( Originally Published Early 1900’s )
No one can tell when man first learned how to spin and weave textiles. That no great degree of civilization is prerequisite is evident when we see every savage tribe of the present making some kind of woven fabric. In any case, the oldest histories give us glimpses of men spinning, weaving, and knitting.
Linen.-Flax has been cultivated in Asia Minor for its linen fiber for more than four thousand years. Linen cloth, linen twine, and linen rope served man before iron and steel were utilized. People who lived in the stone age, the period when their implements were made of stone instead of metal, knew how to make flax or linen fabrics, remnants of which have been discovered in caves and in their buried cities. As is well known, linen cloth was the fashionable fabric of ancient Bible times. “Fine linen” was a mark of honor accorded only to the high and mighty. Mummies buried thousands of years ago in Egypt have been uncovered recently, and the coverings have been found to be linen cloth, made from a variety of flax slightly different from that now commonly grown.
For many hundreds of years Egypt was the greatest linenproducing country in the world. It was not until about a hundred years before Columbus discovered America that other countries were able to produce more than Egypt. Then every country in Europe began to cultivate flax, and until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when a number of inventions made cotton fabrics cheap, linen was the most generally used textile. With the coming of cheap cotton, linen fell back into second place. Later it had to give place to wool also, wherefore it now occupies third place among the textiles used for clothing. In fact if one is to consider jute also, linen comes fourth.
Wool.-Sheep’s wool and goat’s hair have also long been used as textile fibers, and, of course, the skins from these animals have been used for clothing and tents for a still longer time. Sheep have been raised in practically every country, and the fiber is easy to manipulate and to work into textile products. The ancient Romans were skillful in spinning and weaving wool, and from them the people of northern Europe learned the art. About four hundred years after the birth of Christ (c. 400 A.D.) Roman soldiers in Great Britain started a wool-weaving factory at the British town of Winchester to supply themselves with clothing. From this factory the native inhabitants of Great Britain learned the value of wool, and began to spin and weave it for themselves. Later the wool of England became famous as an excellent product and was much demanded by other countries in Europe. Sheep raising succeeded better than the textile arts in England, however, in the early days; hence other countries bought its raw wool rather than the English wool fabrics. Several monarchs of England did their utmost to encourage the manufacture of wool. This manufacture was finally put upon a successful commercial basis by some Flemish immigrants who had fled into England because of religious persecution. Both wool workers and merchants came to London in large numbers during the reign of Henry II. Guilds were formed and London was given the monopoly of exporting English woolen cloths. From these beginnings several hundreds of years ago, London came to be, and is yet, the world’s greatest wool market both for raw wool and wool cloth.
It is interesting to note that during the hundreds of years that man has raised sheep, the breeds have been slowly but remarkably developed. First the Romans, later the Arabian Mohammedans-or Moors, as they were calledand finally the Spaniards, evolved the wonderful breed of fine wool-producing sheep now known as merinos. Nearly all the finer wool now produced comes from sheep descended from these Spanish merinos.
Cotton.-Cotton was grown and made into cloth in India fully six hundred years before Christ. The textile arts were developed to an advanced point very early by the Hindoos. If one may believe the accounts of the fineness, strength, beauty, and lightness of the East Indian gossamers, the products of their hand looms, made long centuries ago, have never been equaled by any modern fabric.
Cotton was also known to the highly advanced South American Indians. Samples of good cotton cloths have been found in their most ancient tombs. Columbus found the Indians of the West Indies wearing cotton, and Cortez and Pizarro often saw it in use.
Cotton was known to the Greeks as “tree wool” and was fancifully described in some of their ancient books. It did not reach western Europe until about 900 A. n., when it was brought westward from Arabia by the conquering Moors. They introduced it into Spain, whence it gradually spread over the rest of Europe. There was some manufacture of cotton in northern Italy as early as the sixteenth century. From there it was communicated to the Netherlands. About the beginning of the seventeenth century there was religious trouble in Netherlands and Flanders. Some of the Flemish cotton manufacturers, spinners, and weavers were involved in these religious quarrels, and had to flee for their lives, as did the wool workers who came over from these countries to London. The cotton workers fled into England and settled in Lancashire where they made a new beginning in cotton manufacture and succeeded from the start. With this hopeful beginning in the seventeenth century, Lancashire came to be the greatest cottonspinning and weaving locality in the world. By 1641 the industry was well established in the homes of the people about the city of Manchester.
After the sixteenth century there was a steady and growing import of cotton goods from India into all parts of Europe; but about one hundred and twenty-five years ago Europe began to produce more than she needed and more than India had produced. By means of this East Indian trade in cotton and in many other goods, such as spices, silks, jewelry, and so on, European traders and merchants, particularly those in the East India Company, amassed great fortunes. For a time the English trade in Indian goods was a monopoly controlled by the East India Company and sanctioned by the king of England.
