Some Aspects of the Tariff Question

Taussig, Frank William
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Pub. Date
1st edition.
24 of 24

Part IV, Chapter XXI

The Woolen Manufacture, (continued). Characteristics of the American Industry


Having surveyed the growth of the two great branches of the American wool manufacture, we are prepared to consider the more difficult problems concerning the effects of protection: the technical development of the industry in this country and in Europe, the effectiveness of the labor and capital engaged, the prospect of attaining independence of tariff support. Was the growth similar to that in other textile industries? As regards cottons, we have seen that extremely high duties can be fairly said to have been almost without effect either for good or evil: they did not check industrial progress, nor did they serve to promote it. The history of the silk manufacture suggests, even if it does not quite prove, that a newly-established industry may not only grow in size under the influence of protection, but advance in effectiveness. What does the evidence indicate in the case of woolens?


The preceding account of the history and characteristics of the worsted and woolen branches would lead one to surmise that the first named, young though it is, would have proved more likely to give scope to the special industrial excellences of our inventors and business leaders, and more promising as regards eventual independence. The woolen branch, on the other hand, seems to have characteristics that indicate less adaptability to American conditions, a field less favorable for American enterprise. Yet it is not clear that distinctions or conclusions of this sort can be maintained. The course of development in both branches has been different from that in the other textile industries; the situation in many respects is puzzling.


First, as regards worsteds. Here, to repeat, the opportunities for American industrial talent seem promising. Yet it appears that in precisely the direction where one looks for advance by Americans,—the invention of new machinery or improvement of old,—the worsted manufacture showed least indication of progress or of independence. On the contrary, it seems to have remained under European tutelage, content to import and to use European machinery. This at all events was the case in those departments of the industry which are most distinctive,—combing and the operations closely connected with combing. The facts brought out by the Tariff Board in 1912 were surprising. It appeared that in the worsted mills hardly any machinery, in all the processes up to and including spinning, was of domestic make. Almost all the combing machines were imported, almost all the drawing frames (these begin the manipulation of the tops as delivered from the combs, reducing the tops to a thin sliver ready for spinning), almost all the frame spinning machinery, and absolutely all of the mule spindles. Such small fraction of the combing and spinning machinery as was of American make was a direct copy of that imported. Leadership in the industry was clearly on the other side of the water.*144


Nor did it appear that there was anything in the organization of the working force or in the efficiency of the individual operatives which gave any advantage to Americans. The evidence on this topic, taken at its face, pointed to but one conclusion. It is true that here, as elsewhere, the turn taken by the protective controversy caused the manufacturers to lay stress on their own disabilities or failings. The notion current among protectionists for many years, that duties should be so levied as to cover higher cost of production in the United States, led their spokesmen to dilate on disadvantages and on the absence of any factors making for advantage or special effectiveness. The mill operatives, it was said, were chiefly of foreign birth, and not of the best foreign birth,—raw agricultural laborers from southern and eastern Europe, suddenly transplanted to factory towns; not equal in steadiness, skill, even tractableness, to the English, German, and French who remained in the competing mills of these several countries.*145 The American mills were said to have the same equipment; the operatives performed the same tasks and performed them no better, nay, not so well; how could the industry possibly maintain itself, paying American rates of wages, without protection? On the principles of protection, the argument was unanswerable; its applicability in this case apparently was beyond cavil. It raised unequivocally the fundamental questions that underlie the whole controversy. Is it worth while to support industries that have no superiority over their foreign competitors, and show no prospect of attaining any? If all American industries were in the same state as the worsted manufacture (in the departments here under consideration),—if all machinery were quite the same as in Europe, all workmen no more efficient, all management no better,—could the product of American industry be larger, and could wages in general be higher? Was not the industry one in which the effectiveness of industry failed to measure up to the general American standard of effectiveness, which alone makes possible a high general rate of wages?


In some other departments of the manufacture the situation was not so unpromising. As in the textile industries at large, weaving stood in a position apart. Here the conditions as regards domestic and imported machinery were quite reversed. Only one-fifth of the looms were imported; the great majority were of American make.*146 Not only this, but the striking American improvements in weaving had been found applicable, not indeed throughout, but at least in some directions. The automatic loom was used in weaving certain kinds of worsteds, and cut down cost, i.e., increased effectiveness, in this part of the manufacturing processes. From the nature of the case it could be used to advantage only where thousands of yards of a single kind of fabric were turned out; such as "blue serges" and the like for women's wear, having a cotton warp, comparatively cheap and sufficiently serviceable,—goods which could be steadily marketed in great quantities.*147 Worsteds and woolens are in general not of uniform pattern or quality, and are much subject to the vagaries of fashion; hence mass production of this sort is not susceptible of the same extension as in the case of cottons. Indeed, as will appear presently, there are peculiarities in woolen weaving which seem to militate against any wide-spread adoption of the methods which have so profoundly affected the cotton manufacture. The apparently exceptional cases in which the automatic loom was used in weaving worsteds served rather to emphasize the contrast between them and the more typical American conditions. It is not to be supposed that this industry was quite outside the main current, and quite uninfluenced by the pervasive tendency in the United States to extend the use of labor-saving devices.*148 Yet the available evidence indicates that, as regards machinery, the advances over competing foreigners were less, and surprisingly less, than in other textile industries.


