The Silk Industry in America
ABOUT thirteen hundred and fifty years ago two Nestorian monks, armed with formidable-looking canes, were traveling from India to Byzantium. Sent to the East by the Patriarch of Persia, whither they had fled after the Nestorian persecution, they were not so zealous in the propagation of Christianity that they failed to perceive certain features in the arts and sciences in which the heathen were far superior to the Christians. They determined to learn as well as to teach. They were especially interested in finding the secret of a certain fabric of surprising lustre and beauty, familiar to Europe at that time as one of the most mysterious products of the East, and so highly valued that a pound of it was worth a pound of gold. Their efforts were successful. They hastened to Byzantium. They sought an audience with the Emperor Justinian, who was, no doubt, a little surprised when he learned that this beautiful and coveted product was originally the work of a worm. Up to this time, the middle of the sixth century, the common opinion in Europe was, that, like cotton, it was wholly a vegetable product. He was further informed that though the worms themselves could not be brought to Byzantium, it would be easy to bring their eggs, the worms from which, when hatched, and fed on mulberry leaves, would spin their silken fibre for his subjects, and render importation from the hated Persians unnecessary. Stimulated by the large rewards which the emperor offered, the monks went back to India. The exportation of eggs was forbidden under penalty of death. But the shrewd missionaries made two large and hollow canes, which they filled with the eggs, and by this ingenious device succeeded in conveying them in good condition to the emperor.
This is the earliest and commonly received tradition of the introduction of silk culture into Europe. Yet the looms of Asia had been working for many centuries before these enterprising monks plodded into Europe with those hollow and oviparous mockeries.
There are two principal branches of the silk industry, only one of which is practically represented in this country. There is first silk culture, which includes the culture of the mulberry-tree and the care of the worm until it has spun its cocoon, from which the silk is derived ; second, the manufacture of silk, which begins with the reeling of the thread from the cocoon, and ends with the woven fabric. That we may understand what is involved in these two branches of the industry, and the relation they sustain to its position and development in the United States, let us look for a moment at the biography of the worm, and the processes by which his kindly legacy is utilized.
Of the several species of the proper silk-worm, the Bombyx mori, from its more extensive use, must engage our attention. On the desk before us are several little squares of cotton cloth, each of them covered with several hundred little, round, slate-colored dots. We should not dare to keep them here very long, for each of them contains, as Professor Tyndall would say, “ the promise and potency ” of a worm, and a very little heat would suffice to hatch them. We remand them to the coolness of the cellar to await the opening mulberry leaves. When allowed to hatch, each of these tiny dots releases a black worm of exceeding minuteness, but endowed with great possibilities of growth. If properly fed, it will be, on the second day, twice as large as on the first. In four days it will stretch to a quarter of an inch. Like many people, who ultimately wear its product, the worm soon gets tired of its coat and asks a new one. It is only four days old when it finds itself too large for its skin. It ceases to eat, and lies in a very torpid and apparently dejected state for several hours. This is called its moulting sickness, and is repeated four times during its caterpillar life. After lubricating its body, and fastening the old skin with silken cords to the spot on which it rests, it passes out of its old coat without much trouble. It then recovers its appetite, and grows with rapidity until the second change, which occurs when it is about eight days old. The periods between the moultings are called ages, and vary in length from three to seven days. The fifth age lasts about ten days, at the end of which the worm has attained its full growth, and is about two and a half or three inches in length. After it has passed its last transformation in the caterpillar stage, its appetite becomes voracious, and it eats almost constantly. According to Bonafous, on the first day of the fourth age the worms produced from one ounce of eggs will consume upon an average twenty-three and a quarter pounds of mulberry leaves ; on the first day of the fifth age they will consume forty-two pounds, and on the sixth day of the same age they acquire their maximum voracity, and devour no less than two hundred and twenty-three pounds ! From this date their appetite continually decreases until, on the tenth day of this age, they consume only fiftysix pounds.
In the cocoon the worm changes into the chrysalis state and appears about the size and shape of a kidney bean. When the cocoons are completed, they are collected and carefully sorted. A certain number of the best are kept for breeding. In these the chrysalis is allowed to change into a moth and emerge from the cocoon, which it does at periods varying from fifteen to thirty days according to the climate. The moth is of a grayishwhite color. The male and female couple soon after coming from the cocoon, and the females deposit their eggs in from twenty-four to thirty-six hours. The moths eat nothing after coming from the cocoon, and die shortly after laying their eggs. The eggs, which are laid on bits of cotton cloth, are carefully preserved in a cold place until the next season, though in some varieties they are allowed to hatch soon for another crop.
