LackawannaLackawanna County News

Excerpts From The Scranton Times

The Scranton Republican, Tuesday, December 8, 1891, page 8


The Wonderful Progress Made in Preparation of Raw Silk and the Manufacture of Silk Fabrics in this City in the Last Nineteen Years—A History of the Formation of the Old Scranton Silk Company –Interior View of the Sauquoit Factory

When our mother Eve, on being expelled from paradise , draped herself in a garment made of the broad leaves of the fig tree, she donned unconsciously a type of the textile fabric, which, in later years was to become the chosen material for the most fashionable apparel of her fairest descendants. For the leaf of the fig tree, with its soft and silky fibres, is the food of several species of the silk worms and the source from which is obtained those delicate filaments, which by the skill of man are made into the glossy silken fabrics, so much admired by women. Though silk has been manufactured in Scranton in one form or another for nearly twenty years, the fact the highest grade of silk dress goods can be and are made in this city is little known. Few people know of the mammoth proportions to which this industry has attained here within the past eighteen or nineteen years and a still less number are aware that within a few months, when the machinery in the new additions to the Sauquoit Sill Mill is put in motion, Scranton will contain the largest silk factory in the country, owned by the third largest silk manufacturing corporation in the United States, the Sauquoit Silk Company. In 1873, when the Scranton Sill Mill was put in operation, the plant of which now forms a part of the Sauquoit Silk Mill, less than 200 operatives were employed. Now fully 1,300 people find employment in the three silk factories situated inside of the city limits. Then the business was but a struggling experiment, now it is an assured success. In the beginning there were no skilled operatives in the city, now there are upwards of 2,000 on the South Side alone.


The silk industry in Scranton had its inception in the organization of Scranton Silk Manufacturing Company in 1872. The company was chartered under the laws of the State. The capital stock was $109,000. John E. Atwood, of Willimantic, Conn., was the prime mover in the formation of the company. Associated prominently with Mr. Atwood was Mr. Alfred Harvey, the present proprietor of Harvey’s Silk Mills on South Washington avenue, and who may be called the pioneer of the silk industry in Scranton, and George Fisher and Charles Du Pont Breck, of this city. Mr. Atwood was the son of a large silk manufacturer in Willimantic and he himself, was the proprietor of an establishment, which manufactured machinery for silk mills. It was principally for the purpose of creating a sale for his machinery that he interested himself in the formation of a silk manufacturing company here.

A few months later the factory was erected on Remington avenue and Fig street, the present site of the Sauquoit Silk Mill. The building constructed was 100 X40 feet in dimensions, four stories high, and was fitted with the most improved machinery and appliances in use at that time. Alfred Harvey became the superintendent of the factory. About $95,000 of the capital stock of the company was paid in the company….more for future use. Thus handicapped, the pioneer in the silk manufacturing industry in Scranton began work.


The factory had been fitted up with machinery designed for the manufacture of raw silk into filling and warp, or "tram" and "organzine" as they are technically called. It was not supplied with looms and no attempt was every made by the Scranton Silk Company to manufacture its product of warp and filling into silk fabrics. The factory was kept in operation under the management of the company about six years. All this time it was run at a loss to its proprietors. Many things occurred which will account for the failure of the enterprise to make money. Shortly after the machinery was purchased, new and improved machinery was invented and was adopted by other manufacturers. This made it difficult for the infant company to compete in the markers with other companies whose product was manufactured at a less cost. At the outset the price of raw silk which was bought of New York importers who bought mostly in China, Italy, and Japan, was at the highest notch. Italian silk cost $16 per pound and China silk was worth between $10 to $10.50 per pound. The company loaded itself up with a large stock at these prices. Soon after prices fell and the company was obliged to work off its stock and sell its products at market prices which were largely determined by the price of raw silk. During its operations the mill at times employed as high as 200 operatives. In 1878 the directors of the company decided that it was unwise to continue operations longer and the closed down the mill and made an assignment for the benefit of the creditors. Alfred Harvey was assignee and the liabilities amounted to between $50,000 and $60,000. In the spring of 1879 the property was sold to a committee of the creditors who soon afterwards sold it to Sauquoit Silk Company for $22,000. The property sold included the building, 100x40 feet in dimensions and four stories high, the machinery and what stock was on hand, two dwelling houses and some vacant adjoining lots.