It is possible that forward strides were taken in other directions,—in the more general economies from large-scale operation. In the worsted manufacture, as elsewhere, a contest has been going on between different systems of organization and management,—between the large mill and the very large mill, between integration and specialization, between the single establishment and a combination embracing many establishments. In these respects the American industry shows contrasts both with its European rivals and with other textile industries in the United States.


In the mere fact of a comparatively large scale of production it is not peculiar; worsted mills in Europe also are larger than woolen mills, and as large as cotton and silk mills. But some of the American mills are of such extraordinary size that they may be called giants; they endeavor to secure the advantages of large-scale operations on a scale not elsewhere dreamed of. The much-discussed Wood Mill, erected by the American Woolen Company at Lawrence, Mass., is said to be the largest textile establishment under a single roof in the world. Others, such as the Arlington mills in the same city, are of similar size; there is a well-known list of other great mills. Side by side with them are a number of establishments of more moderate size, comparable with the typical European establishment. It is not certain which type is gaining in the United States; but the huge concern seems at the least to hold its own. Its methods are in accord with those of American industrial triumphs. The worsted industry, or at least some branches of it, may be thought to be on the way to securing a comparative advantage.


Possibilities of the same sort may be considered as regards the effects of integration and combination. The American tendency on the whole is toward integration. Certain it is that specialization is carried less far than in Europe, in the worsted industry itself as well as in textile industries at large. In some respects there are signs of some reaction toward specialization in the United States; the trend toward integration is by no means without exceptions; but there is nothing like the division of labor between distinct branches,—scouring, combing, dyeing, spinning, weaving, finishing,—which is the established European organization.*149 It remains to be seen in this matter also whether management and organization after the American plan will hold their own, or whether specialization will extend; and further, whether the great integrated establishment will prove to have advantages not only over its specializing competitors at home, but over its competitors of the same character abroad.


So it is with regard to combination. In this industry, as in others, the United States is the scene of a bold experiment in great-scale management. The American Woolen Company is a combination of a number of mills of different character, united under single control, and endeavoring to secure various potential advantages. Among these are economy in the purchase and allotment of materials, standardization of equipment, and specialization among the several establishments,—not specialization of the kind referred to in the preceding paragraph, but in the sense that each mill is confined to one class of goods, operates continuously on its specialty, and makes no endeavor to turn out a "line" of varied products such as the independent manufacturer commonly thinks it necessary to offer. All sorts of mills are combined in this great agglomeration; not only worsted mills, but woolen mills in the narrower sense (carded wool mills); scattered moreover in many far-separated places. The experiment is of no little interest to the economist, quite apart from any bearing it may have on the tariff question. Does this method of organization really conduce to effectiveness in production? It seems to raise no question of monopoly. However important and even dominant is the position of the American Woolen Company, it has not even a quasi-monopolistic control of the industry or of any branch of it. It has to meet competition on every side; the contest is a direct uncomplicated one between the single concern and the great combination of similar concerns. The traditional reasoning does not point to any certain or even probable advantage for the latter in this particular case. It is true that large-scale production is growing in the worsted industry; but its advantages are not proved to progress indefinitely with enlarging scale. Integration, though carried on to an unusual extent in American establishments, has to compete with specialization in this country, and even more with the specializing industry of Europe. The goods produced are of great variety, and subject to the whims of fashion; hence standardization of equipment and sweeping application of machine methods cannot be carried as far as, for example, in the manufacture of the ordinary grades of cotton goods. It is to be observed, moreover, that in the two other leading textile industries there has been found no promising field for a great combination: neither for cottons, where mass production has been carried so far, nor for silks, where there are conditions resembling those of woolens as regards variety of goods and irregularity of fashion.*150 It would seem that only certain parts of the woolen manufacture give any prospect of gains from horizontal combination; more particularly those parts of the worsted branch which produce on a large scale great quantities of homogeneous fabrics. But on this subject it is well to refrain from prophecy, perhaps even from speculation. The whole question of the technical and managerial possibilities of combined enterprises awaits solution, and not least so in this industry.


Turn now to the other branch of the woolen industry, that of carded woolen goods. Here the conditions are in many ways different; in some ways they seem more promising for the American producers, in others less so.


This is the older part of the industry, and therefore, it might be supposed, the one less likely to be dependent on the tariff. The manufacture of worsteds, like that of silks, grew up after the civil war, and was the direct product of high protection. The woolen branch is the oldest of all in the textile group; it goes back to the "domestic" system of colonial days. True, it is younger, as a machine using industry, than the cotton manufacture, since the epoch-making inventions of the eighteenth century were first applied to the latter. But carding, spinning, and wearing machinery was adapted to wool at an early date in the nineteenth century, both in England and the United States. The American tariff controversy of the first half of the nineteenth century was concerned as much with the duties on wool and woolens as with any other single set of duties. The manufacturers were encouraged by high rates during earlier years, and then compelled, after 1846, to adjust themselves to rates decidedly low. Under the tariffs of 1846 and of 1857 the effective duty was less than 25 per cent.*151 Yet the industry did not succumb. Though the imports formed in 1860 a much larger proportion of the total supply than they did in later years, the domestic product even then exceeded the imports, and the manufacturers looked to the future with courage under duties so low that they would be adjudged rank free trade by the modern protectionists.


