The First Manufacturing Companies in the United States
The manufacturing industry has a long and storied history in the United States, beginning at the turn of the 19th century and continuing through the modern era. Though the modern manufacturing industry barely resembles the manufacturing companies of old, there’s still plenty of knowledge to be gained by learning more about the companies that started it all.
When Was the Start of the Industrial Revolution?
The first Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the mid-1600s, powered by the country’s abundance of coal and iron ore. Industrialization transformed the textile industry in Great Britain and led to the invention of the steam engine in 1698. As the country shifted towards factories and mass production, they also saw improvement in transportation, communication systems and other areas of life. Following the first Industrial Revolution, Great Britain quickly became a global superpower.
The second Industrial Revolution arrived in the New World around the early-1800s. Although American industrialization occurred much later than industrialization in Great Britain, it had the same effect of positioning the United States to become the international powerhouse it is today.
As trailblazers headed west to explore new lands, those who remained in the east planted the seeds of the American Industrial Revolution. In 1790, Samuel Slater opened a textile mill in Rhode Island that used powered machinery to spin cotton into yarn. This event marked the start of the Industrial Revolution in America and led to the establishment of the factory system.
Who Built the First Factory in the U.S.?
Samuel Slater, sometimes called the “father of the American factory system,” built the first factory in America in the late 1800s and kick-started the cotton and textile industry.
Slater was born in England in 1768 and served as an apprentice in a cotton mill in his early years. When Slater immigrated to America at age 21, he brought with him an intimate knowledge of cotton manufacturing and a dream of building the textile industry in the New World.
Slater used his expertise to build cotton spinning machinery modeled after those he had worked with in England. His system was successful, and he established America’s first cotton mill in Pawtucket, R.I. Slater built several mills in New England, and other businessmen followed his lead, establishing their own mechanized cotton factories. These early industrial mills are considered the first factory system in the United States.
First Factories in the U.S.
Early American factories sprouted up throughout the east during the American Industrial Revolution. These first factories paved the way for modern manufacturing processes and produced many inventions and innovations that factories still depend on today.
1. Slater Mill: The First Factory
Before the birth of modern manufacturing, goods were created by hand by village craftspeople or homesteaders. At the end of the 18th century, however, modern machine inventions began to be introduced, making it easier to produce higher quantities of product in less time. Thus began the Industrial Revolution.
With the industrial revolution, industry began to forge ahead. The first factory was built in 1790, starting with Samuel Slater’s Rhode Island cotton-spinning factory, Slater Mill. This triggered the boom of the textile manufacturing industry, which quickly became the dominant industry at the onset of the American Industrial Revolution.
Guns and ironworks quickly followed, and the 19th century proceeded to lay the groundwork for the first true manufacturing companies of the United States.
2. DuPont: The Chemical Giant
Founded in 1802 in Delaware by E.I. du Pont, DuPont began as an explosives manufacturer, producing gunpowder in mills along the Brandywine River. Before E.I. du Pont came to America in 1800, he worked for the French government’s gunpowder agency and learned how to produce superior black powder. The DuPont mills produced the highest quality gunpowder in the country and quickly became the leading supplier of black powder to the American government by the start of the War of 1812.
DuPont produced black powder exclusively until 1880, but quickly expanded its horizons through the 20th century. The company began developing different types of explosives and entered the synthetic textile fibers industry in the 1910s. In 1938, DuPont introduced the first true synthetic fiber, Nylon, that was made entirely from chemicals.
In the meantime, DuPont factories had spread across the continent and were producing a wide range of chemical products, including plastics, dyes, paints, coatings and more. Since its inception, the company has grown into a chemical manufacturing giant, holding trademarks on everything from dyes to Teflon and Kevlar.
3. Boston Manufacturing Company: The First Manufacturing Corporation
The Boston Manufacturing Company was the first integrated textile factory, established in 1814 by Frances Cabot Lowell, Nathan Appleton and Patrick Johnson. Although corporations were already common in other industries like banking and building, this company was the first to use the corporate model in manufacturing, which quickly became the norm by the mid-19th century.
The Boston Manufacturing Company began when Lowell visited textile mills in England in 1810. Lowell was amazed by the power looms they used to automate weaving and studied them closely, making sketches and taking notes. When he returned to Massachusetts, Lowell set forth to build a textile factory that could produce large volumes of fabrics at a low cost using power looms.
Lowell formed the Boston Manufacturing Company with other wealthy businessmen to fund his endeavor and completed construction of his water-powered integrated textile mill in just two years. The Boston Manufacturing Company was the first factory where bales of raw cotton could be spun and woven into finished cloth in the same location.
The efficient cotton manufacturing process championed by the Boston Manufacturing Company helped to establish a successful textile industry in America.
