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European Themeroute | Textiles

The thousands of rattling bobbins on the spinning frames in cotton factories have become a byword for industrialisation. British cotton mills were indeed the forerunners of, and models for the industrial revolution. That said, the first textile factory was a silk twining mill. The five-storey building ... more

Icon: TextilesFrom raw materials to the factory. European Theme Route Textiles

The thousands of rattling bobbins on the spinning frames in cotton factories have become a byword for industrialisation. British cotton mills were indeed the forerunners of, and models for the industrial revolution. That said, the first textile factory was a silk twining mill. The five-storey building was constructed in Derby as early as 1720, and contained more than 26.000 water-driven spindles. Since the Middle Ages Italy had been the centre of silk processing, and the machines came from there. The problem was that they were incapable of spinning, and simply twisted thin silk thread to strong yarn. 

One of the forerunners of mechanisation was John Kay’s flying shuttle which he invented in 1733. This speeded up weaving considerably for the weavers no longer had to push the shuttles through the warp threads over the spinning frame by hand. Nevertheless Kay’s invention remained an isolated step forward on the long road to power looms. The mechanisation of the textile industry began with spinning. 

The striking lack of yarn in the wool industry, one of the most important sectors of the British economy, led to attempts to mechanise the work of the spinsters. The women workers would take a bundle of extremely thin short fibres, the so-called shear wool, and pull out the fibres by hand, before stretching and twisting them. In the 1730s two inventors by the name of Lewis Paul and John Wyatt developed a machine with two sets of differential rollers which were able to draw out the slivers of wool and spin them into yarn with the help of spindles, similar to the process in a spinning wheel.

But it was not until 1769 that Richard Arkwright succeeded in constructing a workable spinning machine able to produce strong yarn suitable for the warp threads of the spinning frame. Since he intended his invention to be driven by water it was called a water frame. Arkwright opened his first spinning mill in Cromford, and soon he had built up an empire and become one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in the industrial era. 

An alternative solution was offered by the spinning jenny, invented by a weaver called James Hargreaves in 1764. In it, two boards with several spindles were used to imitate the hands of the spinning women. Experienced workers were necessary to operate the machines, but nonetheless productivity was much higher than by hand spinning. Since the threads produced by the spinning jenny lacked strength they were an ideal complement to those produced on the water frame, and the machine was used for decades by homeworkers. 

In 1779 Samuel Crompton invented a hybrid machine in Lancashire which combined the best features of both its predecessors. His spinning mule was not only capable of spinning warp and weft thread, it could also produce a much stronger finer yarn. Over the next ten years British wool-processing accelerated at an unbelievable rate and spinning mills shot up all over the place. Based on Arkwright's original factory, they were long redbrick buildings on several stories containing water driven machines with a capacity of up to 1000 spindles. 

Crompton’s "mule" was soon adapted to steam-driven power, but it was not until the 1820s that the decisive innovation was made. In that year an engineer by the name of Richard Roberts succeeded in developing the first fully automatic spinning machine. His "self-actor", as it was known, made expert weavers redundant. The spinners, who were now robbed of their basic existence, reacted with desperate and violent protests. 

The final major change was the ring spinning machine, which was much more reliable. It was developed in 1828 in the USA and slowly established itself in Great Britain, where spinning was already strongly mechanised. All the technical problems involved in changing over from hand-spinning to machinery had now been solved, and mechanisation – with the concomitant protests - now moved over to weaving. 

Edward Cartwright had already developed a mechanically-driven weaving loom in the 1780s. He took over all the basic elements of a hand weaving loom and adapted them so that they could be driven by a machine which could size the warps, push the shuttles through the weft threat and stretch the resulting cloth. But it was not until 1822 when (once again) Richard Roberts succeeded in perfecting the technical details and manufacturing the machines mainly from iron and steel, that mechanically-driven weaving looms began to establish themselves. Thousands of handloom weavers were thrown out of work and threatened with starvation, and the last specialist workers were replaced by cheaper, specially trained women. In protest, the desperate workers began to destroy the machines and attack anyone who tried to construct them; and at times the social conflicts resembled a bloody civil war. 