If this was the situation in the middle of the nineteenth century, it would seem inferable that the degree of dependence on protection would have become less rather than greater after the lapse of another half-century. All manufacturing industries grew and strengthened after the civil war. The textile industries that were well established at the earlier date, as well as other industries then in a firm position, continued to hold their own. The high rates of the later period would seem unnecessary; and the carded woolen manufacture, mature and settled as early as 1860, might be expected to show in 1910 greater independence of tariff support than the newer worsted manufacture which owed its origin to extreme and comparatively recent protection.


Confirmation of this impression would seem to be afforded by a comparison between the two branches as regards one point on which stress has been laid,—namely, the relative use of imported and domestic machinery. The carded woolen branch was found by the Tariff Board to be in a different position from its younger rival, in that it relied but little on imported machinery. Carding is the step in the woolen industry which corresponds to combing in the worsted. The Board's inquiries showed a sharp contrast between the sources of supply for combs and cards. Whereas almost all the combs were imported, the carding machines were preponderantly (92 per cent) of American make. It is noteworthy also that the somewhat modified carding machines used in worsted mills (they prepare wool of comparatively short fibre, such as cross-bred wool, for the combing operation) were also largely of foreign make; here again the worsted branch relied much more on imported equipment. In spinning there was the same contrast. Much the greatest part (85 per cent) of the mule spindles in the woolen mills were made in the United States. But in the worsted mills absolutely every mule spindle was imported. It may be noted also that of the "cap" spindles used in the worsted branch, and there used only (being inapplicable to carded wool), the proportion of American machinery was insignificant,—only 8 per cent, as compared with 92 per cent imported. Here again the worsted branch relied almost exclusively on foreign apparatus.*152


The significance of this contrast, however, is affected by some other facts brought out in the same investigation. It appeared that the machinery in the worsted mills was the more modern, i.e., had been in use for a shorter period than that in the woolen mills. The cards in the latter were, it is true, of American make; but they were old. Nearly one-half of them (47 per cent) had been in use twenty-five years or more. The cards used by the worsted makers were distinctly more modern,—of foreign manufacture, it is true, but comparatively new. Only 7½ per cent were twenty-five years old or more, as compared with the 47 per cent just stated for the woolen mills. A similar difference, though not so marked, appeared as regards the age of the mule spindles. This part of the equipment of the woolen mills, while chiefly American, was older than the same equipment, all of it imported, in the worsted mills.*153 The combs in the latter, it will be remembered, were almost all of foreign make; but these also were comparatively new. The preponderant use of American machines by the woolen mills might thus be a sign not of progress, but of lack of it. It would be so if the domestic machines were inferior to the foreign, or at least not superior. And similarly the preponderant use of foreign machines by the worsted makers might indicate that they were using the best that was obtainable. This throws the question of the comparative effectiveness of foreign and domestic industry one stage farther back,—to the machine makers who supply the manufacturers. So far as concerns the final outcome, the problem remains the same. Whether an American industry can hold its own against foreign competition depends, to repeat, on the combined effectiveness of all the factors,—climate, power resources, and raw material; quality of workmen; ability in organization and management; and, finally, the technological equipment. But in comparing the woolen and worsted branches within their own circle of operations, the mere use of domestic machinery by the one, of foreign by the other, does not necessarily measure their relative progress or effectiveness. Apparently the worsted branch, using imported equipment, simply turned to the best that was to be had;*154 while it is conceivable that the domestic equipment used by the woolen branch failed to keep pace with the general American progress in labor-saving devices, perhaps even failed to keep pace with progress in foreign countries.


It must be borne in mind that during the period here under review the woolen branch was virtually at a standstill, while the growth in worsteds was rapid and continuous. The retention of old equipment in the former may seem a natural result of adverse conditions due to shifts in fashion and other extraneous causes. Yet adverse conditions do not necessarily have a deadening effect on industry. It is often said that severe competition and trade crises tend to have the opposite effect,—to compel economies and put every producer to his trumps. In this case, as in the converse case of favoring conditions, there seems to be no a priori ground for saying that either progress or stagnation will be promoted. High protection, for example, is said by the free trader to conduce to laxness, by the protectionists to stimulate domestic improvements. Under either set of conditions,—depressing or encouraging,—the only helpful method of inquiry seems to be the examination of the available historical and statistical material, and also of the indications of adaptation, or lack of adaptation, to the country's general industrial environment.


