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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:422 1831-1926 L419

Lawrence Manufacturing Company records


Cotton manufacturing firm of Lowell, Mass., established in 1831 by proprietors of the other Lowell mills in connection with the Boston merchants Abbott and Amos Lawrence. The collection includes general account books, production records, sales records, payrolls, and letters.


  • Creation: 1831-1955
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1831-1926


Physical Description

Extent is approximate.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Some materials may be stored offsite; access requires advance notice. Contact for more information.


664 linear feet (873 volumes, 122 boxes, 314 cartons)

The collection, which is remarkably complete, includes account books, production and sales records, payrolls and correspondence. Of greatest interest is the correspondence, especially the treasurer’s and agent’s letters; the sales records; semiannual reports to the directors and the payrolls. The treasurer and agent were in daily communication by letter, and this correspondence provides a rich record of the company’s activities. Represented in the treasurer’s correspondence are Henry Hall, Henry V. Ward, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, L. M. Sargent and C. P. Baker. Agents’ correspondence includes letters by and to William Austin, John Aiken, William S. Southworth, William F. Salmon, Daniel Hussey, John Kilburn, Franklin Nourse and E. H. Walker. There are also many letters to and from the selling agents, particularly Townsend and Yale (later E. M. Townsend & Co). The payroll records contain records for each mill as well as general payroll records. They also include a registry of names and records of liability insurance.

Researchers should note that in many cases general correspondence, while filed alphabetically within a given year, may be filed under either the name of the firm represented by the letter or by the individual who signed the letter. For example, letters from The Proprietors of Locks and Canals in the 1870’s and 1880’s are filed under the name of company agent James Francis, who signed letters with his personal name, but letters from the firm of Appleton, Amory & Co. that are signed with the name of the company are filed under the company name.

Vouchers, checkbooks, invoices, cloth and hosiery reports, bills of lading, canceled checks, canceled stock certificates, orders for dividends and cotton purchase reports covering the years 1870-1910 have been sampled at 10-year intervals.

Historical Note:

The Lawrence Manufacturing Company, in Lowell, Massachusetts, was incorporated in 1831 and began operations in 1833. The company initially manufactured shirtings, sheetings and printing cloth, but added the manufacture of knitted goods such as hosiery and underwear in 1864.

The founding of the company followed the pattern of other mills that had been established in Lowell over the previous decade. Boston businessmen Nathan Appleton and Patrick Tracy Jackson recognized that Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River, located in the sparsely settled area of East Chelmsford, represented a prime source of water power that could be harnessed for profit. In 1821 Appleton and Jackson, with a group of investors, incorporated as the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on Merrimack River. They bought the land and water rights to the area. Those investing in a mill would buy the land outright and then lease the water power from the Proprietors of Locks and Canals. Frequently, of course, the investors in a mill and the Proprietors of Locks and Canals were one and the same. East Chelmsford was incorporated as the town of Lowell in 1826.

By 1831 there were seven mills operating in Lowell. Believing that there continued to be room for growth in the textile industry, the same group of businessmen looked to open yet another mill. As before, they were willing to put up most of the capital for a new cotton mill if competent men could be found to run the business. Brothers and business partners Amos and Abbott Lawrence, successful Boston merchants who had also invested in the Suffolk and Tremont Mills, were approached. They accepted the offer not least because their firm of A. & A. Lawrence would thereby become permanent selling agents for a group of mills, thus greatly expanding their domestic cotton business.

The organization and operating policies of Lawrence Manufacturing were representative of other mills in Lowell. A seven-man board of directors controlled the company from a Boston office, setting policies and making decisions. The treasurer, who was a member of the board, made purchases, paid bills, and managed the day-to-day business of the corporation. Subordinate to the treasurer was the mill agent, based in Lowell and living in a company-owned house, who was in complete charge of both the mills and the boarding houses. After 1844 the mill agent also handled payroll and routine factory expenses.

Lawrence Manufacturing maintained its own warehouses for cotton in New Orleans, Boston and Lowell until 1850. At that time the New Orleans warehouse was sold and cotton was shipped directly to Boston as soon as it was purchased.