The complete production process was now mechanised, from the original ball of fibres to the completed cloth. Manufacturing was now increasingly concentrated in factories where the fibres were not only spun but also woven. The port of Liverpool with its major exchange, and the expanding industrial city of Manchester made the county of Lancashire the leading textile region in the world. Hundreds of thousands of workers abandoned the countryside for the cities, and the textile industry quickly became the leading sector in the British economy, with cotton processing at the top. In order to satisfy the insatiable demand, cotton plantations were cultivated in America. 

As early as the end of the 18th century British industrialisation began to move to other countries. In 1783 a German entrepreneur by the name of Johann Brügelmann built the first cotton spinning factory in Ratingen, and called it "Cromford" after the original in England. Other factories based on Arkwright's factory were built in France and Bohemia. 

Since mechanisation in weaving came much later than in spinning, other countries were able to keep pace with Great Britain. Competitive weaving industries arose primarily in the New England states of the USA, in France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. These also contributed to further technical improvements. For example, a French man by the name of Joseph Maria Jacquard made possible the automatic production of pattern weaving by punching designs into pattern cards joined together to form a continuous chain. The weavers operated the first industrialised jacquard machines by foot. 

The industrial revolution in cotton processing had no fundamental repercussions on other branches of industry. But centralised manufacture in factories radically transformed economic and social life. Tensions between capital and labour now replaced an agrarian landowning system. 

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Europe’s most celebrated soft toys, the teddy bears with buttons in their ears (‘Knopf im Ohr’) are manufactured in an architecturally revolutionary factory building in this small town 32 km north-east of Ulm. Margarete Steiff (1847-1909), a native of Giengen was partially-paralysed at the age of 18 ...
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Steiff factory
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Großschönau | Germany
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German Museum of Damask and Terry
Schenaustraße 3
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Guben, in the eastern part of Brandenburg, on the present-day frontier with Poland, has been involved with textile manufactures since the middle ages. In the nineteenth century it became one of Europe’s principal centres for making felt hats, using the fine quality wool available in the region and ...
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Municipal and industrial museum
Gasstraße 5
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The piercing pounding of the mighty scythe rings through the green valley of the Mäckinger stream – no wonder that the old blacksmiths suffered from deafness. Other locations are also full of activity. An agate grinder is cutting unprocessed agate, a clog maker is hollowing out a piece of willow ...
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LWL Open Air Museum of Handicrafts and Science
Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Handwerk und Technik
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Hohenstein-Ernstthal | Germany
The adjoining towns of Hohenstein and Ernstthal west of Chemnitz in Saxony were formally united in 1898. Both have been associated with the manufacture of textiles over several centuries. Mining prospered in the area in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The textile industry ...
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Textile and Racing Museum
Textil und Rennsportmuseum
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Leipzig | Germany
Founded in 1884 in recently drained marshland to the west of Leipzig, the Leipzig Cotton Spinning Mill developed within 25 years into the largest of its kind on the European mainland. Up to 4,000 women produced cotton on 260,000 spindles and 208 combing machines. Proud industrial architecture ...
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Leipzig Cotton Spinning Mill
Spinnereistraße 7
04179 Leipzig, Germany

Limbach-Oberfrohna | Germany
Limbach-Oberfrohna, a medium-sized town, 19 km. west of Chemnitz and 36 km. east of Zwickau, is one of the historic centres of the textile industry in Saxony, and is particularly important for its role in the development of hosiery technology. Johann Esche (1682-1752) built a silk stocking factory ...
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Esche-Museum
Sachsenstrasse 3
09212 Limbach-Oberfrohna, Germany

Lindenberg im Allgäu | Germany
Straw hats were being made in Lindenberg in the Allgau region of Bavaria in the seventeenth century, but large-scale production began in 1755 and the town’s hatmakers came to supply distant markets. The industry is no longer of economic significance, but its role in Lindenberg’s history is ...
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Lindenberg Hat Museum
Brennterwinkel 4
88161 Lindenberg im Allgäu, Germany

The museum of technology and labour in Mannheim opened in 1990 in a Modernist building designed by the Berlin architect Ingeborg Kuhler. Its objective is to illuminate the process of industrialisation during the last two centuries in Baden-Würtemberg, bringing together the history of technology with ...
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TECHNOSEUM. Museum of Technology and Labour
Museumstrasse 1
68165 Mannheim, Germany

