manipulation. Chemical science has done much to aid the manufacturer in this branch of his work. Invention has also provided steeping machines, to drive off the acid contained in the fibers, and dissolve the hard, dirty substances, without removing the yolk, which is valuable as a detergent. A preliminary machine is PSM V39 D202 Ladies carding spinning and weaving.jpgFig. 7.—Ladies Carding, Spinning, and Weaving. (From a fifteenth-century MS.) sometimes used to eliminate the troublesome burr, often imbedded in the fleece, and other vegetable substances which, unless wholly removed, destroy the fine finish of the goods. The use of chemical agents in the process of extracting vegetable matter, supplementing this machinery, is also a modern discovery, requiring the utmost skill and care in application to leave the fiber itself uninjured. Wool being the only substance which has absolute need to be oiled in order to be spun, this step in the manufacture occurs at the blending—that is, the mixing of the different sorts, or the cotton and shoddy—if either of these adulterants is used prior to the carding.

So long as spinning continued to be done on the one-thread wheel, there was no need for expediting processes in the preliminary preparation of the wool. The carding of the fleece could be done by hand, as fast as the spinners could dispose of it. Carding was done at the time of Columbus by a pair of hand-cards, which are shown in the illustration from a fifteenth-century manuscript. These cards were simply rough brushes, armed with fine wire teeth set in leather, by which the fibers of the wool were reduced from their matted condition into a form somewhat parallel, to facilitate the spinning. With two of these brushes the operator, by repeatedly stroking one brush, laden with tufts of wool, against the other, gradually untangled and straightened them. The "cardings" were then taken carefully away from the wire bristles, and condensed into a roll, by rolling them on the back of the card, when they were ready for the spinner. Nothing could have been more primitive than this original card operation.

Some slight improvements of the hand-card preceded the invention of the cylinder machine. A frame adjusted to an inclined plane was equipped with coarse cards, on which the wool was placed. Sitting in front of this frame, the workman held in his hand a square board, also covered with cards, and carded the wool with a seesaw motion over the inclined plane. Daniel Bourne took out a patent for a carding machine in 1748, in which the principle of cylinder carding was rudely hinted at. "The cards are placed on cylinders or rollers," said his specifications, "and these act against each other by a circular motion."

PSM V39 D203 An american carding machine first breaker.jpg
Fig. 8.—An American Carding Machine—First Breaker.

This was the main principle of carding as now practiced. Improvements upon Bourne's machine followed rapidly. William Pennington and Robert Peel made modifications which led the way to Arkwright's "doffer comb," patented in 1775. To Arkwright also belongs the credit of the invention of the workers and strippers.

The present carding engine was evolved by successive steps at long intervals. The most important contribution to the card-wool industry during the present century was the invention of John Goulding, of Worcester, Mass., and was patented in 1826. Before his invention the length of the rolls issuing from the carding machine was limited to the breadth of the card. The ends of the separate rolls had to be spliced together by hand, a tedious and expensive process, with the aid of a machine known as the billy. Goulding dispensed with the billy altogether, and accomplished with four machines what had previously required the use of five. The invention enabled manufacturers to produce yarn from wool at much less cost, of better quality, and in greater quantity than was produced by the old process. His machine also dispensed with short rolls and introduced the long or endless roll. Goulding's invention thus combined in the carding process operations which up to its introduction required an intermediate process before spinning to prepare the roving for the jack. The PSM V39 D204 Working parts of a carding machine.jpgFig. 9.—Working Parts of a Carding Machine. purpose of this superseded machine, called the billy or slubbing machine, was to join the detached rovings in a continuous spongy cord, to which it also imparted a slight twist and some draft. This operation had been performed in the days of hand manufacture on a spinning-wheel somewhat similar to the common spinning-wheel but smaller in size. The slubbing billy was introduced soon after Hargreaves's invention of the spinning jenny had been applied to the woolen manufacture, and closely resembled this machine in its working parts.

The cardings, as they fell from the card machine, were taken up by children, called pieceners, whose work it was to join these porous rolls by rolling their ends together with the palms of the hand, and then lay them upon the billy board, whence they were drawn upon the spindles by the movement of a carriage and wound into a conical cop. The billy usually contained from fifty to one hundred spindles, and its wheel was turned by the slubber, who must also draw the carriage. One slubber and one billy were appointed to each carding machine, and generally four pieceners. It was in this branch of the work that complaints of cruelty to children were so frequent during the earlier half of the century. It was well established in parliamentary investigations that the slubbers frequently maltreated the children they employed. It was not until 1826, as we have seen, that the invention of Goulding, by making automatic roving possible, dispensed with the labor of children in this branch. Goulding's invention was as large a gain to humanity as to the manufacture.