Silk-worms may be fed on the leaves of several different kinds of trees; the castor-oil plant, the osage orange, even the oak, have been used by different experimenters. But for successful silk raising there is no worm like the Bombyx mori, and for the bombyx no tree like the mulberry. Of the several varieties of mulberry, the white (Morus alba) is preferred, though the M. multicaulis and the M. niger, or American mulberry, may be used for the purpose. For successful rearing it is necessary, we are told, to have the worms hatch about the time the leaves are fresh and tender. These should be cut very fine at first. There should be plenty of ventilation. No animal seems to like air better than the silk-worm. When they are sick and drooping the Chinese frequently revive them by fanning. Not more than one hundred should be put to a single foot on the shelves or tables on which they are fed. They should have plenty of light, but not the direct rays of the sun. They should not be exposed to long intervals of hunger, and should never be fed with wet leaves. If gathered when the dew is on them, the leaves should be carefully dried.
M. de Boissiere, who is heroically trying to introduce silk culture into Kansas, tells us that one acre of ground will answer for 160 trained mulberry trees, each of which, four years from planting, will average ten to twelve pounds of leaves, making 1600 to 1800 pounds to the acre, or enough to feed from thirty to forty thousand worms, which should produce from thirty to forty thousand cocoons. The price of a pound of cocoons he places at from eighty cents to a dollar, making the value range from eighty dollars to one hundred and forty dollars.
We now come to the second branch of the subject, the manufacture of silk. The worm has done his part of the process when he has spun the cocoon. He has wound his silk into a bobbin or ball. All that is necessary to prepare it for manufacture is to unwind it. The manufacture of silk thus differs widely from that of cotton, which must first be spun into a thread, before it can be woven. In silk the worm itself has generously acted as the spinner and turned the largest part of its body into a continuous thread. As the chrysalis, though dormant, is still living in the cocoon, and by merging will pierce the fibre and render it unfit for reeling, it is necessary to kill it. This is done by subjecting the cocoon to a gentle heat in a large oven. In warm climates the natural heat of the sun is sufficient. A number of the cocoons are then placed in a basin of hot water, which is kept warm by a fire beneath it, and stirred with a whisk broom until the gum is softened and the floss, or outer silk, is disengaged. The gum once loosened it is easy to catch up the cocoon threads, several of which are run through an eyelet or guide which converges them, whence they are wound on a reel. The reeling machine is a simple affair, a wheel on which the silk is wound and various devices for guiding the thread. The more rapid the motion, the more easily does the silk unwind. The chief difficulty is to keep the thread uniform. Fresh ends must be added from new cocoons so that, if possible, an equal number shall be represented in the thread at any given time. The cocoons are sometimes imperfect, of variable length, and the thread varies in size in the same cocoon. The silk inside, near the chrysalis, is generally of poor quality. The pierced cocoons and the dupions or double cocoons, formed by two worms entering into partnership, cannot be reeled at all. Then again, if the water is too hot it injures the silk ; if not hot enough, the silk will not unwind freely. Much adroitness is needed in catching up the fresh ends, and to produce an even thread requires no little patience and skill. In China and Italy much of the work is done by women. An experienced hand, with the assistance of a girl to turn the wheel and to keep the fire under the caldron, can reel with ease from a pound to a pound and a half of silk of the best quality in a day. All the raw silk which comes to this country from China, France, or Italy is already reeled, except the pierced or waste cocoons. Most of the best Chinese raw silk that we receive is re-reeled from the ball in Shanghai. Re-reeling was introduced there through American merchants, who found the Chinese hanks too large to be worked profitably. The price of reeled or raw silk, as it is called, is from four dollars to eleven dollars a pound. The best Italian and French silk is worth about two dollars more a pound than the Chinese, because of better reeling. The raw silk, owing to the natural gum with which the cocoon thread is covered, is quite hard, and the silky feeling is altogether wanting. There are about four ounces of gum to every pound of silk. The Chinese, however, have various ways of adulterating it so that the weight of the raw silk is largely increased. It is usual for the importer to boil out a pound of silk to ascertain the proportion of gum or foreign matter it contains. This adulteration of the raw material is one of the great difficulties the manufacturer has to contend with.