It happens that in this instance there has been some direct testimony to stagnation. It cannot be said that American experience in general verifies the free trader's prediction concerning this sort of consequence from high duties. On the contrary, the history of many industries (such as iron, silks, and cottons) indicates that protection and progress are not incompatible.*155 But there are indications that in the carded woolen branch backward establishments were enabled to hold their own under tariff shelter. The long-continued use of old machinery would seem to point that way. More significant is the fact that the protectionist spokesmen themselves have sounded notes of warning. During the civil war the abrupt increase of demand for woolen cloths inevitably caused all sorts of mills to make profits even with poor equipment and slack management. Notwithstanding a process of weeding out which set in after the war (the wool and woolens act of 1867, with its elaborate compensating system, was in reality an endeavor to stave off the inevitable readjustment) this abnormal stimulus seems to have left its impress on the carded woolen industry throughout the ensuing half-century. During the brief period of free wool and lowered woolen duties under the Wilson tariff act (1894-97) some plain speaking came from the protectionist ranks. It was said that the carded wool branch had been backward, and consequently had been hit by the lowered duties more than the worsted branch. A general overhauling was not to be avoided.*156 This period of low duties and of stress proved short,—shorter than the protectionists themselves expected; or else such confessions would hardly have been forthcoming. In 1897, the tariff barrier was put up again, high and strong as before; and behind it the industry was enabled to go its way for another long period (from 1897 to 1913) without paying attention to any possibilities of foreign competition.


What now is the explanation of the situation which has come to view in this account of the American woolen manufacture? In general, the tale is one of backwardness; how explain it?


One explanation often given is that all is chargeable to the duties on raw wool. This is the outstanding factor not present in the other textile industries. For silks and cottons the raw materials never were subject to duty. The woolen industry alone labored under the handicap of taxes on its material. The free traders, and especially those who preached the gospel of free materials, laid stress on this circumstance. The wool duty, it was said, handicapped the manufacturers, narrowed the range of the industry, stood in the way of diversification. This explanation was particularly acceptable to the free traders because as a rule they were reluctant to go the full length of their own creed and to admit that the manufacture itself might be in danger if their policy were adopted. No: it was thought that, given free wool, the manufacturing industry would hold its own, and even expand and progress.


But I cannot believe that this tells the whole story. No doubt the wool duty did operate as a handicap on the manufacturing industry. The qualities of wool are extraordinarily diverse; the particular way in which the duty was so long levied served to prohibit many grades, and to hamper the use of others. Probably there was some effect in keeping the manufacture in routine grooves, even in a rut. But the wool duty was so completely offset by the compensating system, and the characteristics of the manufacturing industry appear in so many matters that are little related to the duty, that this cannot be judged a decisive or even commanding factor. After all, though the compensating system proved to be ill adjusted, and unequal in its effect on different branches of the industry, the duties on woolens as a whole,—compensating and "protective" taken together,—left a generous margin for protection in almost all cases. Just as the wool duty does not serve to explain the greater growth of the worsted branch as compared with that of carded woolens, so it does not explain the general characteristics of both branches. It has sins enough of its own to answer for, without being held accountable for everything that seemed to go wrong. The question persists: how account for the seeming failure of the woolen manufacture to keep in line with the general march of American industrial effectiveness?


To this question, as to so many in the field of economics, it is easier to give negative answers than positive; easier to say what was not the cause than to say precisely what was. The phenomena are perhaps most puzzling in that the historical sequence in the manufacture seems out of accord with its contemporary position and prospects. The woolen branch (carded woolen) is much the older; apparently it was firmly established at an early date; yet it has been beaten by its younger rival, the worsted branch, not only in size but apparently in adaptability to the general industrial conditions. Yet it is in the last-named circumstance,—adaptability to American conditions in general,—that the solution of the problem is most likely to be found.


The historical anomaly in the carded woolen branch,—its growth and assured position at an early date, contrasting with the more precarious modern stage,—is perhaps to be explained on the ground that in the course of time the industrial environment itself underwent a change. In the United States of the first half of the nineteenth century an industry of small or moderate scale was more likely to hold its own securely than in the United States of the twentieth century. Intelligence and handicraft skill on the part of the individual workmen, which play so marked a part in this branch, had not then found so many other fields for advantageous application. Add to this the circumstance that the industry had traditions and an established basis, inherited from the domestic spinning and weaving of colonial days, with their necessary adjuncts in the fulling and finishing mills,—and it is not so difficult to understand the contrast between the middle of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.


