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The Wool Trade of the United States

The Wool Trade of the United States

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Excerpt from The Wool Trade of the United States: History of a Great Industry; Its Rise and Progress in Boston, Now the Second Market in the World

These two brothers, Arthur and John Schofield, came to the United States in 1793, and as theirs was the first attempt made in America to manufacture woolens in a manner similar to that in the matured mills of Europe, their efforts deserve permanent record in the annals of the industries.

In October of 1794 the Schofields had constructed and put into operation Americas first carding machine, and its successful workings attracted widespread interest and attention. The machine placed the industry on a higher and more matured plane, and once it was thus fairly under way it expanded rapidly, rearing its youthful head with somewhat amazing frequency throughout the New England and other Northern and Eastern States.

It gave to the eighteenth century as its chief product, and in addition to the staple broadcloth made from the imported fine wools, such coarse, rough cloth as could alone be made from the harsh, heavy fibered wool of the domesticated sheep of America. Spanish sheep, before the days of the merino, producing coarse wool suitable only for carpets, had been early introduced into Mexico. The sheep of Virginia and Massachusetts were of the English breed of that time, long legged, narrow chested, yielding very coarse wool, not at all similar to the highly bred Lincolns and Shropshires of to-day. The flock in New York State, comprising chiefly the lowland sheep of Holland, were not unlike the breed in Massachusetts.

The mills of the late eighteenth century drew upon supplies of foreign wool for a good share of their raw material. But the cost of the imported wool, disproportionate, though at that time duty free in its relation to the production of cloths from domestic wool, rendered dependence upon foreign stock undesirable and encumbered the progress of the industry with additional obstacles.

Protection Advances The Industry.

With the ushering in of the nineteenth century the newly born industry appeared to acquire fresh life. The minimum of protection afforded by the first tariff of the United States, enacted in 1789, was turned to every possible advantage by the manufacturers. This first tariff was apparently not designed to extend protection to the wool manufacture, nor, indeed, was protection its first purpose. After the Revolution the country was burdened with an extensive war debt, and to alleviate this load an act was passed on July 4, 1789, which laid a duty upon almost all incoming merchandise. In its preamble reference was made to the necessity for "encouragement and protection of manufacturers," but in view of the undeveloped condition of the wool manufacture in the United States at that time, and its lack of recognition as a public industry in Alexander Hamilton's comprehensive report some two years later, it is safe to conclude that the duty on importations of woolen goods was designed for purposes of revenue only.

In 1800 our consuls and ministers resident abroad were inculcated with the idea of infusing into the flocks of America the high breed attained in sheep husbandry in foreign countries. Their first efforts were attended with the usual obstacles which greet the inception of all new ideas.

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