On reaching the silk mill it is first carefully sorted according to its fineness, which is determined by reeling off a certain number of yards and weighing them. It is then soaked in boiling water until the gum is softened. Care is taken not to wash it all out, as a certain proportion is a great assistance in winding. The silk is then dried in swiftly revolving cylinders and unwound from the hanks upon large bobbins. The Chinese silk, on account of its unevenness, is often passed between metal plates with sharp edges, which reduce the thread to a more uniform thickness. After being unwound and evened, the silk is passed through an eyelet and run upon a single bobbin. This bobbin is then placed in the spinning frame, where, in being wound off upon another bobbin, the thread receives a twist of so many turns to the inch. It is then what is called tram, and is used for the filling in weaving. For the warp, which is called organzine, two threads of the tram are doubled and spun upon another spool, the twist being given in the opposite direction to make the thread stronger. The twist for the filling is looser than that for the warp. The coarseness of the filling depends upon the variety of goods that are required. There are about eighteen threads of the cocoon in the finest numbers of sewing silk. After the silk is thus “ thrown,” as the process of winding and doubling is called, it is reeled into skeins and sent to the dyer, where the gum is boiled out and the silk is treated to a new color. Heavy silks are all dyed in the skein. The lighter milliner’s silks and pongees are frequently dyed in the piece, and are dried upon large heated rollers after coming from the final vat. On leaving the dye-house the stuff has lost every particle of its gum and has a soft, silky feeling. Then, when carefully rewound on bobbins, it is ready for sewing silk and for the various purposes of weaving into broad or narrow goods, or for the ingenious devices in trimming.
Among the remote and unfamiliar curiosities of Harvard College Library is a little book printed in London in 1655, with a very prolonged title, the essential part of which is “ The Reformed Virginian Silk-Worm; or, a Rare and New Discovery of a Speedy Way, and Easie Means, found out by a Young Lady in England . . . for the Feeding of SilkWorms in the Woods, on the MulberryTree-Leaves in Virginia.” This little book is a curious mixture of prose and poetry, commercial shrewdness, exuberant piety, and an ingenious, money-making philanthropy. The writer is intensely enthusiastic in his hopes for the establishment of silk culture in America, and is thoroughly confident that its introduction there “will not only be the means of enriching the colonies and the mother country, but will result in the civilization and conversion of the Indians.”
It is two hundred and twenty-three years since that book was written. The Indians have been pushed from Virginia beyond the Missouri, and our domain has been extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but silk culture in the United States is just as much in futurity as it was then, and the beautiful sample of reeled silk lying before us, from the single colony in our country (at Silkville, Kansas) which is now trying the experiment, is just as much a curiosity as the specimens sent from Virginia to Eng land two centuries and a half ago. This curious little book, with its extravagance of precept and prophecy, finds an antecedent in a more sober work on the same shelf, written thirty-three years before, which contains a letter on the subject by James I. to the Earl of Southampton, treasurer of the plantation in Virginia, and which really introduces us to the first attempt to establish silk culture in America. James I. had tried the experiment of raising the silk-worm in England, but after a series of costly failures abandoned the attempt. What could not be done there he was sure could be done in the genial climate of Virginia. This interest in silk was stimulated by his hatred of tobacco, against which he wrote his famous but unsuccessful Counterblast. He hoped by introducing the cultivation of silk to drive out tobacco. Coercion and reward were both tried. The letter above mentioned was written. Planters were commanded, under heavy penalty, to plant ten mulberry-trees to every one hundred acres. Parliament and the Colonial Assembly offered liberal premiums for raw silk and cocoons. In 1660 the culture had so far advanced that the coronation robe of Charles II. was made of raw silk raised in the colonies. But tobacco was profitable and silk was not. In the struggle for existence the weed conquered the worm. At the close of that century silk culture became almost extinct in Virginia.
It is interesting to note that in the next century one of the most important American colonies was founded under the desire to establish silk culture in this country. The enterprising Oglethorpe was the moving spirit. Even before the departure from England the seal of the new colony had on one side a representation of silk-worms, some beginning, some completing, their labors. Georgia was settled in 1732. Two years later, eight pounds of raw silk were sent to England, and in 1735 a small trunk full of the same material. This was presented to Queen Caroline, who appeared on his majesty’s birthday in a full robe of Georgia silk. Eater a filature or reeling establishment was opened at Savannah. From ten to fifteen thousand pounds of cocoons were annually delivered to this establishment. In 1766 the amount reached twenty thousand pounds. The annual export of reeled silk ranged from five hundred to one thousand pounds, and brought in the London market from two to three shillings more a pound than the silk from any other part of the world. After a few years the silk trade in Georgia began to decline, and in 1774 the filature at Savannah was abandoned. The cause of this decline was the uncertainty of the climate, the price of labor, and above all things the greater profitableness of the cotton crop.