Meanwhile the manufacture of silk goods in other cities of the country had been increasing in extent and variety. In a few branches of the industry the articles made had reached such a high degree of perfection as to completely meet the demands of the home market and entirely exclude foreign importations. The merits of American silks began to be better known. In Patterson, N.J., the manufacture of silk had become a leading industry, and everywhere manufacturers saw prospects of a revival in trade. During the years which the old Scranton Silk Company had been in operation Alfred Harvey had been its superintendent. When it was sold he decided to go into business for himself.

In 1879, shortly after the assignee’s sale of the plant to the Sauquoit company he started a small factory in the upper story of a brick building on Lackawanna avenue…charging a certain sum per pound for the material worked. The business prospered and Mr. Harvey soon found it necessary to remove to more spacious quarters. He accordingly purchased a plot of ground on South Washington avenue, and in 1880 her erected and moved into the building which he now occupies. The building when first constructed, was 40x80 feet in dimensions and three stories in height.

Mr. Harvey has not departed from the business in which he so successfully engaged in the beginning of its operations in the little room on West Lackawanna avenue.

The entire working capacity of the mill is devoted to the manufacture of warp and filling and the business is done altogether by commission. The mill not gives employment to 225 operatives, mostly girls. At times there have been as high as 280 operatives employed in the mill.


At the present time there are 225 operatives employed in the mill. Their work is superintended by Mr. Albert Harvey, a brother of the owner of the mill, who, himself, is an expert workman. In this mill the silk goes through the same processes it does in the other two mills in the city, the Saugquoit and the Meadow Brook, and which is described at length in the portion of this article devoted to the Sauquoit mill where all of the processes necessary to make a silk fabric are in operation.

The Sauquoit Silk mill is the largest in the city and with its additions which will soon be ready to receive their complement of machinery it will be the largest in the…one in this. At the time the combination was ..nel the mill in Sauquoit, N.Y. was…by Lewis R. Stelle, who became president of the new company. Mr. Stelle remained at the head of the company until his death, which occurred last May,…was the father of Mr.L. R. Stelle.. the firm of Stelle & Stelle, Wyoming avenue music dealers, the present secretary of the company, and of Alex . D. Stelle, Sauquoit, N.Y., who is now the president of the company. The other officers of the company are Richard Rosmassler Philadelphia treasurer and S.C. Stelle, assistant secretary; and Wlm H. Davis, of 410 Adams avenue of this city, superintendent of the Scranton…of the establishment.

The company has offices and warerooms in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Boston. …stock is held by a few persons and not in the market. The company has been prosperous since its incorporation, and is ranked by the silk manufacturers as the third in strength in the country.


The Sauquoit Silk Company began its operation in this city when it bought off the creditors of the Scranton Company, the latter’s plant on Fig-street in 1879. At the time the building used was but 100 x 40 feet dimensions. Since then additions have been made to the building until it now extends from street to street and is 315 feet long, the other dimension being unchanged. During the present year the company began the construction of two more buildings adjoining the one now used. The main or principal building which is now nearly completed is 315 feet long, 40 few wide and four stories high. This is supplemented by still another building 120 x 44 and four stories high. The three buildings contain a bare floor area of about 125,000 square feet or nearly three acres. The buildings are all substantially constructed of brick with iron trimmings.

The interior arrangement of the building now is in use is perfect in all the appointments of a modern silk factory. The machinery is the latest improved inventions, and is kept in repair in the machine shop connected to the factory. The mill is heated by steam, and per-feet system of ventilation is provided. At present gas is used for lighting purposes, but this soon will be superseded by electric lights, furnished by a dynamo-driven by a 300 horse power engine. Arrangements have been made for 3,800 incandescent lights. There is also a smaller dynamo-driven engine for furnishing a less number of lights to be used in the nighttime when the mill is not in operation. This is to do away with the necessity of the watchmen going around with lighted lanterns, thereby decreasing the danger of fire.


Great precautions have been taken to guard against the possibility of loss by fire, and the buildings are being fitted up with Grinnell Automatic sprinklers, and they are the only buildings so supplied in the city. The Grinnell sprinkler is a simple, though ingenious contrivance and a building supplied with it is as safe from the danger of fire as it can be made. These pipes are fitted with soft metallic bulbs or heads at distances of ten feet from each other. These heads are of two metals, one hard and the other soft, which will melt at a very low temperature. The metal which melts at the low temperature covers small holes in the harder metal through which the water is cast by force of its pressure when the softer metal has melted from the heat of the fire. With the pressure at the Sauquoit mill water from these automatic sprinklers can be thrown fifteen feet and as the sprinklers in no place in the building are more than ten feet apart any fire is likely to be extinguished before its gains much headway. The system requires the use of 2,400 "heads" or sprinklers and of 26,000 feet of water pipe. In addition to this precaution there are in the building on each of two towers a huge iron tank which continually contains 15,000 gallons of water.


