Student Activity Packet

Activity #4: What's In A Factory? Calculating A Textile System

Transverse View of Manville Company, Number Three Mill. Manville, RI. 1874
Courtesy of Tsongas Center for Industrial History, Lowell, MA.


You will use the essay "Why A Factory?", an introductory paragraph, and the diagram of a factory floor to answer: "How many machines, how many people, and how much money were needed to run a factory?" While the numbers you are given will not be exact, they will closely represent the circumstances of an early 19th-century factory.


A textile factory is a system of machines, workers, managers, power, and materials, all brought together to produce cloth and make money. The textile mills at Waltham, MA (1813) and then the mills at Lowell, MA (1824) were the first textile mills in the world that took in raw cotton, performed all of the manufacturing processes under one roof, and turned out finished cloth.

Woman at Mill, 1860s.
Courtesy of American Textile History Museum, Lowell, MA.

Textile mills, like other factories, are complicated systems. One of the key jobs of a factory owner or manager is to set up the machinery in the factory so that one machine produces just enough to supply the next process. It's not easy to balance the various machines so that the output of each stage would not produce too much or too little for the next stage.

Setting up the factory--calculating the number of each type of machine--was only the first step. The factory manager also had to fit the machines into the mill, consider how much money the machines would cost, and worry about finding the right workers to operate the machines. In addition, he had to run the mill to make money--paying for the machines, the workers, the power, and the raw materials.

These exercises show some of the mathematics that the mill manager had to do. It's mostly simple math--multiplication, division, and proportions. But for the mill manager, the math was the easy part of the problem; the hard part was estimating the right relationships between the machines, knowing how fast machines ran, how much power they used, and how many people were needed to keep them running. Mistakes, for example buying the wrong machines, or hiring the wrong people, were expensive.


Decide how many machines of each kind to buy for your factory. To do this, follow these rrules that compare the input and output of each type of machine. Step 1 is to determine the ratios of the machines to one another, that is, how many of each of the other machines are there for each picking machine. Then you should move on to decide how many, and what kind of machines, you need in total.

Machines used in producing cotton cloth:

    From The Progress of Cotton, 1835-40.
    Courtesy of Slater Mill Historic Site,
    Pawtucket, RI.

  1. Carding machine. Straightens the fibers of raw cotton. A single picker can supply cotton for eight breaker carding machines, the first step. The output of these machines then goes to the finishing breakers; for every breaker card there's one finishing card.

  2. The carding machine produces "slivers," long loosely twisted pieces of cotton fibers which then go to the drawing frame, which draws and twists it. There are three kinds of drawing frames. You need one of each kind of drawing frame for every four finishing cards.

    From The Progress of Cotton, 1835-40.
    Courtesy of Slater Mill Historic Site,
    Pawtucket, RI.

  3. The drawing frame is the last of the preparatory processes. Next comes spinning. The first step is to turn the sliver into roving, which is done on a "speeder." The Lowell factories had two speeders for every three drawing frames.

    From The Progress of Cotton, 1835-40.
    Courtesy of Slater Mill Historic Site,
    Pawtucket, RI.

  4. The next step in spinning is to make the yarn. The Lowell mills used throstle spinners. Each speeder made enough roving to supply three throstle spinners. There were two kinds of throstle spinners, one kind for the warp yarn and one kind for the filling yarn. There were twice as many warp throstles as filling throstles.

  5. Next comes weaving, turning the yarn into finished cloth. First, the yarn must be "dressed," coated with a starch solution to make it easier to work. You need one dressing frame for every 16 looms.

    From The Progress of Cotton, 1835-40.
    Courtesy of Slater Mill Historic Site,
    Pawtucket, RI.

  6. Before the looms can be set up, you have to wind the warp, putting it on the warp beam. One warper will provide enough warp beams for 20 looms.

    From The Progress of Cotton, 1835-40.
    Courtesy of Slater Mill Historic Site,
    Pawtucket, RI.

  7. There are almost as many looms as all the other machines put together, 10 looms for every filling throstle.


Now figure out how many machines the water power on the site can drive. At the Waltham mills, the limiting factor was power. A "millpower" provided about 85 horsepower, of which more than a third was lost to inefficiencies--so there was about 60 horsepower available to drive the machines. Each machine took about (on average) .186 h.p. How many total machines were there, and how many of each machine?


Here's how many of each machine a worker could operate:

Women's jobs:

one weaver could tend two looms.
A spinner could tend one filling throstle or two warp throstles.
One woman tended each drawing frame.
A woman could handle two speeders.
Each dressing frame required one woman; in addition, there was one woman for every two dressing frames who did "drawing in," drawing each thread through the harnness and reed of the loom.
"Sparehands" were trainees who were learning to work the machines. There was, on average, one sparehand for every four experienced women workers.

Men's jobs:

Men tended the pickers and carders; one man per picker and one man per ten carders,
Overseers and assistant overseers were men: there was, on average, one of these managers for every thirty female employees.
Machinists kept the machines operating. There was one machines for every 50 or so machines.


Each worker is paid a different amount. The wages were determined by a number of factors:

More skilled workers tended to get more than those less skilled.

Young workers tended to get paid less than older workers.

Women got paid less than men.

Workers with needed skills received more than those with common skills.

Job Category Wages Per Day
Weaver .66
Spinner .58
Drawer .52
Speeder .66
Dresser .78
Drawing in .66
Sparehands .44
Pickers .85
Carders .85
Overseers 1.75
Machinist 1.27

What is the weekly payroll of your mill?


Examine the attached floor plans for each floor of the mill. The keys provide information about the floor plans.

Using the information in Exercise 1, trace the flow of the material through the mill. (The first step, picking, is not shown; picking machines were kept in a separate building because they occasionally caught fire.) Why do you think that the machines are set up the way they are? How would you change the setup to make it more efficient?

The architectural drawings below are supplied by Patrick Malone, Brown University, Providence, RI. Used by Permission.

First Floor Plan

Second Floor Plan

Third Floor Plan

Fourth Floor Plan

Copyright © 1998 The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

Comments and questions to the Lemelson

Last Revision: 6/5/98