The history of the failure of silk culture in Georgia is, in brief, its history in most of the other colonies. Early attempts were made in South Carolina and also in Louisiana, only to be ultimately abandoned. Favored by generous bounties, the experiment was tried in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in establishing a filature at Philadelphia in 1770. Incited by reports from the South, strong efforts were made to introduce the silkworm into New England. Foremost in this attempt were President Stiles, of Yale College, and Dr. Jared Eliot, of Boston, the author of a practical book of Essays upon Field Husbandry in New England, printed in 1760. In this book Dr. Eliot strongly urges the planting of the mulberry-tree, and argues that besides feeding silk-worms, they afford a good supply of fire-wood, and furnish valuable timber; are well worth planting for shade and ornament; that the fruit is good for swine and poultry ; and finally, as if to clinch his argument, he adds a consideration worthy of a true Bostonian, namely, “Such groves are proper places for retirement, study, and meditation. . . . This will have weight with those who love contemplation, those who are wise and good.” He anticipates Thoreau in the next sentence by saying that “ he that is not company for himself when alone will be none of the most pleasant or edifying company for others. Narrow minds who have no fund for their own entertainment will afford but bare entertainment for others.” “ The Garden of Eden,” he reminds us, “was not furnished with palaces, but with a great variety of trees.” And was it not Abraham who “ planted a grove in Beer-sheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God ” ? Dr. Stiles reduced his preaching to practice, and in 1788 appeared at college commencement with a robe made entirely of Connecticut silk. Silk culture was established at Mansfield, Connecticut, in 1760, and was kept up for more than eighty years.
To most of the children of the present generation in Massachusetts a silk cocoonery would be a novel sight; but there are many older persons who remember the time when numerous farmers and several enterprising clergymen throughout the State had a few silkworms in their houses or barns, whose care was sometimes intrusted to the women and children of the family. For although at the beginning of this century the silk culture in this country had almost died out, yet strong efforts were made to revive it. Indeed, for two hundred and fifty years this branch of industry has been seeking a foothold in America through a series of periodical and enthusiastic revivals, each of which has been followed by a re-active failure. Such a revival took place some fifty years ago. It extended over all the Eastern and Middle States. Congress even was affected by it, and appointed a committee to report on the culture of the mulberry with reference to the silkworm. Massachusetts took fire. Its legislature in 1831 appropriated $600 for the publication and distribution of a manual on silk, which was prepared by Jonathan H. Cobb, of Dedham, who was one of the most earnest silk culturists in the State. We are reminded of the enthusiasm of the author of the Virginian Silk-Worm when we read in the report of the legislative committee that they were “ satisfied beyond a doubt that we have power to produce and manufacture silk in this commonwealth to an immense extent, and that no difficulty is to be encountered either from soil or climate.” The argument for the cultivation of silk was enforced by the alarming fact that about this time, 1825, the export of breadstuffs was only about one half the value of the silk imported.
Silk culture soon took the form of a feverish speculation, and grew into a surprisingly large bubble. This inflation was brought about through the purported discovery that the Morus multicaulis, or many-branched mulberry, was the best of all trees for silk-worms. An intense rage for this tree sprang up. The most extravagant prices were demanded. Dr. Brockett tells us, in his Centennial History of the Silk Trade, that young trees or cuttings came to be worth twenty-five, fifty, one hundred, two hundred, and even five hundred dollars a hundred. Immense numbers were imported from France. But suddenly, in 1839, the bubble burst. Not a few nursery-men were utterly ruined, and the next spring “ multicaulis trees were offered in vain to the neighboring farmers, at a dollar a hundred, for pea brush.” This branch of the industry has never recovered from that disaster, and to-day there is less silk raised in all the United States than there was in Georgia one hundred and twenty years ago.
