For many decades – from the 1790s through the 1860s – water was the source of power for running Connecticut’s textile mills. But in the 1870s, mill owners began to install steam engines to drive their machines. By the 1950s, they had shifted to electric motors. The Willimantic Linen Company was a pioneer in the development of electric power. In 1879, the Company installed electric arc lights in its massive, stone Number Two Mill. Then the following year, 1880, the Company hired Thomas Edison to come to Willimantic and install incandescent lightbulbs, invented only the previous year. Number Two Mill is likely the first factory to be lit with them.
The steel-and-wood machine in front of you is an industrial loom, used for weaving cloth. It was manufactured in England around 1890 by the Knightly Company in England, and it probably was powered by steam. Neither the Willimantic Linen Company nor the American Thread Company wove cloth – they only manufactured thread. But plenty of other Connecticut mills did produce cloth, including the huge Ponemah cotton mill in Taftville, the sprawling Cheney Brothers silk mill in Manchester, and other textile mills in Baltic, Plainfield, Danielson, Stafford Springs, Willimantic, and elsewhere. The Knightly loom is on loan from the University of Connecticut.
This audible exhibit is made possible through the generosity of Connecticut Humanities, the Willimantic Lions Club, the Rose and Leo Pageau Trust, and and CRIS Access of CRIS Radio.