Cotton and Wool Mills

Image: Stereograph showing cotton mill machines in an empty weaving room, 1892. Source: Library of Congress. 

On August 3, 1872 the embassy delegation headed just north of Boston to visit the cotton-milling town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. With three large mills, all powered by the Merrimack River, Lawrence was a small but bustling center for cotton textile production. The mills relied on the popular Jacquard machine, invented by French textile artisan Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804. The group toured the four-story production buildings, in awe of the lengthy and intricate process required to transform raw cotton into printed cloth.

Shortly thereafter, the delegation made a stop in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts to survey wool mills that were also powered by the Merrimack River. The focus in Lowell turned toward the power of women in the factory workforce, who in an effort to fight for better working conditions had organized the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.

Back in Japan, looms and textile production advanced quickly by the end of the nineteenth-century, led by inventor Sakichi Toyoda (1867-1930). Toyoda’s automated machines served as the foundation for his looming company, Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, which later became the Toyota Motor Company in 1933.


Kume, Kunitake. “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” In Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe, edited by Chushichi Tsuzuki and R. Jules Young, 102-3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Public Relations Section General Affairs Division. “Sakichi Toyoda Wooden Hand Loom, Automatic Loom.” Japan Patent Office. Last modified October 7, 2002.

Dulin, Thomas. Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.