The result of many experiments in silk culture in this country has been to prove that as fine a quality of silk can be raised in the United States as in any part of the world. But it has also as positively proven that the silk cannot be raised here and reeled as cheaply as the raw silk can be imported from China and Japan. It may be done in “ Ultimate America,” but with the present relations of labor and capital it cannot easily be done now. Silk raising must preferably be confined to countries where there is a dense population. In the feeding season it requires an immense amount of labor, which comes all at once. To give wages for feeding silk-worms, anything like the wages that are given for work in our mills, would not pay any more than it would to set men to feeding chickens. Wherever the experiment of raising silk-worms on a large scale has been tried, it has failed. They are too liable to get diseased. They do better in isolated communities or families. The only way in which silk raising can be carried on without loss in this country is for each farmer, where the climate will permit, to raise a moderate quantity of cocoons yearly, sending them to large filatures, where they may be successfully reeled. Years ago, reeling was done in the family where the silk was raised. It is now, fortunately, a separate branch of the business. Even in China and Japan this has come to be the case, the large filatures, with improved machinery, doing the work better than it could be done at home.
There is no country that has a finer climate for silk raising than California. The experiment has been tried there. An excellent quality of cocoons and eggs has been raised, but instead of rearing them for the silk, the few Californians who engaged in the business found it more profitable to ship the eggs to France, to repair the ravages made by the silk-worm disease. The only wellorganized attempt in silk culture in this country now was started by M. de Boissiere, a French gentleman residing in Franklin County, Kansas. He has established a small mill, and, assisted by M. Crozier, who has written a treatise on the raising of silk-worms, is working vigorously among the farmers of Kansas, These gentlemen are fully aware of the difficulties in their way, but they are full of hope and enthusiasm, The history of silk culture in America is a history of failure; but when we turn to the manufacture of silk from the reeled article, we have the history of a surprising success. Failures in silk growing left open but one other course, — the importation of raw silk from the great silk-growing countries and its manufacture into fabrics upon American looms. A few facts will show the result of this policy, protected as it has been by a sufficient tariff.
Rodney and Horatio Hanks are credited with erecting in 1810, at Mansfield, Conn., the first silk mill on this continent. Mr. William H. Horstmann, of Cassel, Germany, established the second at Philadelphia in 1815, and is said to have been the pioneer manufacturer in the use of the Jacquard loom, which he introduced about 1824. The first silk mill in Paterson, N. J. (which has now become the Lyons of America), was established in 1840 by Christopher Colt, Jr., of Hartford. The surprising growth of the industry in this city is seen from records compiled by Franklin Allen, secretary of the Silk Association of America. Starting with one mill in 1840, in thirty-eight years the number of firms and corporations has grown to thirty-two, with five dyeing establishments, employing altogether 8000 persons (two thirds of whom are females), whose wages amount to from $2,000,000 to $2,600,000 yearly. There are 74,000 throwing spindles and 23,000 braiding spindles; 730 power looms and 563 hand looms ; 550,000 pounds of silk are dyed in a year. The amount of capital invested in mills, machinery, and manufacture amounts to nearly $6,000,000. The classes of goods made at Paterson embrace tram, organzine, fringes, sewingsilks, machine and twist, ribbons, dress, and fancy silks, handkerchiefs, veils, and dress trimmings, braids and bindings, and upholstery trimmings. The manufacture of silk lace is carried on extensively and with great success by Mr. A. G. Jennings, of Brooklyn, so that nearly every variety of silk manufacture is represented in the United States. The quality of the work will compare with, and in some departments is superior to, that of any other country in the world. There are few of our countrymen who realize how much the silk industry owes to the improvements we have made in silk machinery. The judges of the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia pronounced our machinery to be in advance of that of all other countries. The display of American goods at Philadelphia not only surprised foreign experts, but completely surprised many Americans themselves.
Twenty years ago our supply of dress silks, ribbons, silk laces, shawls, etc., came mainly from England and France. To-day, beyond a few fancy and mixed goods we buy no silks from Great Britain. The failure of the silk manufacture in Great Britain was due to the abrogation of the duties on manufactured silk. A similar repeal of the duties here no doubt would result in a similar disaster. The duty on manufactured silk is about sixty per cent., about the same as the duty on sugar; yet as a result of home competition silk goods were never lower in our market than they are today, and the conclusive proof that this tariff is not prohibitory is seen in the fact that in the lists of the value of imported articles silk stands third, being second only to sugar and wool.
