Manchester, NH owes its founding to a textile manufacturer, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, named after the Amoskeag Falls, which powered the mills. The company's vast brick mill yards still dominate the cityscape today.
Amoskeag Mill #11 was the largest cotton textile plant in the world in the 19th century at 900 feet long by 103 feet wide, with 4,000 looms. Its formation came during the Industrial Revolution (1760-1850) which started in the English textile industry with the invention of carding and spinning machines. Machines did the work of human hands and a product was made in one place, the factory.
The Amoskeag manufacturing mills served as a model of planning to the industrialized world. Products made in the community included shoes, cigars, and paper. Needed machines and tools were made onsite in a company foundry and machine shop; bricks used to build the mills came from the company brickyard.The Amoskeag foundry made rifles, sewing machines, textile machinery, fire engines, and locomotives in the Amoskeag Locomotive Works.
Manchester was designed and built by company owners following a community plan, which included all necessary products and components, and a city planned parallel and perpendicular to the river with employee housing.
By 1912, Manchester’s mills produced 50 miles of woven cloth per hour employing over 17,000 employees; more than half the work force were women; children also worked in the mills. Early mill workers came from NH farms. In the early 1900s, the workforce included French Canadians, Greek, German, Swedish and Polish immigrants.
The mills thrived until the early 1920s, when it became harder for Amoskeag to compete with Southern mills which had cheaper labor costs, new factories and automatic looms. Also, cotton could be processed and woven where it grew without transportation costs to New England. Amoskeag officials increased hours, and decreased pay. In 1922, workers called a strike that shut the mills for 9 months. Forced by economic necessity, workers returned to work with unmet demands.
Economic conditions worsened because of the 1930s Great Depression. Amoskeag management increased hours and reduced pay, especially for women. Violent strikes in 1933 and 1934 required military intervention. Vengeful strikers sabotaged machines when picketing ended and work resumed; mill buildings closed and employees were laid off when few jobs existed. On Christmas Eve, 1935, the mills abruptly closed. In 1936, a flood caused major damage and the vast complex was liquidated. By 1937, half the buildings were occupied by other businesses. Now, the renovated old mills are home to offices, restaurants, software companies, local colleges, art studios and the Millyard Museum.
NOTE: The historic mill photos above were taken (with permission) at the Millyard Museum maintained by The Manchester Historic Association (MHA) inside Mill No. 3 in the historic Amoskeag Millyard. The museum presents the history of the mills and Manchester in a permanent exhibit, Woven in Time: 11,000 Years at Amoskeag Falls.