4. Atkins & Pearce: Two Centuries of Textile Manufacturing
Established in 1817, this Kentucky-based textile manufacturing company started soon after the Boston Manufacturing Company, using much the same model. What makes Atkins & Pearce unique, however, is that they are still around today. The company has lasted for over two centuries now, producing materials for efforts during the Civil War and both World Wars.
Atkins & Pearce was built by two brothers, John and Henry Pearce, who came to America from England at the end of the 18th century. They arrived in the South and first made a living by painting portraits at plantations. They quickly recognized that cotton was a dominant industry in America and set out to improve the cotton gin. The modified cotton gin the Pearce brothers built could not only separate cotton from seeds but could also spin the cotton into thread.
John and Henry Pearce began manufacturing cotton machinery to sell to cotton processors and plantations. They later moved their operations to Cincinnati, Ohio, and began spinning cotton in addition to producing machines. In 1820, their factory in Cincinnati became the first cotton mill located west of the Allegheny Mountains.
At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Atkins & Pearce focused entirely on manufacturing cotton, and by 1875, their factory operated over 10,000 spindles. The company moved to Covington, Ky., where they have remained ever since. Atkins & Pearce now manufactures a variety of braided technical textiles from candle wicks and yarns to insulated sleeving and lacing cords.
5. Ford Motor Company: The Founder of Modern Manufacturing
Though hardly the first manufacturing company, Ford Motor Company was possibly the most influential in the birth of the modern manufacturing industry.
Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, invented his first vehicle in 1896. It was built with bicycle tires and used a tiller for steering. Ford continued to develop his automobile design until he beat a top racecar driver of his time with a 26-horsepower vehicle in a ten-mile race in 1901. By 1903, the Ford Motor Company was born, backed by twelve wealthy investors.
The Ford Motor Company quickly grew, building a Canadian factory in 1904, just across the river from their original Detroit factory. The automobiles the company produced were so popular that they needed to develop a better system for mass production.
In 1908, Ford and his partner Charles Sorensen created the first assembly line, arranging machines, tools and people into an efficient line to get his Model T automobile built as efficiently as possible. The result was over 15 million Model T cars produced and the birth of modern manufacturing processes. The moving assembly line Ford created enabled cost-effective mass production and helped the company produce reasonably priced vehicles for the average person.
The Ford Motor Company continued to expand in the 20th century, opening factories overseas and developing new vehicles for consumers and for the military. Since then, the Ford Motor Company has produced some of the most popular trucks and cars on the road and has thriving markets around the globe.
6. Baker’s Chocolate: The Oldest Chocolate Producer in America
Baker’s Chocolate is one of the country’s largest national chocolate brands. Established in 1765 by John Hannon and Dr. James Baker, Baker’s Chocolate began selling drinking chocolate but has since expanded to provide a variety of sweetened and unsweetened chocolate products intended for baking.
Baker’s Chocolate, first named Hannon’s Best Chocolate, began when Hannon, who was a skilled chocolatier from Ireland, met Dr. Baker in Dorchester, Mass. Baker helped Hannon establish a business by importing cocoa beans from the West Indies and selling chocolate to local residents.Hannon and Baker ran the company together until 1779 when Hannon left on a sailing trip to buy cocoa beans and never returned. Hannon’s wife sold the company to Baker in 1780, and it was renamed Baker Chocolate Company.
The Baker Chocolate Company forged ahead, producing chocolate cakes in three quality tiers that were used for making chocolate drinks. When the company was passed on to Dr. Baker’s son Edmund Baker, he built a factory mill in 1804 that allowed the company to reach new markets outside of the Northeast.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the company expanded its product line to include baking chocolates and production continued to increase. In 1896, the Ford Syndicate purchased the Baker Chocolate Company following the death of its owner at the time, Henry Pierce. The company has changed hands several times since and was most recently purchased by Mondelez International in 2012. The Baker’s Chocolate brand now sells chocolate bars, chips, flakes and more.
7. King Arthur Flour: The First Flour Company
Originally named Henry Wood & Company, King Arthur Flour began when Henry Wood started selling flour from England in Boston in 1790. His imported flour helped supply the budding nation with food, and his company continued to grow through the century.
Westward expansion and the thriving agriculture industry in the early 1800s made it possible for Wood to begin producing flour milled from wheat grown in the United States. The company ceased importing wheat from England and sold only American-milled flour by 1825.
In 1896, the company was given its modern name when then owners Orin Sands, Mark Taylor and George Wood unveiled a new version of their flour at the Boston Food Fair. The company was named King Arthur Flour to reflect its Arthurian qualities, like purity, strength, honesty and purpose.
