Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The question of the Newton silk mill -- maybe an answer?

A few weeks ago, our discovery of the Cat Swamp Hijacking revealed a bit of a mystery: why was there a silk factory in Newton?

I think I might have found a viable answer during my visit to the Botto House. It may not be the complete reason Thomas Bentley moved his Paterson operations 45 miles away to Sussex County, but hey, it's a possibility.

As the silk industry became increasingly mechanized, mill owners started looking toward women and children to work the looms. The theory was that their smaller fingers and hands were better suited to the delicate silk work. Some enterprising manufacturers realized that they potentially had a ready workforce in communities where men were already at work in factories making other things. Paterson may still have been the capital of the American silk industry, but mills began rising in new towns.

Newton in the early 1900s would have fit the bill quite nicely. Hay forks, shoes and boxes were already being manufactured there, drawing male workers who inevitably would have wives and children. Bentley must have felt that with a bit of training from Paterson silk workers, the locals would be able to catch on to the trade fairly easily.

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