Including some twenty-five importers and dealers in raw silk, there are about two hundred and seventy-nine firms engaged in silk manufacture in America, of which the greater number are in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. There are 18,000 operatives who receive annually over $6,000,000 ; the amount Of capital invested is about $18,000,000, and the total value of product $27,000,000. In June, 1872, the silk manufacturers of this country formed an association known as The Silk Association of America, which has its head-quarters in New York, and whose object is to further the interests of the trade in the United States.
There is one branch of the silk industry in which it may confidently be said that America leads the world; and that is in the manufacture of what is called spun or waste silks. The perfection which has been reached in this branch is due to the ingenuity, patience, and perseverance of the Cheney Brothers, of South Manchester, Conn., who own the largest silk mill on the continent, and whose products are known all over this country, and are now being imitated in Europe. The history of the Cheney family, if it were the province of this article to give it, would be a little biographical sermon on the text, “ How pleasant” (and we might add how profitable) “ it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” There were eight brothers in this family, but not one too many. They all became early interested in silk culture and started a mill at South Manchester, in 1838, two years before the first mill at Paterson. Besides making various attempts to colonize the silkworm in Connecticut, Ohio, New Jersey, and Georgia, they published a monthly journal,— The American Silk-Grower and Farmer’s Manual. But their silkgrowing experiments failed. They gradually returned to South Manchester and started the manufacture of sewing silk from imported raw silk. At that time this country was supplied almost entirely from Italy. The Cheneys made a close study of the Italian method. After experimenting for some time, Mr. Frank Cheney succeeded in twisting silk on the same plan that the Italians did ; but what they did by hand the Cheneys did by machinery. This was the beginning of their success. Their business grew rapidly, and they grew with their business. New buildings began to dot the fields at South Manchester, and the number of operatives steadily increased until the old farm was converted into a beautiful manufacturing village.
In 1854 they took up the manufacture of waste or spun silk, which has now become their specialty. But what is waste silk ? Many people have an idea that it is simply shoddy,— the product of old dresses or remnants. This is not the case. To explain it, let us go back again to the cocoon of the silk-worm. We have seen that a certain number of cocoons must be reserved for breeding. In these the moth is suffered to make his way out, which renders them unfit for reeling. In Japan the number of pierced cocoons is very large, owing to the great demand for silk-worm eggs in Europe. Something like three million eggs go through this country from Japan en route to Europe every year. There are also the dupions or double cocoons, which cannot be easily wound off, and there is the floss and thafrison, or waste, which comes from reeling. Under ordinary manufacture from raw silk all these cocoons, amounting to a vast number, would go to waste. The Japanese made from them a sort of wadding with which they lined their dresses, much as we use cotton batting. For a long time no use was made of them by silk manufacturers; but under the efforts of science to utilize waste products, this outcast silk has succumbed to a regenerating process which the Cheneys have brought to great perfection. These waste cocoons are imported from China, Japan, and Italy. They are carefully sorted by women, who pick out the sticks and stones with which the Celestials sometimes find it convenient to pack them. The next step is to extract the gum, which is done by placing them in a large vat with a certain preparation of alkali, varying with the kind of cocoons. They are then washed and dried, and the treatment which follows is an endeavor to draw out the fibre as much as possible, as in flax or long wool. The fibre is so fine that the work must be done very delicately. The dry cocoons are placed in the cocoon opener, a large cylinder with combs attached, which draws out the fibre so that it resembles a long, thin sheet of cotton batting. These sheets, or laps, go to the filling engine, also composed of large cylinders and armed with teeth, where they receive another combing, and still again into a dressing machine, by which time the silk is thoroughly cleansed and is much in the condition of combed wool. The clean, flossy silk from the dressing machine is then fed into the drawing machine and passed through a series of gills or teeth, from which it issues in the form of a beautiful cascade or stream of flowing silk. The sheet has by this time been drawn out to the size of a small rope. It is drawn out still further on the roving machine and wound on a bobbin. As the fibre is very sensitive to electric influences steam is allowed to escape into the room from pipes provided for the purpose, to counteract this effect. Coming from the roving machine the silk goes to the spinning frames, where it passes through the same process as the raw silk.