Until recent years, the raw material was fed upon the cards by hand. Before the invention of feed rolls and endless apron, the wool was held in the hand against the revolving surface of the card-roller until it was seized by its teeth. Then a "feed-sheet" of cotton cloth was invented; then the lattice-apron. By both these devices the wool was taken from the feed-roll directly by the main cylinder of the card. Then came the "tumbler," interposed between the feed-rolls and the cylinder; then the wooden "licker-in" was added, and years later the metallic burr-roller, invented by Francis Alton Calvert. In 18G4 a Belgian inventor, Jean Sebastian Bolette, invented a machine which measured the wool as it fed the card, and regulated the supply automatically. Still another machine, the work of an American inventor, William Calvert Bramwell, mixes as well as weighs the wool, throws out much of the remaining refuse, and permits a carding machine to turn out from twenty-five to forty per cent more work than was possible by hand-feeding. These automatic feeders, and additional series of equally ingenious machines for transferring the wool from one card to the other, and the improvement of the card itself, have enormously increased its productive capacity. Fifty pounds of clean wool a day was a very fair average for the carding engine of twenty-five years ago. This average has now increased to one hundred and one hundred and fifty pounds a day, according to the width of the carding machine and its cylinders, and the quality and character of the materials employed.

It is astonishing to watch these monster engines, grim as implements of war and death, absorb the tangled wool in their greedy jaws, draw it tenderly upon their bewildering mass of rapidly revolving wheels, cylinders, and rollers armed with sharp teeth, shake from it any remaining dirt or foreign substance, whirl it rapidly round and round and in and out, and finally deliver it in the form of a dainty, white film, which another attachment gathers automatically into balls or rolls, ready for the preliminary processes of spinning.

Modern carding accomplishes four things essential to successful manufacture: the thorough blending of the component fibers; their rearrangement in a form somewhat parallel; their final cleansing of all refuse matter; and their union and condensation into a continuous thread called the sliver. To accomplish these ends with the utmost speed, with a minimum of waste, without injury to the delicate fiber, is the function of the modern carding machines. In a general way the process is that of carding cotton, but the resemblance is only general. Between the carding machinery and the loom, in the wool manufacture proper, there is now but one machine, the mule or frame; but in the manipulation of cotton there are several machines between card and loom, and the doublings amount to thousands. Thus the carding process in the woolen manufacture is the most important of all in one sense, instead of the spinning, as in cotton manufacture.

There are two systems of carding now in common use. That most generally adopted in the woolen manufacture in England consists of a scribbler, containing two swifts, an intermediate, also with two swifts, and a carder, containing two swifts and a condenser. The system universally in vogue in this country in the woolen manufacture has the same set of three machines (called here the first breaker, the second breaker, and the finisher), but each engine having but one swift or large cylinder, as in the illustration here given. Both systems produce satisfactory results. Each of these three machines is nearly similar, and each advances the material from the other. The main organ of a card is the cylinder, generally about four feet in diameter, and covered with card clothing, not different in principle from the primitive clothing above described. Around this cylinder revolve several smaller cylinders, similarly clothed, called workers, which continually remove the wool from the main cylinder, separating the fibers and combing them. From the workers, as they become saturated with wool, it is removed by another roll with longer teeth, called the "fancy," which revolves at a higher speed. The carded wool is then removed by the "doffer," and passes on to the second and third machine, to undergo the same process twice more, each time by finer card clothing, until it is finally removed by a pair of small rollers called condensers. These condensers, one above the other, have strips of card clothing affixed, which alternate. Thus the wool is taken off in long strips, which pass through more condensing rollers which are given a transverse rectilinear motion, the combination of these two giving a soft and twisted thread of woolen yarn or sliver.

Some conception of the amount of dislocation and blending of fibers to which these carding engines subject the wool is possible from the fact that there are upward of fifty-six million teeth or points in an ordinary English card, fifty millions of which come in contact with the wool, separating and carrying it forward, six millions playing the part of extractors, drawing the fibers from the teeth of the other rollers. Prof. Beaumont estimates that, in an ordinary scribbling engine, the wool is continually subjected to the disturbing and intermixing action of twenty-five thousand points. Remembering that this operation is three times performed, we can imagine how complete is the transformation to which the sorts of wool are subjected in the carding process. We can thus readily understand how much more perfect is the carding operation, as now performed by machinery, than anything that was possible under hand manipulation.

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  1. An earlier American patent, dated October 19, 1807, was obtained by Joseph Titkins and Timothy Kimball, hat-makcrs,.of East Hartford, Conn., which not only covered machinery for planking hats, but "for making cloth without yarn."