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American Printing Company (Fall River Iron Works)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Overview of the American Printing Company, Fall River, Massachusetts, about 1910. The Fall River Line and Old Colony Railroad are on the left.
Overview of the American Printing Company, Fall River, Massachusetts, about 1910. The Fall River Line and Old Colony Railroad are on the left.

The American Printing Company, located in Fall River, Massachusetts grew to become the largest producer of printed cotton cloth in the United States by the early 20th Century.[1] The company grew as an offshoot of the Fall River Iron Works, established in 1821 by Colonel Richard Borden and Major Bradford Durfee. The American Print Works was established in 1835 by Holder Borden. It employed several thousand workers at its peak during World War I.

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Hi there, I’m John Green, you’re watching Crash Course: World History, and today we’re gonna talk about the Silk Road, so called because it was not a road and not made of silk. So this is a t-shirt. It was designed in Belgium and contains cotton from both Brazil and the Texas, which was turned into cloth in China, stitched in Haiti, screen-printed in the Washington, sold to me in Indiana, and now that I am too fat to wear it, it will soon make its way to Cameroon or Honduras or possibly even back to Haiti. Can we just pause for a moment to consider the astonishing fact that most t-shirts see more of the World than most of us do— Mr. Green Mr. Green the t-shirt can’t see the world because they don’t have eyes— Look, me from the past, it’s difficult for me to isolate what I hate most about you because there is so much to hate. But very near the top is your relentless talent for ignoring everything that is interesting and beautiful about our species in favor of pedantic sniveling in which no one loses or gains anything of value. I’m gonna go put on a collared shirt because we’re here to tackle the big picture. [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] So the silk road didn’t begin trade, but it did radically expand its scope, and the connections that were formed by mostly unknown merchants arguably changed the world more than any political or religious leaders. It was especially cool If you were rich, because you finally had something to spend your money on other than temples. But even if you weren’t rich, the Silk Road reshaped the lives of everyone living in Africa and Eurasia, as we will see today. Let’s go straight to the Thought Bubble. As previously mentioned, the silk road was not a road. It’s not like archaeologists working in Uzbekistan have uncovered a bunch of yield signs and baby on board stickers. It was an overland route where merchants carried goods for trade. But it was really two routes: One that connected the Eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia and one that went from Central Asia to China. Further complicating things, the Silk Road involved sea routes: Many goods reached Rome via the Mediterranean, and goods from Central Asia found their way across the Pacific to Japan and even Java. So we shouldn’t think of the Silk Road as a road but rather as a network of trade routes. But just as now, the goods traveled more than the people who traded them: Very few traders traversed the entire silk road: Instead, they’d move back and forth between towns, selling to traders who’d take the goods further toward their destination, with everybody marking up prices along the way. So what’d they trade? Well silk, for starters. For millennia, silk was only produced in China. It is spun from the cocoons of mulberry tree-eating worms and the process of silk making as well as the techniques for raising the worms were closely guarded secrets, since the lion’s share of China’s wealth came from silk production. The Chinese used silk as fishing line, to buy off nomadic raiders to keep things peaceful, and to write before they invented paper. But as an export, silk was mostly used for clothes: Silk clothing feels light in the summer and warm in the winter, and until we invented $700 pre-distressed designer jeans, decking yourself out in silk was the #1 way to show people that you were wealthy. Thanks, Thought Bubble. But the silk road wasn’t all about silk. The Mediterranean exported such cliched goods as olives, olive oil, wine, and mustachioed plumbers. China exported raw materials like jade, silver, and iron. India exported fine cotton textiles; the ivory that originated in East Africa made its way across the Silk Road; And Arabia exported incense and spices and tortoise shells. Oh, god, it’s a red one, isn’t it? It’s just gonna chase me, I just--- Ow. Up until now on Crash Course we’ve been focused on city-dwelling civilizational types, but with the growth of the silk road, the nomadic people of Central Asia suddenly become much more important to world history. Much of Central Asia isn’t great for agriculture, but it’s difficult to conquer, unless you are, wait for it- The Mongols. It also lends itself fairly well to herding, and since nomads are definitionally good at moving around, they’re also good at moving stuff from Point A to Point B, which makes them good traders. Plus all their travel made them more resistant to diseases. One group of such nomads, the Yuezhi, were humiliated in battle in the 2nd century BCE by their bitter rivals the Xiongnu, who turned the Yuezhi king’s skull into a drinking cup, in fact. And in the wake of that the Yuezhi migrated to Bactria and started the Kushan Empire in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although silk road trading began more than a century before the birth of Jesus, it really took off in the second and third centuries CE, and the Kushan Empire became a huge hub for that silk road trade. By then, nomads were being eclipsed by professional merchants who travelled the silk roads, often making huge profits, but those cities that had been founded by nomadic peoples became hugely important. They continued to grow, because most of the trade on the Silk Road was by caravan, and those caravans had to stop frequently, you know, for like food and water and prostitutes. These towns became fantastically wealthy: One, Palmyra, was particularly important because all of the incense and silk that travelled to Rome had to go through Palmyra. Silk was so popular among the Roman elite that the Roman senate repeatedly tried to ban it, complaining about trade imbalances caused by the silk trade and also that silk was inadequately modest. To quote Seneca the Younger, “I see clothes of silk, if materials that do not hide the body, nor even one's decency, can be called clothes,” he also said of the woman who wears silk, “her husband has no more acquaintance than any outsider or foreigner with his wife's body." And yet all attempts to ban silk failed, which speaks to how much, even in the ancient world, wealth shaped governance. And with trade, there was a way to become wealthy without being a king or lord who takes part of what your citizens produce. The merchant class that grew along with the Silk Road came to have a lot of political clout, and in some ways that began the tension that we still see today between wealth and politics. Whether it’s, you know, corporations making large donations or Vladimir Putin periodically jailing billionaires. Mr. Putin, I just want to state for the record that I did not mean that in any way, I was--- Stan wrote that joke. Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter. An Open Letter to Billionaires: But first, let’s see what’s in the Secret Compartment today. Oh, it’s some fake silk; the stuff that put real silk out of business. Dear Billionaires, I’ve wrapped myself in the finest of polyester so that you will take my message seriously. Here at Crash Course we’ve done a lot of research into our demographics and our show is watched primarily by Grammar Nazis, Muggle Quidditch Players, People Who Have a Test Tomorrow, and Billionaires. I have a message for you Billionaires: It will never be enough. You’re relentless yearning is going to kill us all. Best wishes, John Green Speaking of billionaires, the goods that travelled on the Silk Road really only changed the lives of rich people. Did the Silk Road affect the rest of us? Yes, for three reasons.Second, the Silk Road didn’t just trade luxury goods. In fact, arguably the most important thing traded along the Silk Road: ideas. First, wider economic impact. Relatively few people could afford silk, but a lot of people devoted their lives to making that silk. And as the market for silk grew, more and more people chose to go into silk production rather than doing something else with their lives. Second, the Silk Road didn’t just trade luxury goods. In fact, arguably the most important thing traded along the Silk Road: ideas. For example, the Silk Road was the primary route for the spread of Buddhism.When we last saw the Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path to escaping the cycle of suffering and desire that's inherent to humans, it was beginning to dwindle in India. But through contacts with other cultures and traditions, Buddhism grew and flourished and became one of the great religious traditions of the world. The variation of Buddhism that took root in China, Korea, Japan, and Central Asia is known as Mahayana Buddhism, and it differed from the original teachings of the Buddha in many ways, but one that was fundamental. For Mahayana Buddhists, the Buddha was divine. (I mean, we can—and religious historians do—fight over the exact definition of divine, but in Mahayanna Buddhism, there’s no question that the Buddha is venerated to a greater degree. The idea of Nirvana also transformed from a release from that cycle of suffering and desire to something much more heavenly and frankly more fun, and in some versions of Mahayana Buddhism, there are lots of different heavens, each more awesome than the last. Rather than focusing on the fundamental fact of suffering, Mahayana Buddhism offered the hope that through worship of the Buddha, or one of the many bodhisattvas – holy people who could have achieved nirvana but chose to hang out on Earth with us because they’re super nice– one could attain a good afterlife. Many merchants on the silk road became strong supporters of monasteries which in turn became convenient weigh stations for caravans. And by endowing the monasteries, rich merchants were buying a form of supernatural insurance; Monks who lived in the monasteries would pray for the success of trade missions and the health of their patrons. It was win-win, especially when you consider that one of the central materials used in Mahayana Buddhist rituals is … silk. And a third reason the silk road changed all our lives, worldwide interconnectedness of populations led to the spread of disease. Measles and Smallpox traveled along it, as did bubonic plague, which came from the East to the West in 534, 750, and—most devastatingly—in 1346. This last plague—known as the Black Death—resulted in the largest population decimation in human history, with nearly half of Europeans dying in a four-year period. A sizable majority of people living in Italy died as did two-thirds of Londoners. And it quite possibly wouldn’t have happened without the Silk Road. If you were living in London during the fourteenth century, you probably didn’t blame the Silk Road for your community’s devastation, but it played a role. If you look at it that way, the interconnectedness fostered by Silk Road affected way, way more people than just those rich enough to buy silk, just as today’s globalization offers both promise and threat to each of us. Next week we’ll talk about Julius Caesar and in what situation, if any, it’s okay to stab your friend in the gut. Until then, thanks for watching. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. Our graphics team is Thought Bubble and the show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Last week's Phrase of the Week was "Kim Kardashian". If you didn't like it, SUGGEST BETTER PHRASES OF THE WEEK IN COMMENTS. Every week I take one of your suggestions and find a way to squeeze it into the new episode. If you liked today's episode of Crash Course, please click the "like" button and consider sharing the show with your friends. You can also follow us on Twitter @THECRASHCOURSE or on Facebook, links below. Raoul also has a Twitter where he tweets Crash Course pop quizzes. As do I. All of those links can be found below. Also, the beloved and not fictitious, Stan, has agreed to start tweeting. So that's exciting! Thanks for watching, and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome. [scoots out of frame] [scoots out of frame] Oh, hey. Remember that Mongols shirt from the beginning of the episode? In addition to being a joke, it's a shirt! So many of you requested Mongols shirts that WE ARE GIVING THEM TO YOU! [ available for purchase, rather] They are now available for pre-order at, link in the video info below, so you can show your love for Crash Course or Mongols or exceptions.