England’s rise to supremacy in cotton manufacture.At the time of our American Revolutionary War, England had so gained in manufacturing ability that she had become a strong competitor for the world’s textile trade. It was partly because of England’s policy of forcing the American colonies to buy her manufactured goods that the War of Independence broke out. In 1656 the English government had prohibited the American colonies from importing raw materials to manufacture into cloth. The law made bad feeling even at that time, especially in Massachusetts where, on the one hand, it acted as a stimulus to home manufacturing and, on the other hand, led to smuggling in foreign materials without paying the English tax. But the same policy was carried out by England at home also. It was thought perfectly legitimate to attempt to force her own people to buy English goods. In Scotland in 1775 there was formed a society for discouraging Scotch and English women from wearing cotton dress goods and robes made in India, urging in preference the calicoes and lawns of Glasgow and Paisley, although the raw cotton in these British products came from India. In addition to any help that may have been received from following such restrictive measures, the natural advantages of England, such as climate, cheap power, and easy shipping facilities by ocean on all sides, caused England’s textile industry to grow rapidly.
Progress in Cotton Production.-During the last hundred years the United States has forged to the front as a producer of both raw and manufactured cottons. At present the annual cotton crop is not far from 15,000,000 bales of nearly 500 pounds each. In the manufacture of cotton the United States is closely rivaling England, though England still has the lead. Within the last forty years Germany has advanced to third place in the manufacture of cotton.
The history of the production of raw cotton during the last twenty-five years records notable extension to new territory, as, for example, into China, Japan, the East Indies, Mexico, South America, and several parts of Africa. With increase of acreage there has also come the application of scientific agriculture to cotton production in the southern states. By means of proper selection of seed, introduction of new and improved varieties, better preparation of the soil, and wiser management of the growing crop, the total product has been materially increased. In many cases these improvements have resulted in the production of over twice as much cotton to the acre as was formerly raised.
History of silk.-Silk culture had its beginning in China, how long ago no one knows. There are records that seem to show that it was an important industry as early as 3000 B. c. There is a legend that silk culture was introduced by a Chinese queen, Si-Ling-Chi, from some country to the southwest, and that she herself raised the worms, reeled the threads,, and taught the people to do the same. She is now known among the Chinese as the “Goddess of the Silk Worms.”
Silk production was introduced into Korea and Japan about 200 B.C. Later it spread to India and Persia, although the Chinese government attempted to keep all silk production to itself. To ship silkworm eggs out of the country meant capital punishment. It was from India and Persia that Europe first learned of silk. To a certain extent the new material was used in Roman times by the emperors and the women of the court, but it was not until about the tenth century that it became known generally over western Europe. Much of it came into use at first for church embroideries and royal robes, especially in the form of a silken fabric called sammet, produced in Arabia. Other silk fabrics introduced into Europe during the Middle Ages were known as ciclatoun, cendol, and sarcenet. Satins, velvets, and brocades were introduced in the latter part of the Middle Ages, all from the Orient.
Arabia was for a long time the connecting link between the Orient and the West, and from Arabia the Europeans got silk embroidery, gold brocade, silken curtains and mantles, and, by the fourteenth century, taffeta, which originally came from Persia.
The production of raw silk in Europe was begun in Italy before the middle of the twelfth century, and silkworms were raised in Spain by the Mohammedan Moors certainly as early as the eighth century. At one time the business was encouraged by the popes of the Roman Catholic Church, and later by the kings of France. Under such conditions Tours and Lyons in France became prominent silk-producing centers. By the seventeenth century, France supplied a large proportion of the silk goods used in the western world, a service in which she has led all other countries for most of the time since then. At present, Italy produces more raw silk than France, but France produces more of the manufactured product.
Silk culture in America.-Shortly after the settlement of America experiments were tried in raising the silkworm here. The first attempt was made in Virginia in 1622 upon the advice of the king of England, but the result was an utter failure. Later small amounts of raw silk were produced in Georgia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Connecticut was the least unsuccessful. During the Revolutionary War the industry died out and was not revived again until 1826. Beginning with that date and continuing for ten years there was great progress in silk production. Several societies of growers were formed, books published, new machinery invented, and in some states public funds were raised for the promotion and study of the industry. The United States Government published a document intended to be used as a manual of instruction for silk growers.
