Nineteenth century working conditions were often harsh in America’s mills. The mills were hot in the summer and cold in the winter, very dusty and very loud from the machinery. The workday was 12 to 14 hours and children were often employed because they could be paid less for the same amount of work. During the 1890’s, American Thread was producing 85,000 miles of thread a day. The company established mills in what became Willimantic and Milo, Maine, for the production of wooden spools. This was the Victorian era and the height of Willimantic’s role in the industrial revolution.
The company developed and produced thousands of thread products such as, for clothing, bedding, shoe laces, stitching baseballs, automobile interiors and tea bags. The 19th century was devoted to cotton products which were mass produced on water powered machinery driven by the Willimantic River. In the 20th century, the company produced thread products of all descriptions including man=made synthetics and blends. The dying of these products was accomplished with thousands of colors developed in their chemistry department. The company progressed to steam power and electric power.
The factory complex started with buildings of stone, quarried from the river bed, and brick structures built by Irish and Italian masons, respectively. It grew into one of the largest thread complexes in the world. The most famous structure was Mill No.4 which was the first electrically lit factory building in the world and thus eliminating the dependency on sunlight. Thomas Edison’s designs were utilized in the construction.
In 1925, the workers at the American Thread Company went on strike because their wages had been cut. The company went to northern New England and Canada to hire French Canadians to take the place of striking workers. Many immigrants came to Willimantic to work in the mills. Before the French Canadians came the Irish and later the Italian, Polish, German, Estonian, Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Puerto Rican immigrants. In June of 1985, the American Thread Company relocated to North Carolina. Today the remaining buildings are being refurbished for office space, light industry and apartments.