Fall River Iron Works

Metacomet Mill, built 1847
Metacomet Mill, built 1847

The early development of the textile industry in Fall River grew out of the developments made in nearby Rhode Island beginning with Samuel Slater at Pawtucket in 1793. The first textile mill in Fall River was built in 1811. Several more would follow between 1813 and 1821, along the "falling" Quequechan River for which the city was named.

In 1821, Col. Richard Borden established the Fall River Iron Works, along with Maj. Bradford Durfee at the lower part of the Quequechan River. Bradford Durfee was a shipwright, and Richard Borden was the owner of a grist mill. After an uncertain start, in which some early investors pulled out, the Fall River Iron Works was incorporated in 1825, with $200,000 in capital. The Iron Works began producing nails, bar stock, and other items such as bands for casks in the nearby New Bedford whaling industry. They soon gained a reputation for producing nails of high quality, and business flourished.

By 1833, Fall River had 13 cotton mills, employing 1,200 people, with 31,000 total spindles (a common measure of total spinning capacity) and 1,050 looms. The Iron Works would continue to play an important role in the early development of the textile industry in Fall River.

By 1840, the Iron Works employed about 250 people and produced over 3.8 million pounds of nails, as well as 950 tons of iron hoops and 400 tons of castings.[2] By 1845, the company was valued at $960,000. In 1827, Col. Borden began regular steamship service to Providence, Rhode Island.[3]

F.R. Iron Works Providence, R.I.
F.R. Iron Works Providence, R.I.