Mechernich | Germany
Kommern is one of the open air museums, deriving from the pattern established at Skansen, which were established in the former Federal Republic of Germany in the decades after the Second World War. Its founding director was Adelhart Zippelius (1916-2014), a native of Karlsruhe, who studied ...
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Kommern Open Air Museum
Eickser Straße
53894 Mechernich, Germany

Mönchengladbach | Germany
Mönchengladbach was the principal textile-manufacturing centre in north-west Germany in the nineteenth century. Cotton spinning was established in the city in 1807 when English products could not be imported into Germany because of Napoleon’s Continental System. In 1863 Mönchengladbach’s textile ...
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TextilTechnikum
Schwalmstrasse 301
41238 Mönchengladbach, Germany

Monschau | Germany
The guests reverently climb the wonderfully carved wooden staircase sweeping upwards in a curve to the first floor of the house. In doing so they gaze on a picture of cloth production as it generally occurred in the 18th century: washing and drying the wool, spinning and weaving, milling, cropping ...
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Red House Monschau
Stiftung Scheibler-Museum
Laufenstraße 10
52156 Monschau, Germany

Niederwiesa/OT Braunsdorf | Germany
The textile mill at Niederwiesa, 12 km. east of Chemnitz in the Erzgebirge, dates from soon after 1800. It was owned from 1910 by Martin Tannenhauer, who established a textile business in Chemnitz in 1883. The mill became a technical museum from 1994 after production ceased with the rationalisation ...
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Braunsdorf Historic Weaving Mill
Historische Schauweberei Braunsdorf
Inselsteig 16
09577 Niederwiesa, Germany

Oederan | Germany
The museum of Oederan, a small village 20 km East of Chemnitz, presents the textile history of the Ore Mountains. Under the guidance of museum staff and on hand and power looms, visitors can learn various weaving techniques, spooling, as well as sectional and direct warping procedures. As the ...
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Museum Oederan 'The Weaving"
Markt 6
09569 Oederan, Germany

Oelsnitz/Vogtland | Germany
In 1880 Karl Wilhelm Koch and Fritz te Kock founded a carpet weaving factory named “Vollmond” in Oelsnitz in the Vogtland area of Saxony. Before World War I, the company had become the largest carpet manufacturer in Germany. It survived both world wars, its nationalization as “VEB Halbmond” and the ...
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Museum of Carpets in Voigtsberg Castle
Schlossstrasse 32
08606 Oelsnitz/Vogtland, Germany

Plauen | Germany
As early as 1810, commercial hand embroidery in Plauen was well-known, and in 1828 more than 2,000 people were employed in whitework embroidery. The industrialization of the craft proceeded just as quickly. The first hand embroidery machines in the Vogtland still came from the Alsace and ...
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Plauen Lace Museum
Altmarkt
Im alten Rathaus
08523 Plauen, Germany

The 300 or so weaving and spinning machines are now at work in China. But the cellars of the old spinning mill are still full of life. Here the waters of the River Wupper have been diverted through a mixed-flow water turbine which in turn drives a rotary current generator. The result is ...
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Johann Wülfing & Son Textile Mill Museum
Am Graben 4
42477 Radevormwald, Germany

There are many recipes for success. One of them is “no time to lose”. This could very well apply to the old Cromford spinning mill in Ratingen in the Bergisch Land, now one of the on-site museums belong to the Rhineland Industrial Museum. Johann Gottfried Brügelmann, an extremely wealthy merchant ...
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Cromford Textile Mill LVR Industrial Museum
Cromforder Allee 24
40878 Ratingen, Germany

Roth | Germany
The Huguenot Anthon Fournier migrated from Lyons to Nurnberg in 1569 and established a workshop making leonische waren (leonine wares) which are fine gold, silver and copper brocades used in embroidery, military uniforms, religious works of art, bridal crowns, jewellery, Christmas decorations, and ...
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Roth Factory Museum
Obermühle 4
91154 Roth, Germany

The Goldberger family established a textile business in Budapest in 1784, which was continued by four generations into the twentieth century. It was primarily concerned with printing fabrics, using indigo dyes. A collection of the company’s products and equipment was established in 1972, and in 1992 ...
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Goldberger Museum of Textiles and Clothing
Goldberger Textilipari Gyüjtemény
Lajos útca 136-38
1036 Budapest, Hungary