Determined to avoid the notoriously harsh conditions found in English textile cities, the founders of the Lowell mills established a system designed to attract a “respectable” labor force composed primarily of young women from rural New England. The Lawrence mills resembled the other mills of Lowell in having an overwhelmingly female work force. In 1840, for example, Lawrence employed 1290 women and only 200 men. Most of Lawrence’s single female operatives, like other Lowell “mill girls”, lived in company-owned boardinghouses and on- or off-duty were bound by regulations designed to keep them on the moral straight and narrow. Single men also lived in boardinghouses while married men with families lived in company-owned tenements. Beginning in the 1840’s and 1850’s the number of immigrants employed by Lowell mills increased greatly. At first the immigrants were mainly Irish. Later, large numbers of French Canadian, Polish, Portuguese and Greek immigrants, both men and women, came to Lowell seeking work. In addition, entire families of Yankees came to Lowell in growing numbers. Unlike the single women who had come from rural areas to work in the mills for a year or two before returning home, the family groups, immigrant or Yankee, made Lowell their new home. Not surprisingly, they tended to live as family or ethnic units and were not inclined to live in tightly regulated company housing. Over the course of the nineteenth century unmarried operatives temporarily living and working in Lowell became an ever-smaller proportion of the labor force. More and more of the mill workers were members of families who had settled permanently in Lowell. The boarding houses were used less and less and were finally sold by the corporations around the turn of the twentieth century.

Lawrence Manufacturing was affected by economic fluctuations, closing wholly or in part at least three times before the Civil War. In 1862 nine mills in Lowell, including Lawrence, anticipated a shortage of cotton from the south for the duration of the Civil War and shut down entirely. Ten thousand mill workers, approximately 1600 of whom worked for Lawrence, were thrown out of work. Lawrence Manufacturing reopened early in 1864, adding hosiery and underwear manufacture to the production of cotton.

By 1865 both Amos and Abbott Lawrence had died, and the firms of George C. Richardson and Company and R. M. Bailey and Company were the selling agents for Lawrence Manufacturing. Townsend and Yale (later E. M. Townsend and Company) replaced R. M. Bailey and Company in 1866 as the selling agents for shirts, drawers and woolen hosiery.

Like the other Lowell textile firms, Lawrence Manufacturing was adversely affected by a number of factors in the decades following the Civil War. Despite expanded production due to the introduction of steam power (inaugurated at Lawrence in 1871), Lowell was no longer preeminent among cotton manufacturing cities. Increased labor trouble, the rise of New Bedford and Fall River as textile manufacturing centers, and economic shifts all contributed to the slow decline of the Lowell textile industry. In 1896 Lawrence responded to changing conditions by abandoning the manufacture of woven cotton cloth, their original product, to concentrate on the previously supplemental line of knitted hosiery and underwear.

Despite a brief upswing during World War I, increasing competition from Southern textile concerns took a continuing toll on Northern mills, including Lawrence Manufacturing. In 1926 the assets of the company were sold to Stevens and Son of North Andover, Massachusetts. The mills continued to operate as a subsidiary of a larger concern into the 1980’s.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series A. Administrative records, 1831-1942
  2. Series B. Journals and ledgers, 1831-1937
  3. Series C. Cash books, 1831-1938
  4. Series D. Balances, 1882-1914
  5. Series E. Accounts and insurance records, 1832-1926
  6. Series F. Purchases and supplies, 1831-1926
  7. Series G. Labor and employment records, 1833-1955
  8. Series H. Production records, 1832-1921
  9. Series K. Machinery records, 1856-1946
  10. Series L. Sales records, 1838-1927
  11. Series M. Correspondence, 1832-1926

Physical Location



Deposited by Lawrence Manufacturing Company, 1929, 1930. Additional material gift of Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, 1977

Existence and Location of Copies

  1. Carton GM-218, Bundled payrolls, October 1911, is available as a digital surrogate.
  2. Carton GM-219, Bundled payrolls, January 1912, is available as a digital surrogate.
  3. Carton GM-220, Bundled payrolls, April 1912, is available as a digital surrogate.
  4. Carton GM-221, Bundled payrolls, July 1912, is available as a digital surrogate.
  5. Carton GM-222, Bundled payrolls, October 1912, is available as a digital surrogate.
Lawrence Manufacturing Company. Lawrence Manufacturing Company Records, 1831-1955 (inclusive), 1831-1926 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections and Archives, Harvard Business School Repository

Baker Library Special Collections and Archives holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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