Always looking to diversify his holdings, Richard Borden constructed the Metacomet Mill in 1847, which today is the oldest remaining textile mill in the City, located on Anawan Street. The Iron Works also established the Fall River Gas Company in 1847, and manufactured gas from coal.

In 1848, the Fall River Iron Works constructed an office and warehouse building along the waterfront in Providence, Rhode Island and retained the location until 1881. This building is still standing, and is now occupied by the Rhode Island School of Design. Providence Site Info

By 1876, the Iron Works occupied two sites, consisting of a rolling mill, a nail mill and a foundry. It had an average annual production of 7,000 tons.[4]

American Print Works

In 1824, Andrew Robeson, arrived from New Bedford and established the first Print Works in the City,[5] a segment of the industry that Fall River would in later years come to dominate.

The American Print Works was established in 1835 by Holder Borden, nephew of Colonel Richard.[6] Located along the shore of Mount Hope Bay, its location would prove ideal as ocean-going ships were able to dock at the company's doorstep. In the 1840s, the railroad would be extended to the Print Works site, adjacent to the steamship pier with regular service to Providence and New York City. Both the steamships and the railroad were controlled by Colonel Richard Borden, and later his sons and nephews.

In 1853, the nearby Globe Print Works was acquired by Richard Borden, his brother Jefferson and Oliver Chace. It was renamed the Bay State Print Works, and was later reorganized.[7]

For three generations, the Borden family dynasty would have control or business interests in the City's banks, the gas company, steamboats, railroads and mines. (Lizzie Borden, the famed alleged axe-murderer in 1892 was the great-granddaughter of an uncle of Colonel Richard Borden).


Printing Room, American Print Works, about 1910
Printing Room, American Print Works, about 1910

Fall River profited well from the American Civil War and was in a fine position to take advantage of the prosperity that followed. By 1868, it had surpassed Lowell as the leading textile city in the United States with over 500,000 total spindles. The American Print Works was set to open a new factory in 1867, when a disastrous fire occurred. It was a major setback for the company, as the final arrangements for insurance were in the process of being completed when the fire happened. However, the American Print Works was soon rebuilt in 1868, bigger and better than it was before.[8]

A few years later during 1871 and 1872, a most dramatic expansion occurred within the City of Fall River, when 15 new corporations were founded, building 22 new mills throughout the city, while some of the older mills expanded. The city's population increased by an astounding 20,000 people during these two years, while overall mill capacity double to more than 1,000,000 spindles. The main product of these mills was print cloth, the vast majority of which, passed through the American Print Works.

By 1876, the city had 1/6 of all New England cotton capacity, and one-half of all print cloth production. "King Cotton" had definitely arrived. The "Spindle City" as it became known, was second in the world to only Manchester, England.

Indigo Blue & White printed cloth, American Printing Company, from a company catalog, about 1910
Indigo Blue & White printed cloth, American Printing Company, from a company catalog, about 1910

However, the 1870s would be a trying time for the textile industry, beginning with the Panic of 1873. The American Print Works failed in 1879, a result of the uninsured losses suffered in the 1867 fire, and was reorganized as the American Printing Company 1880.

At its peak in 1876, the Iron Works employed 600 men. However, just a few years later in 1880, the Iron Works property was divided among shareholders and production of iron ceased soon after, as a result of increased competition from other companies closer to the mines.[1]

In 1887, M.C.D. Borden, son of Col. Richard gain control of the company's stock, and tore down the old buildings of the iron works, and began the construction of several huge new cloth-producing mills, adjacent to the American Printing Company. These new mills would be known as the "Iron Works Division" of the APC.

Three huge warehouses were also built along the lower portion of Anawan Street, to store the many copper printing rollers required for the production of print cloth, as well as to store customer's orders until they needed them. Mill Number 7 was built in 1905 further up on Anawan Street, and still stands today. The Narrows Center for the Arts occupies one of the former warehouse buildings.