King Arthur Flour expanded their product line to include other baking products and ingredients in the 1900s and became the largest bakery supply distributor in New England in by 1968. After almost two centuries located in Boston, King Arthur Flour moved their headquarters to Vermont in 1984.
The King Arthur Flour company continues to grow today, engaging in outreach and education programs and serving home and professional bakers across the country. Their product selection now includes a wide variety of all-purpose and specialty flours, as well as cookware, ingredients, kitchen appliances, cookbooks and more.
8. Dixon Ticonderoga: The Inventor of the Pencil
The history of the Dixon Ticonderoga company dates all the way back to 1795, but it did not earn its modern name until after a merger in 1983. The company that is now famous for producing the iconic yellow and green No. 2 pencil was created by a merger between the graphite companyJoseph Dixon Crucible Company and the transportation and real estate company Bryn Mawr Corporation.
While the Bryn Mawr Corporation was established in 1795, Dixon Ticonderoga got its true beginning in 1827 when the inventor Joseph Dixon started his graphite manufacturing business in Salem, Mass. Dixon is credited for founding the graphite industry in America, and his company produced stove polish, lubricants, paints and other graphite products.
In 1829, Dixon invented the first pencil made from graphite and wood in the United States. By 1870, the company was the largest graphite manufacturer in the world, and by 1872, Joseph Dixon Crucible Company manufactured about 86,000 pencils every day. When Joseph Dixon Crucible Company merged with Bryn Mawr Corporation, it was renamed Dixon Ticonderoga after its founder and Ticonderoga, N.Y., where graphite ore was processed to produce their pencils.
In the history of the Dixon Ticonderoga company, it has experienced multiple mergers and has brought together manufacturing pioneers and industry leaders. Joseph Dixon and his partner Orestes Cleveland built the first mechanized pencil manufacturing factory, and William Hooper of the American Graphite Company built the first machinery in the United States for concentrating graphite ore. Dixon Ticonderoga now encompasses several brands and is one of the leading manufacturers of school, office and art supplies.
9. Colgate: The Personal Care Giant
Although most consumers are now familiar with the popular toothpaste brand Colgate, the Colgate company first began as a manufacturer of candles, soaps and starch. Founded by William Colgate in New York City in 1806, Colgate first sold scented soaps, candles and perfumes through its first several decades, until it first produced toothpaste in 1873. Colgate’s toothpaste was originally sold in glass jars until the familiar collapsible toothpaste tube was introduced in 1896.
The Colgate company experienced continued success, winning top honors at the World’s Fair in Paris for its soaps and perfumes in 1900 and boasting an extensive inventory of over 800 products by 1906. During the early 20th century, Colgate established new factories in countries around the globe.
In 1928, Colgate merged with the successful soap company Palmolive-Peet and expanded its product line further with dishwashing liquid, cleaning products, toothbrushes and more. Since then, the Colgate company has acquired several other businesses and now sells products for oral care, home care, personal care and pet nutrition.
The roots of the Pfaltzgraff company stretch back to 1811 in York, Pa., when George Falsgraff immigrated from Germany and began working as a potter. Just over two decades later, his relative Johann George Pfaltzgraff came to America at Falsgraff’s recommendation. Pfaltzgraff was another skilled potter. When he arrived, he built a kiln and potter’s wheel on his 21-acre homestead and taught the trade to his five sons.
Pfaltzgraff produced pottery to serve the needs of the local community and farmers in York County, such as jugs, plates, pitchers and storage containers. The company originally manufactured all of their pottery from local red clay, but later imported higher quality clay from surrounding regions.
After Johann Pfaltzgraff died in 1873, his children continued his business, and his sons Henry and George Pfaltzgraff founded the first official Pfaltzgraff company under the name The Pfaltzgraff Stoneware Co. in 1894. This quickly led to the construction of the first Pfaltzgraff factory which the brothers built just outside of York near a railway line. This allowed the Pfaltzgraff brothers to reach customers in a wider region and further grow their business.
Since then, the Pfaltzgraff company has become a well-known and successful supplier of pottery and dinnerware. Pfaltzgraff products are now available around the globe through their online market.
Repair Services for the Manufacturing Industry
Each of these incredible companies made a huge impact on the history of U.S. manufacturing, and some have lasted through the centuries through perseverance, growth and consistent maintenance. With the right repair service on your side, your business can last too. Choose Global Electronic Services for your repair and maintenance services. At Global Electronic Services, we proudly offer maintenance and repair on all kinds of servo motors, AC and DC motors, industrial electronics, pneumatics and hydraulics. Be sure to subscribe to our blog or call us at 1-877-249-1701 to learn more about our services. You can also Like Us on Facebook or subscribe to our YouTube page! Thank you!