Tag: New Jersey History

Silk Part 2: American Production & Japanese Products for the American Market

Silk Part 2: American Production & Japanese Products for the American Market

The second part of this two-part series on silk will focus on American production, particularly within New Jersey. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, you can read that Here. While New Jersey was not the only state to manufacture silk products during this time, a very large portion of the American silk industry was set in Paterson, NJ.

A silk cocoon and silk moths
Duran, Leo, 1883-, Raw Silk: A Practical Handbook for the Buyer, 1921, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned in the last post, silk production provided a unique opportunity for the Eastern and Western worlds to interchange with one another. While silk production had long been integral to societies in the East, long before the United States even became a country, the improvements of the industrial revolution soon catapulted the United States into the silk economy. The ancient Silk Road now evolved to conduct the export of raw silk across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to further connect the United States with the East.

Today New Jersey is not known for its textile production, but in the late-1800s and early 1900s this was a major industry in the area. Paterson in particular became known for its silk mills. Prior to silk, cotton had been produced in Paterson, but when cotton production moved to the Southern United States, the vacant mills were eventually refurbished for silk production. In 1915, the NJ Industrial Directory wrote, “Approximately one-third of this nation’s product of this beautiful [silk] fabric comes from the looms of New Jersey mills, and fully ninety percent of this great total is credited to Paterson. Upwards of 160 silk mills and dye houses, employing an army of operatives numbering nearly 30,000 men and women are now in operation”[1] Paterson was even referred to as the Silk City or the Lyons of America in the early 1900s.

Silk factories along the Passaic River in Paterson, NJ, including the Madison Silk Co.
Lewis Hine, 1937, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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