In 1917, the American Printing Company was capitalized at $2,000,000. The Fall River Iron Works, the cloth-producing division of the company and had a huge capacity of 485,288 ring spindles and 12,702 looms. The print works had the capacity to print 125,000 pieces per week.[9]


APC Warehouses, Anawan Street, Fall River
APC Warehouses, Anawan Street, Fall River

The cotton mills of Fall River had built their business largely on only one product: print cloth. About 1910, the city's largest employer, the American Printing Company (APC) employed 6,000 people, and was the largest printer of cotton cloth in the world. Dozens of other city mills solely produced print cloth to be printed at the APC. The city's industry truly had all its eggs in one, very large basket.

By 1910, or so, the Northern mills also faced serious competition from their Southern counterparts due to factors such as lower labor and transportation costs, as well as the South's large investment in new machinery and other equipment. Many northern mills added additional capacity, in a futile attempt to maintain their advantage over the South.

World War I had provided a much needed boost in demand for textiles, and most of the mills in New England benefited during this time. The post-war economy quickly slowed however and production quickly outpaced demand. The price for print cloth dropped sharply. In 1923, Fall River faced the first wave of mill closures.

In 1924, following the example of some other large northern mills, the American Printing Company built a new plant at Kingsport, Tennessee, and began moving much of its production there. Thousands of Fall River jobs were suddenly lost.

The once mighty American Printing Company finally closed its Fall River mills for good in 1934. In 1937, their huge factory complex on Water Street was acquired by the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, and soon employed 2,600 people. On October 11–12, 1941, just eight weeks[10] before the attack on Pearl harbor, a huge fire broke out in the old 1860s mill of the print works. The fire was a major setback to the U.S. war effort, as Jesse H. Jones, Secretary of Commerce, reported that 15,850 tons (31,700,000 pounds (14,400,000 kg)) of rubber was lost in the blaze, valued at approximately $7,000,000.[11]

In March 1973, another huge fire destroyed the former "Iron Works Division" mills. These mills were set to be occupied by the Providence Pile Company. However, the sprinklers had been turned off during the winter because there was no heat in the buildings.[12]

Today, the site is occupied by Borden & Remington Chemical Company(a company with its roots in the 19th century textile industry). Several of the late 19th Century buildings still remain.

In October 2008, Borden & Remington began the demolition of Mill No. 3, which had been vacant and was deemed to be in poor condition.[13] Mill No. 1 was demolished in May 2011.[14] Much of the old growth Longleaf Pine timbers used to construct the buildings were salvaged during demolition and have been recycled into new flooring and millwork products.[15]

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b Fenner, Henry M. (1906). History of Fall River. Retrieved February 6, 2016 – via
  2. ^ "Orin Fowler History of Fall River, 1841" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  3. ^ "Fall River Iron Works" (PDF). Herald News. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 27, 2005.
  4. ^ Directory of iron and steel works of the United States and Canada, 1876
  5. ^ The New England states:  their constitutional, judicial, educational, commercial, professional and industrial history, Volume 1
  6. ^ The Run of the Mill, Dunwell, Steve, 1978
  7. ^ Bristol County Biographies, J. H. Beers & Co. (1912)
  8. ^ A Centennial History of Fall River, Mass.
  9. ^ Official American Textile Directory, 1917
  10. ^ "Firestone Plant is Ravaged," Fall River Herald News, Oct. 12, 1941, p.1.
  11. ^ "No Sabotage Found in Firestone Blaze by FBI Men Making Probe." Fall River, Herald News, October 14, 1941, p.1
  12. ^ "1973 Fire Destroys Firestone Complex" (PDF). Herald News. October 17, 1978. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  13. ^ "Borden Remington Building Being Taken Apart Piece-by-Piece". Herald News Article. Archived from the original on May 22, 2011.
  14. ^ "No Longer Needed Old Ferry Street mill to come down". Fall River Herald News. May 16, 2011. Archived from the original on March 11, 2012.
  15. ^ "Fall River Balloon Factory". Longleaf Lumber Blog. December 16, 2013. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
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