The worsted industry, on the other hand, exhibits in all countries the more dominant characteristics of modern industry,—highly-developed and quasi-automatic machinery, standardized material, large plant, a dominance of organization, and (in comparison with the older branch) a lack of individuality. These characteristics appear most sharply in the manufacture of the staple grades of fabrics, turned out in large quantities and at prices low enough to make possible their sale to multitudes of purchasers. It is in accord with the general trend of American industry that our manufacturers should have turned chiefly to goods of this sort, while those calling for more detailed care, more variety, more individual finish continued to be imported even in face of the extremely high duties levied so long. It is in accord, too, with the general international division of labor that the more highly-finished goods should be produced in France more than in Germany, and in Germany more than in England. Thus it would seem that the manufacture of staple worsteds was the most promising part of the industry for the Americans, giving favorable opportunities for the methods and appliances which they have learned to apply better than others. And yet, to repeat, the evidence points little to progress. The record on the whole is one of imitation, not of independent advance, still less of leadership. While the carded woolen branch may be said to have been left behind by the American industrial current, the worsted branch simply kept up with the general European movement, and showed little sign of keeping pace with that in the United States.*157


It is true that protection veils the situation, as it does in the case of the silk manufacture. Behind it the American worsted industry may have achieved more than can be readily seen, more than the manufacturers are aware of, or (if aware) are ready to admit. Some allowance must doubtless be made for that timorousness with regard to foreign competition which protected producers show at all times and in all countries. Invariably they exaggerate their own deficiencies and exhibit a panic fear of foreign competitors. But even after making allowance for this sort of exaggeration in the general accounts given by the protectionists, such specific facts as the Tariff Board brought to light regarding the importation of machinery point to a real basis for their fears. It would seem that the American wool manufactures, as a rule, are not able to meet foreign competition on even terms, and have little prospect of doing so. And the question recurs, why not?


I cannot but believe that there is something in the quality of wool fibre which has affected fundamentally the course of development; just as the quality of silk fibre affected the silk industry. It is in this direction that we are most likely to find some explanation of the peculiarities in the history of both branches of the American wool manufacture.


It is certain that in some respects at least wool is not amenable to machinery of the quasi-automatic kind. As regards spinning, for example, the ring spindle, which dominates the cotton manufacture of the United States, has not been found available for wool. All carded wool is spun on the mule; and in this branch of the textile manufacture, as has been already pointed out, the Americans have no advantage either in the machinery itself or in its operation.*158 Most combed wool is also spun on the mules. A method of spinning similar to that with the ring—cap spinning—is used for some combed wool in Yorkshire and in the United States.*159 But the absence of any American improvements, and presumably of any special adaptability to American industrial conditions, is indicated by the fact that almost all the spinning machinery of this kind used in the United States is imported from Great Britain. There is no sign of such American inventions and improvements as have so profoundly affected the spinning departments of the other great textile industries,—silks and cottons.


As has been repeatedly pointed out in these pages, weaving is the textile operation in which American manufacturers have long been most proficient. So far as concerns the sources of supply for weaving machinery, the situation in the woolen mills was found by the Tariff Board to be quite different from that in the spinning department. Over three-quarters of the looms were of American manufacture. Those that were imported,—a very few from Germany, the larger quota from England,—were used chiefly in the manufacture of fine goods, of which more will be said presently.


Nevertheless, even with respect to weaving, there is a great difference between the woolen and cotton industries. Woolen looms are usually wide,—five feet wide or more; and for this reason, and also because of the less automatic character of the work, it is rare that a weaver is given charge of more than two looms, at most three. Only where there is large-scale production of uniform goods, on narrow looms, is any attempt made to put a weaver in charge of a considerable number of woolen looms; an endeavor which of course is made with most effect where the automatic loom has been found applicable to some worsteds. It would seem that the nature of wool and the yarn spun from it, as well as the more diversified character of the fabrics, stand in the way of any sweeping application of the methods which have proved of such far-reaching effect in the weaving of cottons.


Another consequence of this general situation is a difficulty in finding and keeping the sort of weaver who can run a woolen loom well. The Tariff Board in the course of its inquiries elicited from manufacturers a number of instructive statements. Repeatedly it was declared that the woolen weaver must have the qualities of a mechanic; that quickness, a good eye, a skilful hand, are called for; that the good weaver is a high-priced man; and not least, that one who is highly capable tends to drift away into other occupations, in which his services command higher pay.*160 Similar statements are made about the weavers of fine grades of cotton goods. These also are a selected group among the textile operatives, skilled by nature or by training, paid at a comparatively high rate, and able to find ready employment in other industries.*161


All this serves to illustrate the principle of comparative effectiveness. Workmen who have the qualities of the skilled mechanic are needed in woolen mills and in the cotton mills making the finer fabrics; but they seem to add no comparative effectiveness there. In American industry at large, the man of mechanical capacity and training is in great demand,—for instance, in the wire fence and automobile industries mentioned in the letters just quoted. It is among the characteristics of our general industrial conditions that the gap between the wages of skilled and unskilled is greater than in other countries. The mechanic, the craftsman, the man of quick eye and deft hand, gets an unusually high rate of pay, and has an unusually favorable position in the adjustment of wages between non-competing groups. And he has this advantageous position because in general his labor is applied with unusual effect. No doubt the reasons are complex; partly that he is individually skilful, efficient, strenuous, more largely that inventors and employers have found ways of making his labor tell better than in other countries. But tell it does; and hence it commands high pay. Any industry which calls for such men must pay wages at the current rates; and if it cannot secure from them results commensurable to the pay, and if its products are subject to foreign competition, it "needs" protection and clamors for it. Precisely this seems to be the case in the woolen manufacture.


