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MS020: Crompton and Knowles Loom Works Collection

Identifier: MS020

Scope and Contents

The order books, ledgers, catalogs, United States Patent books, photographs, and other ephemera pertain to two loom companies: Crompton Loom Works and L.J. Knowles and Bros. These two competing companies consolidated in 1897 - "their names were synonymous with the developments of the art of weaving in America, and by 1920 it was the largest corporation of its kind in the world (p. 69)." The Crompton & Knowles Loom Works company was one of the most prominent manufacturers in Worcester, Massachusetts during the mid to late 1800s. L.J. Knowles was a WPI Trustee from 1871 - 1884. Source Citation: Forty Immortals of Worcester & Its County. A Brief Account of Those Natives or Residents Who Have Accomplished Something for Their Community or for the Nation. Boston, MA: Walton Advertising & Print., 1920. 69. Print. This collection is 7.5 linear feet and contains 5 document boxes, 15 phase boxes, and 4 drop front boxes. A majority of the materials relates to any of the following industries or individuals from the 1820s - 1920s: Crompton Loom Works, Knowles Loom Works, Crompton & Knowles Loom Works, George Crompton, and Lucius James (L.J.) Knowles. Additionally, Series V contains a range of materials that are ancillary to the main collection and have dated material up to1951.


  • 1850-1970


Biographical / Historical

Worcester, Massachusetts was in its prime as a manufacturing mecca for inventors and manufacturers in the late 1800s. George Crompton and Lucius J. Knowles both settled in the city and started their own loom companies. Their companies were the leading manufacturer of looms in the world. Each company had a different theory of weaving. Crompton went by the "closed shed" method of weaving, whereas Knowles went by the "open shed" method of weaving, thus when their companies consolidated they covered both theories of weaving in the manufacturing of looms for the world market (p. 13). Source Citation: Gabbe, James I., and Mildred McClary. Tymeson. Introduction. The Wyman-Gordon Way. Worcester, MA: Wyman-Gordon, 1983. 13. Print. George Crompton: Crompton, George (Mar. 23, 1829 - Dec. 29, 1886), inventor and manufacturer, was the son of William Crompton [q.v.] and Sarah (Low) Crompton, and was born at Holcombe, Tottingham, Lancashire, England. In 1839 William Crompton took the family to Taunton, Mass., where, two years before, he had invented and patented a fancy loom which he now intended to introduce to the mill owners of New England. George grew up at Taunton and received an education there in private schools and in the mills and machine-shops which his father's business opened to him. Later, when the success of his father's loom was established, he was able to attend Millbury (Mass.) Academy. After the completion of his course he worked in the Colt pistol factory at Hartford and in mills belonging to his father, holding a variety of positions, clerical and mechanical, and obtaining a knowledge of the textile industry that very soon proved useful. In 1849 William Crompton was forced to retire because of ill health, and in 1851 the patents on his loom expired and automatically terminated the agreements for its manufacture. George Crompton succeeded in having the patents extended and, with M. A. Furbush, began the manufacture of the loom at Worcester, Mass. He immediately began to improve the loom, receiving his first patent, Nov. 14, 1854, for the substitution of a single cylinder chain for two or more different patterns. In 1859 Furbush retired and Crompton became sole owner of the business which was then known as the Crompton Loom Works. In 1861 the war caused a depression in the demand for looms, and Crompton for two years manufactured gun-making machinery for government and private arsenals. Returning to the manufacture of looms, he continued his improvements and found a steadily growing demand that forced him to enlarge his works. This plant in time became one of the largest and best-known of American machine-shops. The success of the business, and the two hundred patents on which his name appears, indicate the importance of George Crompton's work. He improved practically every part of the loom as well as its appearance, and invented many new textile fabrics. It is estimated that Crompton added sixty percent to the producing capacity of the loom and saved fifty percent of the labor formerly necessary for its operation. By making a simpler loom he greatly reduced the time and cost of repairs and many of his looms were capable of more varied work than those before them. Crompton's looms in world-wide competition at the Paris Exposition received the first award, and at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 the Commission pronounced them the best looms for fancy weaving. Crompton was a member of the board of aldermen and of the common council of Worcester and in 1871 was a candidate for mayor. He was one of the founders and the first policy-holder of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company, a founder and president of the Crompton Carpet Company, and a director in various other corporations. He was married on Jan. 9, 1853 to Mary Christina Pratt, who after his death became president of the Crompton Loom Works. Two of his sons also took out a large number of patents, Charles Crompton being one of the inventors of the fancy automatic loom and Randolph Crompton of the first practical shuttle-changing loom. Source Citation: "George Crompton." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. Lucius James (L.J.) Knowles: Knowles, Lucius James (July 2, 1819 - Feb. 25, 1884), inventor and manufacturer, a descendant of Richard Knowles, immigrant, who came to Cape Cod before 1653, was born at Hardwick, Mass., the son of Simeon, Jr., and Lucetta (Newton) Knowles. Simeon was a farmer and a carriage maker, maintaining for the latter work the small shop which furnished Lucius the opportunity to develop an interest in mechanical construction and invention. Lucius attended the public schools at Hardwick and then spent three years at the Academy at Leicester, Mass. At seventeen he went to Shrewsbury to work in the country store of John Newton, his mother's brother, who in 1838 took him into the business which became John C. Newton & Company. But Knowles's interest was not in storekeeping. He spent more time constructing models of machines than in attending customers, and in 1841 he withdrew from the partnership and went to Worcester, Mass., where he began a daguerreotype business, the first in that city. Here, too, he continued to dabble with mechanics and when he made an improvement in thread-spooling equipment he set up a small business for spooling thread which he bought from a mill in Worcester. He then spent two years experimenting with cotton spinning in the attempt to equal the quality of the English thread of that time. For lack of capital he abandoned this and in 1846 formed a partnership with Harrison H. Sibley to operate the Old Draper Mill at Spencer, Mass., for the manufacture of cotton warp. In 1849 they secured a small mill at Warren, Mass., on the Quinebaug River, transferred their cotton business there, and in 1853 extended their activities to include a woolen mill which they built below the first. Still Knowles continued his experiments with mechanical improvement, receiving two patents for improvements in looms in 1856 and one for an improved method of operating the valves of pumping engines (1859). In 1860 the partnership was dissolved and the business divided so that Knowles might devote more of his time to the invention and manufacture of machinery. In 1862 he erected a building near his cotton factory and began to manufacture a boiler-feed water regulator, and (1863) steam pumps and experimental looms. From this building grew the Knowles Steam Pump Company and the L. J. Knowles & Brother Loom Works. The pump company became one of the largest in the business and was in 1879 sold to the Blake Manufacturing Company of Boston. The loom firm was moved to Worcester in 1866 where it expanded very rapidly to a leading position in the trade, being in 1897 consolidated with the Crompton Works as the Crompton & Knowles Loom Works. Though Knowles's inventions were responsible for much of the success of the two companies, few are outstanding or fundamental. He developed the steam pump to an advanced stage of refinement but so did other companies at the same time. An instance of his work in this connection is his adoption of the steam-actuated valve, for designs of which he received patents, though the invention is credited to H. R. Worthington. Similarly in looms he invented improvements tending to make manufacture more rapid and more economical of power. In this connection the open-shed principle of operation is an outstanding invention. Knowles was also active in civic affairs. He represented Warren, New Braintree, and West Brookfield in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the third Worcester district in the Senate. In 1871 he became a trustee of the Worcester Free Institute of Technology (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) and in 1873 was a member of the common council of Worcester. He was married first to Eliza Ann Adams of Shrewsbury, who died in 1873, and then to Helen Cornelia (Strong) Hayward of Boston. He died suddenly in Washington, D. C.


7.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



A collection from the mid 1800s to the 1960s that pertains to the following loom companies and their owners: Crompton Loom Works, Knowles Loom Works, Crompton and Knowles Loom Works, George Crompton, L.J. Knowles.

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Repository Details

Part of the WPI Manuscript Collections Repository

100 Institute Rd
George C. Gordon Library
Worcester MA 01609 USA