In the smaller of the two buildings which are now nearly completed there has been constructed a huge fire proof vault in which all of the raw silk and other valuable stock on hand is kept. This vault is guaranteed to withstand the entire weight of the three stories and all of the machinery above it should the building happen to be consumed by fire. It is also warranted to be fire proof. The construction of this vault causes a great saving in insurance which heretofore has been a heavy expense to the company.


The operations of the Sauquoit Silk Mill are under the direction of Superintendent William H. Davis, who came to Scranton in March 1888. Mr. Davis is a practical silk operator and there is nothing about a mill that he does not know. He has risen from the ranks to the position he now occupies. In 1865, twenty-one years ago, Mr. Davis worked in Paterson, N.J., for Lewis R. Stelle, for one dollar per week, and now he is superintending the management of the largest silk mill in the country. There are, all told, in the factory, 750 operatives, of whom 700 are girls and 50 are men. When the machinery in the news building is put in motion this number will be increased to 1,500.

In the Sauquoit Silk Mill the processes of preparing the raw, silk, that is silk in the condition in which it is wound from the cocoons, and in which condition all of the unmanufactured silk imported to this is, may be seen to a better advantage than in the other factories in this city. The Sauquoit factory is the only mill in the city which is now engaged in the manufacture of silk fabrics. Formerly the Meadow Brook mill manufactured a portion of it product of warp and filling into silk dress goods, but since Mr. Singleton took charge of the mill a short time ago, this business has been discontinued. Since in the Sauquoit mill the process of manufacturing silk goods from raw silk is more complete than in the other mills, a description of the various changes which the raw material undergoes before it is…a piece of dress goods, with which this article would be incomplete, has been reserved to be given in connection with the description of the Sauquoit mill.


Almost the entire amount of silk manufactured in the United States is made from imported silk, there being but little of the latter raised in this country, although at one time, in 1844, there was nearly 400,000 pounds produced, valued at $4,400,000. That year, however, silk culture in this country reached its high water mark and since then the production has declined, although the culture of the silk worm is still practiced to some extent in different parts of the country, notably in San Jose, California, where, in 1875, there was one concoonery with 1,000,000 silk worms.

Raw silk is imported to this country in bales of from one hundred to two hundred pounds each. Each bale is made up of skeins of from one to two ounces each. China furnishes the largest supply and Italy the best quality. Other countries from which the silk used in the Sauquoit mill is exported are France, Spain, India, and Japan. The filament when wound from a cocoon is .0005 of an inch in diameter. Two of these filaments are wound from the cocoon at the same time and united to a gummy substance afforded by the cocoon. Any number of these double filaments, slightly twisted and agglutinated together, forming a single thread, make the raw silk a commerce. These threads are reeled into hanks or skeins containing from one to two ounces of silk, and in this condition, in large bales, the silk reaches our factories through the medium of New York importers.


Raw silk, when it comes to the factory, is of a harsh and wiry nature, owing to impurities, and cannot be worked in this condition. The first process to which it is subjected in the Sauquoit mill is washing, or the "bath." This is equally true of all other mills. In the condition in which the silk is while unwashed it will cut and cause abrasions on the hard polished steel of which the machinery is made and over which it must pass. It is therefore necessary to remove these impurities, and to this it is subjected to a bath of neutral soap, that is a bath in which a perfectly saponified soap is used and in which there is no excess of alkali. Pure olive oil is generally used….. are placed in a tub or vat and allowed to remain from two to five hours. This work does not require much attention and is usually allotted to boys, although…out it has become softened and has lost the harsh feeling it had before it underwent this primary process. It is then wrung out and allowed to dry when it becomes ready for the next process, called winding.


The process of winding in the Sauquoit mill is done on the third floor. Thither the skeins are taken where they are opened and placed on small octagonal reels called "swifts". The "swifts" are attached to a horizontal shaft running from either side of a central aisle to the wall of the building. There are usually fifty-six swifts operated by each machine. The swifts are tended by girls, one girl in some cases being able to tend as many as fifty-six swifts. The number of swifts which may be tended by one operative depends on the quality of the silk. A poor quality requires more attention and consequently more operatives. This is because its fibres are weaker and break more easily. After being placed on the swift the thread of silk is attached to a spool above, which is driven by friction. When the threads of the silk on an entire section operated by a single machine have been attached to the spools the latter are set in motion and the silk is unwound from the swifts on the spools, the swift having literally pulled around by the revolution of the spools, the thread acting as the belt. When the spools are filled the process of winding is finished. All silk, whether it is to be used for filling or warp, must first undergo this process.


