NH News
6:00 am
Wed May 23, 2012

New Hampshire's Immigration Story - Come to Amoskeag!

By the early 1900's, the Amoskeag mill was earning its reputation as the textile capital of the world. There may have been other cities that produced more cloth, but none had a mill that compared to Manchester’s.

No other single textile factory in the world had 17,000 workers, and it had around 30 buildings at one time and it was turning out cloth 50 miles per hour.

Robert Perrault is a Manchester based historian and author of the book "Vivre la Difference: Franco-American Life and Culture in Manchester, New Hampshire”

They would say from Manchester to Boston: 600 miles a day in a 12 hour day. And so you have production, you have people and you have space. In fact, there’s a photograph that you see at the Manchester historic association’s mill yard museum. That shows one day’s production with cloth stacked up, it’s amazing 600 miles a day.

The people who were running the machines that made the cloth  were immigrants.  And as more arrive the talk in these mill began to sound different. By 1916, twenty eight languages were said to be spoken in the mills along the Merrimack River.  Once again historian Stu Wallace

Amoskeag Manufacturing used to seek diversity.  The story was they sought diversity because they wanted to cut down the possibilities of unionizations.  Regardless of what was on their motives, you had a diverse population.  They often divided different rooms with different ethnic groups. So you might have Lithuanians in one place, Russians in another, Poles in another Italians in another, you actually had ethnic groups, but not the foreman, the foreman would be the English, the Irish and only by the very end of the 19th century did we start getting some FA foramen.

As Amoskeag grew, it also diversified. The company was gaining a reputation for its linens, and winning international awards for its textiles. Amoskeag needed workers with skills that could only be found overseas. So one again, the mills looked  to Europe.

"The undersigned hereby agree to engage as gingham or check loom weavers with the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company of Manchester, New Hampshire, United States of America for the period of 12 calendar months to commence and be computed from the 15th day of June 1868 years and promise to do their work well and faithfully and to the best of their abilities, working the regular hours, at the rate of payment current in the factory, doing the same type of work "

Ezekiel Straw who was the agent for the whole company, a visionary.

Aurore Eaton is Executive Director of the Manchester Historical Society.

He wanted his company to produce gingham cloth. Now gingham is something that needs people who are dye masters and really nobody in the US was doing it. So he went off to England and Scotland in particular, bought the machinery and actually had his people go out and recruit people who were the dye masters and who were the weavers who knew how to weave on the special looms so they would actually come over here on a boat with the equipment and the chemicals to do all this gingham weaving so there was this influx.

One of the recruits was the father of Tomie Smith, who came over to Manchester from Glasgow in 1894. Tomie recounts his father’s story in the book “Amoskeag:Life and Work in a an American Factory City”

In Scotland and England, they had advertised in the newspapers and put out fliers about the wonderful opportunities for weavers, spinners and dyers in this country. The advertisements they put up with like circus poster: “Wonderful conditions at Amoskeag in Manchester, New Hampshire”. They showed a man just coming out of the mill yard with a wallet in his hand full of money, and he was going to the bank.  Things like that induced people to leave.

Machinist from German were brought over. As were Swedes renowned for their fine lace making. Outside the mills, men from the Belgian cigar trade were brought to the 724 Cigar company in Manchester. Italian stone cutters, were meanwhile convinced to come to NH and travel to its far north to help build mills in a new mill town called Berlin, New Hampshire

For New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Keith Shields