It will be seen that while the unpierced cocoons are simply unwound, and reeled into hanks, a lengthy process with very costly machinery is required to convert the waste cocoons into a continuous thread of the same size. Spun silk is superseding reeled silk for many purposes. About one half the product of spun silk goes into ribbons, and the balance of it into gros-grains, handkerchiefs, pongees, and silk for millinery purposes. It is largely used for filling in the weaving of broad goods, reeled silk being used for the warp. The broad silks made by the Cheney Brothers lack some of the lustre of the reeled silk article, but are remarkable for their durability and cheapness. Foreign manufacturers admit that a much better ribbon is made by the Cheneys than they can make from the same stuff, and the best proof of this admission is seen in the sincere flattery with which they imitate the labels and the goods of this firm, compelling the Cheneys to issue a circular warning the trade against foreign counterfeits.
There is another important particular in which the spun silk goods and most American reeled silks are superior to foreign ones. American goods are generally pure. Foreign silks are now so largely weighted with extraneous matter that their quality is sometimes utterly ruined. This adulteration is effected in the dyeing process. When you put a pound of reeled silk into the dye vats, it loses in washing about four ounces. It is considered by most manufacturers allowable to get back in the dye what is lost in the gum. A perfectly pure black silk, it is said, would have a lifeless, kid-glove feeling, and would be totally devoid of the rustle which so effectively heralds the wearer. But foreign manufacturers are not content with recovering the equivalent of the lost gum. Their goods are sometimes so heavily weighted that a pound of silk is made to weigh three, four, and even live pounds. For fringes, of course, which are made to be looked at, this weight is not so objectionable, though bad enough, but when dress goods are loaded in this way the practice is utterly fraudulent. The durability of the fibre and its cohesiveness are almost entirely destroyed. This practice is not confined to firms of no repute. Adulterations have been detected in the goods of some of the most prominent French firms. Mr. W. H. Seaman, of New York, has invented a process, which is being adopted by many importers, for washing out the dye in silk, and thus ascertaining the extent of adulteration. The writer of this article was lately shown some specimens which had been subjected to this process. The difference between the pure and the impure silk was evident. The former retained its close and perfect texture. The dye was merely a coloring. In the adulterated goods, when the dye was removed, the silk resembled mosquito netting. It is hoped that the discovery of this process may assist in checking this dishonest practice.
One of the pleasantest and most noteworthy features in connection with the work of the Cheney Brothers is not merely the improvements they have made in silk machinery, but their practical solution of the question of the pleasant and equitable relation between capital and labor. They have established, and been able to manage with surprising success, an ideal manufacturing village. The reputation they have gained among philanthropists and economists is hardly second to the reputation of their silks. Many persons visit South Manchester yearly, not to see the silk looms, but simply to see their charming village and learn the secret of their success. To the Cheneys there is no secret about it. They started their mills and have conducted them for business purposes, not merely for social experiments. But they began and have continued in the right way. They have treated their employes not as slaves, but as men and women. Instead of living in the city away from their mills, as most stockholders do, and thus having no personal interest in the welfare of the village, they have built their own houses upon beautiful sites near their mills. They have built a large number of cottages on the place, which they let to married employes at a low rent. They have established boarding-houses for the unmarried, and school-houses for the children. A large hall, erected and furnished at a cost of nearly $60,000, which is supplied with a good organ, scenery, and dramatic appliances, is one of the best monuments of their generosity. A free library and reading-room furnishes their employes with the latest newspapers and magazines and the best current literature. Unsectarian religious services and a Sunday-school are provided every Sunday in the hall, the Cheneys paying the expenses of preaching. There is also a Methodist and an Orthodox Congregational church in the place, which many of the operatives attend. An excellent orchestra, numbering eight or ten pieces, organized from among the employes, meets for practice every Sunday afternoon in the large hall, and, accompanied on the piano by the accomplished daughter of one of the employers, renders some of the most difficult classical music. Concerts and dramatic entertainments take place occasionally, which furnish cheap and excellent sources of amusement. The cottages are each supplied with water, gas, and a pleasant garden plot. The mills are well lighted and ventilated. The grounds are laid out with great taste ; there is no fence on the whole place. In fact, everything is done to make it pleasant and convenient for the employes. South Manchester seems rather like a great factory family than a factory town. When one compares this kind of factory life with that which exists in England or in large cities in this country, this little Connecticut village seems a terrestrial paradise. It is hardly necessary to say that the Cheneys have never suffered from strikes. We cannot help thinking that the good will to men, which they have shown in all their relations to their operatives, some way finds its way through honest hearts and deft fingers into the warp and woof of their excellent silks.
S. J. Barrows.