As machinery becomes more automatic, the skilled workman is needed only to construct it, keep it in repair and supervise. It can be tended by an unskilled immigrant, perhaps a woman. The cause of comparative effectiveness in industry,—if there be such,—must then be sought primarily in the ingenuity of inventors and the organizing leadership of business managers. The wages of the rank and file among the factory operatives who are thus directed and led are low in the United States relatively to those of mechanics, though high relatively to those of similar operatives in European mills. Such is the social stratification in the typical cotton mill; it tends to be such also in the typical silk mill and the great standardized worsted mill. A lower grade of operative can be utilized in the weaving departments of these than in the weaving departments of woolen mills proper. The proportion of women employed in the worsted mills is considerably higher than in the woolen mills (49 per cent against 35);*162 nor are any such statements as those just quoted to be found from manufacturers of worsteds. It is significant, too, that in the operation of cotton looms for ordinary goods no difference is found between the efficiency of men and women as weavers; at piece rates they earn the same total.*163 It is only for the finer cottons that the weaver needs those mechanical abilities in which men excel and which cause them to be preferred in woolen mills. In this regard also the technical conditions would seem to be less favorable to the industrial acclimatization of the carded woolen manufacture.


Still another factor works in the same direction. The finishing processes are of the first importance for carded woolen fabrics. They are of great variety, and they are almost decisive as regards the character and saleability of the goods. Typical of the various manipulations is the ancient one of "fulling,"—the cloth being passed between rollers and through liquid soap, or soap and water. It is thus shrunk and felted. In essentials, the process remains a handicraft operation, even though no longer carried on, as it was in earlier days, in a separate fulling mill.*164 It is little aided by machinery, and is dependent on the skill and unrelaxing attention of the individual workman. The same is the case with the raising of a surface by teazles, the stretchings and dryings and beatings and ironings. To quote from Professor Clapham's excellent account of the industry in England, where finishing has been carried to greatest elaboration and perfection: "The variety of finishing processes is singularly great. New ones are constantly being devised, many of which are kept more or less secret." But worsteds are much less subject to them than woolens. "Light worsted dress materials are not milled at all.... Generally speaking, worsted materials are altered but slightly at this stage. As they appear in the loom, so they appear in the warehouse; colour of course excepted in the case of piece-dyed goods.... With woolens, the reverse is often true. Only an expert in these cases, could identify the finished cloth with the loose and altogether different substance that came out of the loom. In one case finishing is a subsidiary, in the other a primary process."*165 And this primary process, it is to be emphasized, is little under the influence of modern machinery and labor-saving devices; in other words it is one in which American industrial talent finds no tempting or remuneratory field.


In accord with the same general trend, it appears that the finer grades of goods are more likely to be imported, while the cheaper and medium grades are more likely to be made at home; and this, notwithstanding efforts to promote the manufacture of the finer grades by making the duties on them particularly high.*166 The case is alike with all the textiles; the finer goods of all kinds are more apt to be imported. The same explanation is invariably given: they need to be more carefully finished, they call for more labor, and high wages are therefore felt to be an obstacle in particularly great degree. The more fundamental explanation has already been indicated: goods of the most expensive sort fail to be made within the United States because labor is applied to them with less machinery, less of labor-saving devices, less effective organization,—in sum, with less advantage than to the cheap and medium grades. So it is with woolens and worsteds. In both branches the protective policy was throughout more effective on the cheaper goods. It is characteristic also that not only the finer fabrics themselves, but the machinery for their manufacture had to be imported,—for carding, combing, and spinning, even for weaving, where the Americans in general are superior. A large German firm, engaged in making fine goods, was tempted by the high duties of 1897 to transfer a plant to the United States. It had to import machinery of every kind; and not only this, but found that the factory labor of this country was also ill adapted to its methods of manufacture. From the then-accepted protectionist point of view, all these disadvantages, and the consequent high expenses of production, should have been offset by correspondingly high duties; the industry was to be "acquired" on any terms necessary to domesticate it. But these special conditions would seem to be in reality but evidences of the unsuitability of this particular branch of textiles to American conditions.*167


It deserves to be noted that during the last decade of the extreme protective policy there were signs of improvement in the quality of American woolen fabrics, and especially of worsteds. That some change in this direction set in, I am convinced by repeated testimony from all sorts of persons conversant with the trade,—manufacturers, dealers, tailors. Though the bulk of the American woolens remained of medium grade, an increasing proportion, and one not inconsiderable, was of better grade and finish than during the nineteenth century; the improvement being most marked in worsteds. Just what this tendency signified, it would be difficult to say. The obvious explanation would ascribe it simply to extreme protection. Make your duties high enough, and you can bring about the domestic production of anything and everything. The most elaborately finished woolens and silks and cottons will be made within this country if a sufficiently heavy handicap be imposed on foreign producers; even though the outcome may be delayed somewhat by lack of habituation among the manufacturers and by a long-lingering prejudice among consumers in favor of imported fabrics. Presumably the change here noted was the effect of precisely this cause,—extreme protection. But possibly it was due, in part at least, to some beginning in improved processes, better organization, greater effectiveness. Yet the evidence pointing this way is slight; nor is it on general grounds probable that forward steps by American manufacturers would be first taken in this part of the industry. It is in the production of the standardized fabrics of medium grade that the opportunities are most promising for advances by Americans.*168