The silk craze of the thirties.-Previous to 1836, silkworms had been fed and raised on the common white mulberry leaves, but about this date someone introduced plants of the Chinese mulberry known as the morus multicaulis which, it was claimed, had some special properties and values for silk-growing purposes. Immediately all the silk growers in the country desired the Chinese mulberry. The new plant was so hard to get that a craze developed in which the price for the plants rose to fabulous sums, small cuttings selling for almost their weight in gold. Acres and acres were planted with Chinese mulberry trees, and great fortunes in silk production in this country seemed near at hand.
In 1837, however, a severe financial panic broke over the entire country, closing nearly every bank and driving great numbers of business men into failure and bankruptcy. Money became scarce. Those who had debts to pay found it difficult to raise the necessary amounts. This panic of 1837 hit the silk and mulberry industries hard. Chinese mulberry plants so declined in value that they could be had for ten cents per hundred. Thousands of persons were ruined in this crash which lasted throughout the years of 1837 and 1838. Silk growing naturally received a terrible set-back, which was made worse by the severe winter of 1839, which killed nearly all the Chinese mulberry trees still to be found in the country. For several years no more silk was grown in the United States.
Many years passed before there came any revival of interest in this country in growing silkworms. In the meantime, manufactories sprang up here and there in the East, which imported from Europe all their raw silk. By 1860 there were no less than sixty-seven factories. There had grown up an importing trade, and business had ceased to look to domestic sources for supplies of raw silk.
The California silk craze.-In 1861 a Frenchman named L. Prevost began raising silk near San Jose in California. Prevost was something of a promoter and he soon interested a considerable number of California people in the industry. His plan, however, was to raise the silkworm mainly for the eggs rather than the silk fiber. The eggs were to be sold to French and other European silk producers. The California State Agricultural Society became interested in Prevost’s scheme and aided in its advertising, and the state legislature passed a law offering a bounty to silk producers. But Prevost was more successful in promoting the idea than in keeping the venture going. What had developed into a good-sized silk-culture craze in California quickly collapsed when the would-be growers found that the silkworms required an immense amount of care, that they were subject to a number of destructive diseases, and that even the California winters were too severe for the worms when kept out of doors.
Recent attempts to produce raw silk.-Attempts to raise silkworms were made in Kansas in the boom days of that state, in the later seventies, but the droughts of the eighties stopped the silk culture there. About 1878 the Department of Agriculture in Washington became interested in silk culture, and in the years that followed made considerable effort to interest the people of various sections of the country, especially the South, in growing silkworms. By 1883 regular annual appropriations of money were made for the Department that it might study and promote silk growing. A reeling institution, or filature, was established at Washington, and cocoons were purchased by the government from all growers. Silk growing was revived in Kansas and California and extended into Louisiana and, later, in the nineties, to Utah.
Interest in silk culture on the part of the Department of Agriculture slackened in 1890, and it was not until 1901 that another effort was made to introduce silk growing. This time it was planned to start the industry among the southern negroes of the poorer classes. But even this scheme has not been found successful.
The coming of oriental silks into American markets.Since the bursting of the morus multicaulis silk-growing boom of 1830 and the Prevost craze in California in 1860, and during the time of the more recent experiments just referred to, certain new factors have crept into the silk situation which at present seem to preclude for a long time to come the possibility of making silk growing profitable in this country. In 1854, Commodore Perry of the United States Navy sailed into the ports of Japan and made possible by national treaties the opening of trade with a country which up to that time had held itself aloof from all the rest of the world. It happened that Japan was a great producer of raw silk, which became henceforth one of its principal articles of export. Some years later, China, the greatest silk-producing country, commenced commercial relations with the rest of the world. From these two countries there poured into Europe and the United States a stream of raw silk that speedily reduced the market prices of this commodity from nine and ten dollars to three and four dollars a pound. Japan and China were full of men and women, who, although working for daily wages of some eight to fifteen cents, were nevertheless expert in the care of silkworms. Against such conditions of cheap production the United States could do nothing. Even France lost ground, and today silk culture there is standing still, despite the help of French government bounties. In Europe, only Italy, with her cheap labor and excellent facilities for producing what is pronounced to be the best raw silk in the world, has continued uninterruptedly to cultivate the silkworm.
As soon as the Japanese and Chinese markets were opened to the world, many of the largest manufacturers in this country, as well as in France and Germany, established buying agencies in the midst of the raw-silk-producing areas. It was soon found that there was much waste of energy and of material in the ancient methods employed by both Chinese and Japanese in reeling the silk. This was remedied, so far as certain individual companies were concerned, by starting on their own account reeling factories, called filatures, and by training the native workers in methods of using the improved machinery and methods installed. Several American silk manufacturers now own filatures at Shanghai and Canton, the principal silk markets of China. More recently, Japan has started experiment stations and inspection systems throughout her silk-growing areas, aiming at improving the product to meet the demands of the markets of the United States and Europe.