When filing, or "tram", is to be made the spools are taken from the winding-room directly to the "doubling" room, which, in the Sauquoit mill, is on the second floor. The process of doubling consists of uniting two or more threads in one strand and placing it on one spool. The number of threads which are united depends upon the nature and quality of the material for which the filling is to be used. . In the doubling room the machines, which are much the same in general appearance as those in the winding room, are all operated by girls and young women. As many spools as there are threads required are placed on horizontal spindles, one above the other, and from these the threads are wound off and on another spool on a spindle above, which is driven by friction, in the operation of winding. Each thread passes through an eye in a wire. Should the thread break the wire acts as a lever which stops the spindle below, thus preventing anything less than the number of threads required entering into the composition of the tram which is being manufactured. The machines are operated by girls. When one of the operatives notices anywhere in her section that a spindle has stopped, she knows that a thread has been broken, and she immediately joins the two ends and again sets the spindles in motion. One operative may tend anywhere from twenty-eight to eighty-four spindles in the doubling room. While thus engaged they present a very busy appearance.


The spools or bobbins of silk are then taken to the first floor to be twisted, reeled and made into skeins read to be shipped to the dye house. The operation of twisting in the case of tram, of filling, consists of giving the thread, as it comes from the doubling machines, from two to three turns to the inch. When organzine, or warp, is made twelve or more turns to the inch are required. The twisting machines are operated by girls, one girl tending, from eighty to one hundred spindles.

The bobbins containing silk from the twisting machine are hollow wooden cylinders with sheet iron heads. When taken to be reeled they are set on their…. taken directly to the twisting machine where a single thread is twisted twelve more turns to the inch, according to the purpose for which the warp is intended. The twisting machines for the warp are the same as those used to twist the filling after it is doubled, with the exception that they are set so as to twist the silk harder.

From the twisting inches the warp is taken to the doubling machines, where two or three threads are united in a manner similar to that which was described in the manufacture of tram. Generally but two threads are used, though the number depends altogether upon the nature of the material for which the warp is made. It is then taken a second time back to the twisting machines, where ten or more twists to the inch are given it, according to the purpose for which it is to be used. It is then reeled off into skeins and made into bundles ready to be shipped to the dyeing establishment.


Silk dyeing is a separate industry, and only in a few instances are dyeing establishments connected with silk factories. The Sauquoit Silk Company has a dyeing house in Philadelphia, but it is not large enough to dye nearly all of its production of manufactured silk. Consequently the larger portion is shipped to dyeing houses in other cities, principally New York and Patterson, N.J. The Sauquoit Company makes into silk one-third of their product of tram and organzine, or warp and filling. After being dyed, the portion of the silk which the mill makes up into silk goods is shipped back to the factory where it is wound into dress goods, umbrella …or material for silk linings, as orders of the company may require, these are classes of goods being all the Sauquoit mill manufactures.


In the Sauquoit mill there are 150 looms which turn out a weekly product of 15,000 yards of silk fabrics. The weaving department is on the fourth floor of the building and employs 300 operators, all young women. Each operative tends two looms and each loom makes from twelve to sixteen yards per day.

The Sauquoit Silk company finds a market for its good among the great jobbing [ ] houses of the country in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago, in each of which cities the company has warerooms. Two-thirds of its entire product is infilling and warp, which is sold to manufacturers, who make exclusively silk fabrics. [ ] The operation of manufacturing warp and filing from raw silk adds about one dollar per pound t the value of the silk which is divided among the operatives as wages and proprietors as profit, interest on capital investment and for a singling [sinking?] [ ] fund to replace worn out machinery. The Sauquoit silk mill in this city manufactures the finest grade silk dress goods in the markets. By experts they are pronounced superior to the goods of foreign make. One great reason why this is so is that American manufacturers are obliged to by the very best quality of raw silk in order to reduce to the minimum the loss which results from the stoppage of machinery and from waste of material. The price of labor in this country is higher than in any other country where silk is manufactured. There is more waste in the poor quality of raw silk than in a superior quality. The threads break more easily.

Transcribed and provided by Edward Godwin, 2002

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