On the whole, the best conclusion I can reach is that the difficulties and the apparent backwardness of the wool manufacture rest partly on the physical characteristics of the raw material and partly on the impossibility of standardizing its fabrics to the same degree as, for example, cotton goods. Both of these circumstances stand in the way of mass production and so of the sweeping use of labor-saving machinery. The silk manufacture long encountered the same obstacles; it has still to face them in a large part of its product; yet, as we have seen, the march of invention appears to be removing the first obstacle, and at all events gives some promise of enabling the American industry to progress to independence. The absence of indications of similar progress in the wool manufacture is not easy to explain. Possibly this is no more than a sporadic episode, standing apart from the general industrial movement. Not everything in economic history can be ascribed to the uniform action of the same causes. It remains puzzling why the machine processes were not applied with more decisive success to this material, and why Europeans and not Americans took the lead in the considerable success which was achieved in the worsted branch. Another half-century may bring independent advances in this country; we may still witness considerable changes in the existing relations between the wool manufacturing countries and districts. Possibly free wool will have greater effect in promoting the development of the American manufacturing industry than would be expected in view of the foregoing analysis of the influence exercised by the wool duties in the past. A considerable period must elapse before it will appear how the industry may adjust itself to such new conditions as were established in 1913. The sober-minded investigator will be slow in laying too much stress on single causes, slow in generalization, slowest of all in prediction.

Notes for this chapter

The Tariff Board stated in its Summary (p. 16) that "87 per cent of all the machinery [in worsted mills], from the scouring of the raw wool through to the finished yarn, was imported." More in detail (pp. 1026 seq.), it appeared that

of the Noble combs (English system) 85% were imported
" French combs (Continental systems) 100% " "
" Bradford drawing frames 90% " "
French drawing frames 100% " "
" mule spindles 100% " "
" frame spindles 92% " "

In spinning worsted yarn, both mule spindles and "cap" spindles are used; in spinning woolen yarn, mules alone. "Cap" spindles are in principle similar to ring spindles, and like them are often spoken of as "frame spindles." Ring spinning proper has never been found applicable to worsteds, still less to woolens. Cap spindles are largely used in England, and indeed predominate in the English worsted manufacture; whereas the mule alone is used in the French worsted industry. Cf. Barker, Textiles (London, 1910), pp. 101, 111.

Cf. what is said below, p. 363, note.
Tariff Board Report, p. 1042.
"In American worsted and woolen mills the weavers, male and female, operate one or two looms as a rule, excepting where worsted dress goods are made with cotton warps. Cotton warp being stronger than woolen or worsted makes it possible to use automatic or weft-replenishing looms, so that one weaver can operate as many as twelve looms in the manufacture of worsted dress goods." Tariff Board Report, p. 1045. This has been confirmed to me by conversations with the head of a large company which has put in the automatic looms. I have been told, again by a large manufacturer, that the automatic loom has been used with success for all-wool worsteds also.
Thus the Arlington mills, one of the largest and most conspicuous of the American worsted establishments, has erected a huge and highly efficient plant for saving the grease formerly lost in the process of scouring wool and securing thereby a valuable by-product. The same thing is done in Germany, where wool scouring with utilization of grease is a separate specialized industry. In accord with the American tradition this is done in the Arlington mills as part of great integrated operations, on a larger scale than in Germany, and probably with higher efficiency. It is said also that the labor force necessary for spinning and for tending combs has been cut down in this establishment; but whether in greater degree than in foreign countries does not appear. See a small advertising pamphlet, entitled "Tops," published by the Arlington mills (1898), pp. 56, 96. The Tariff Board concluded that the cost (in money) of converting wool into tops was nearly twice as great in the United States as in England; in other words, found no indication of special effectiveness in the United States. Report, pp. 639 seq.
See Clapham, The Woolen and Worsted Industries; and Michaelis, "Die Woll Industrie," in Handbuch der Wirthschaftskunde Deutschlands, vol. iii.
There may be an exception in the cotton manufacture as regards the production of yarn, in which the New England Cotton Yarn Company is carrying on an experiment at once in combination and in specialization; and perhaps another exception is the Cotton Duck Consolidation. See Dewing, Corporate Promotions and Reorganisations, chs. xii, xiii. On silks, compare what was said above, chapter xv, pp. 246, 254.
The duty on woolens under the tariff of 1846 was 30 per cent. But wool also was dutiable at 30 per cent, which lessened the net protection for woolens. Just how much net protection remained would be difficult of calculation. In 1857 the rate on woolens was reduced to 24 per cent; but wool having a foreign value of twenty cents or less was admitted free.

The history of the woolen manufacture before the war is little known; it offers a promising field for investigation. Some indications of its position in 1846-60 I have gathered in my Tariff History, pp. 144, 159 note. On imports and domestic production in 1860, see, the figures given above, p. 333.

