The proceedings of the Fair of the American Institute were diversified on the evening of Oct. 5th, by an able address, delivered by Erastus B. Bigelow, President of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers. We regret that pressure upon our columns forbids our giving more than an abstract of the address. After some introductory remarks, the speaker went on to say that this exhibition of American woolens is the first instance of any attempt in our country to bring before the public eye, in one gri at collection, the characteristic products of a single industry. We can, I trust, honestly say that it is prompted by a higher motive than that of ambitious display. In no other way can the progress, the extent, and the value of such an industry be so effectually shown. No statements or statistics can be so impressive and convincing as the visible evidence which is furnished by an exhibition like that now before you. It is the next best thing to actually visit. ing the manufactories from which these fabrics come. Could you pass through the great establishments so honorably represented here, and look on their busy wheels and cards and spindles and looms—their myriads of thrifty, happy working men and women, the huge masses of raw material which they work up, and the countless car-loads of finished fabrics which daily leave the mills, you would need no argument to assure you that the woolen industry of the country is second to no other, whether individually or nationally considered. The annual value of our woolen manufactures, and of those manufactures in which wool is a component part, is not less than $175,000,000. Of these goods more than four fifths are made from American wools. The coarse carpet-wools, which are not grown here at all, the worsted combing-wools, and the fine clothing-wools, which are grown by us only in limited quantities, go to make up the rest. In relation to the articles now brought out under the direction of the National Association, it is only proper to state that none of them were made specially for this occasion, or appear as candidates for prize awards. They are the usual products of the mills, such as are got up for the general market, and they are here not for individual gain or glorification, but rather to show the quality and variety” of our wool fabrics, and the extent to which they supply, or can supply, the wants of the American people. The fine quality and the beautiful finish of many articles in this collection cannot fail to arrest attention. Yet the real significance of the display is to be seen, not so much in this as in the wide range and diversified character of the fabrics, in their soundness, and their fitness for the USES intended, and in the low prices at which they can be furnished. Forinstance, in no market of the world can better cassimeres be found than some of those which are here exhibited. These meet the demands of one class in the community, while the wants of another and far more numerous class are met by clot.is equally excellent, because equally adapted to the use for which they are designed. I have selected a particular case, but this remark has a general application. This display of woolen fabrics is instructive, as showing the great advance which a comparative y short period has e^Kt- ed in the diversification of our wool manufactures. Ten years ago, our manufacturers had attempted scarcely any thing be yond common goods of the coarser kinds. Now they produce almost every variety of wool fabric in general use. Among those which are now successfully made here, but which are comparatively new as American productions, I may mention lastings, bunting, worsted reps, and serges for furniture covering, worsted furniture damask, Italian cloths, worsted pop- ling, mohair lustre, cashmeres, merinos, Astrachans, chinchilla cloak;ngs, Scotch cassimeres, embroidered table-covers, Axminster carpets. Tho annual consumption of woolon goods in the United States may be put in round numbers at $240,000,000. In 1868, for instance, we imported woolen goods as follows: Cloths and cassimeres$6,956.449 Sliawls 1,559,999 Blankets 38,196 Carpets 2,766,'i91 Dress goods 15,196,288 Manufactures not specified 5,902,591 :$32,409,759 The above figures, it must be remembered, represent the foreign valuation as expressed in gold. In comparing the value of woolen goods imported with the estimated value of our home productions, we must add to that valuation the customs duties, the premium on gold, and the profits of the importer. With these all on, the value of sales in first hands is fully double the amount of foreign valuation. If now to $175,000,000, the estimate of our domestic product, we add $64,819,518 for the sales of imported woolens in first hands, the result is $239,819,518. Thus it appears that our own manufactures amount in value to nearly three quarters of the whole. Notwithstanding the unquestionable and the generally acknowledged excellence of our wool manufactures—a fact which this exhibition fully demonstrates—those manufactures still suffer, more or less, in the market, from prejudices and prepossessions alike ill-founded. A preference for fabrics of foreign origin has very naturally come down from the time, not very distant, when our domestic products were generally inferior. Of those who now habitually insist upon buying the foreign article, some are honestly ignorant. They are not aware of any improvement in American manufactures. With others, it is the merest aping of a senseless fashion. But the delusion could not be long kept up, were it not for the interest of the dealer to sustain it. It is easy for him to make a larger profit on the imported article, from the fact that its probable cost is not so generally known. In many instances the temptation is I!o strong that truth, hon esty, and patriotism make their appeal in vain. Not only are American productions systematically disparaged, but, in a multitude of instances, these very productions are labeled as French, English, or German. The extent to which this imposition is carried is known only to those who are let into the secret. There are, probably, very few of us who have not thus been taken in. And, what I am inclined to regret as the most melancholy thing of all, is the unquestioned fact that some of the manufacturers themselves have consented to the deed. I suppose the process by which such a bargain is consummated to be somewhat as follows ; A manufacturer, after much toil and outlay, is prepared to introduce a fabric not before made here. He finds the market, however, fully supplied with the foreign article. Those who hold it give him no encouragement, for they know that the introduction of the domestic product must lessen their chance for high profits. Between him and the consumer (who must be reached somehow, or his enterprise fails) stands a class of men whose interest it is to sell foreign rather than domestic goods. The result is a compromise. Says the dealer to him, “ I like your goods, but I cannot sell them as American. Give them a foreign brand, confine the product of your mill to me, and I will take all that you produce.” The pool'"manufac- turer, seeing no alternative, closes the unhallowed bargain. It will t e strange if this exposition of our wool manufactures does nothing toward correcting these mistaken ideas in regard to the inferiority of American fabrics which are entertained by so many. It shows the great and respectable body of American manufact urers that there are those among them who have no need to sail under borrowed colors, and who, under any circumstances, would scorn the thought, It is a silent but eloquent rebuke to those dealers in such fabrics who, to promote their own selfish aims, are wont to decry and deride everything that is home-made. And, finally, it appeals to the great class of consumers, and bids them be candid when they buy, even if they cannot be patriotic. It has been through a long series of difficulties and discouragements that our wool manufactures have attained to their present advanced condition. Not the least of these i^ pediments has been a vacillating tariff. In this respect the policy of our government has been sometimes friendly, sometimes decidedly hostile. The tariff of 1846, which imposed upon wool a higher rate of duty than some of its manufactures paid, proved especially adverse. Under its baneful operation the growing of wool remained almost stationary, and many of the largest manufacturing companies became bankrupt. Mr. Bigelow closed his address witn an able review of the subject of free trade, showing the fallacies of the doctrine in the present condition of the world, and comparing its advocates to the advocates of a universal peace, something very desirable, and to be looked for with hope, but at the present day utterly out of the question.
This article was originally published with the title "Progress of American Woolen Manufactures" in Scientific American 21, 18, 283 (October 1869)