The figures are as follows (Tariff Board Report, p. 1042):—

Per cent Manufactured in
United States Foreign Countries
Carding machines, woolen 92.2% 7.8%
" " worsted 50.3% 49.7%
Mule spindles, carded wool 85.7% 14.3%
" " combed wool .0% 100.0%
Spinning frames (cap spindles) 8.4% 91.6%

On combing machines, cf. the figures already given, p. 343, note. On cap spindles, cf. the footnote to p. 343, above.

The figures for the various machines here mentioned were as follows (Tariff Board Report. p. 1042):—

Manufactured in Years in Operation
United States
Foreign Countries
Per cents
Number Per cent Number Per cent Less than 5 Years 5 @ 15 Years 15 @ 25 Years Over 25 Years
Carding machines, woolen 399 92.2 34 7.8 9.6 31.0 12 4 47.0
" " worsted 331 50.3 327 49.7 26.3 33.2 32.9 7.6
Mules, carded wool 504 85.7 84 14.3 8.0 59.0 20.2 12.8
Mules, worsted .... . . . . 370 100.0 24.9 35.9 36.2 3.0
Spinning frames (for cap spindles) 113 8.4 1,233 91.6 20.3 49.6 12.9 17.2

"The explanation of the great use of foreign machinery in the mills (in some departments its exclusive use) given by the establishments visited was that while the importation of these machines increased their cost more than 60 per cent above that of their foreign competitors in the woolen and worsted industry, it was necessary to buy abroad, since with the exception of looms and some few other machines American manufacturers had not been able to furnish machines approaching in result the work done by the foreign machines." Tariff Board Report, p. 1043.
Compare what has been said on this topic in chapter ii, pp. 28, 29.
Mr. S. N. D. North, then Secretary of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers, wrote in 1894:—

"Many manufacturers will find themselves compelled to change altogether the character of their products.... At present it seems as though the hardest struggle was before the mills which have been engaged in making the medium cassimeres and similar goods for the masses. These mills have had the American manufacture to themselves and they have been able to determine in large measure the character of the goods made to supply it. That great advantage will no longer be theirs. It follows that radical adjustments will be necessary; much machinery which sufficed for the old conditions of manufacturing will be found to be useless. Many mills will have to be reëquipped throughout; there are many in which it will be found cheaper to abandon them altogether than to incur the expense of a complete overhauling.... It has been charged against our manufacturers that they are behind those of other countries in their knowledge and application of modern economies. The charge has been that the high protective tariff has saved them from the necessity of learning those lessons to which the attention of foreigners has largely been directed of late years. There is probably some truth in this statement, though not so much as those who make it believe." Bulletin Wool Manufacturers, xxiv, p. 258.

This is the general conclusion reached by Mr. T. 'W. Page, one of the members of the Tariff Board, an able economist quite without bias. In an address reported in the Wool Manufacturers' Bulletin (June, 1913, p. 172) he summed up the situa tion thus: "Some of our industries are more prosperous than others; they afford higher profits and higher wages, and can hold their own in competition with the world. The woolen industry is not one of these. It appears to have no single advantage not enjoyed in equal or greater degree by the same industries abroad, and it lacks many important advantages possessed by other industries at home."
Cf. what was said on the Cotton Manufacture, pp. 271, 279, 289.
It is worth noting that in France (and I believe in Germany also) the mule only is used: cap spinning of worsted yarns is confined to England and the United States. Clapham, The Woolen and Worsted Industries, pp. 51 seq.; Barker, Textiles, p. 101. Cf. also the note to p. 343, above. England's relation to the Continent is analogous to that of the United States to Europe in general; the machine tends to dominate, and processes that involve direct labor tend to give way.
See the series of letters printed in the Tariff Board Report, pp. 1666, 1073, 1074. I select a few passages from the abundance of illustrative material. "A good weaver must be quick, with nimble fingers, good eyesight, clean and methodical." "What will make a good weaver will make a good workman in almost any line, especially mechanical." And precisely because such a man has mechanical aptitude, he is drawn away into other occupations where his qualities tell to the full and where in consequence he gets higher pay. "The best weavers go into some other line of industry where the pay is better. Many of our 'stars' of past years went into the wire fence industry. Many more, during the past three or four years, have gone into the automobile industry." Another manufacturer says that "as to our expert weavers, they seldom stay longer than three years."
As regards weavers in cotton mills I am confirmed by private communications from persons engaged in the manufacture of the finer grades of cotton goods.
The figures are from the census returns of 1910. In England also the weavers on worsted looms are chiefly women, those on woolen looms chiefly men. See Report on the Woolen and Worsted Industries, etc., by W. A. G. Clark, made to the Department of Commerce and Labor, 1900, p. 49.
See, for example, the Tariff Board Report on Cottons, ii, p. 495. Conversations of mine with manufacturers have confirmed the statement.
The small fulling mill of colonial times finished the home-spun and home-woven cloths of the country folk.
Clapham, The Woolen and Worsted Industries, p. 74.
See the sketch of the rates of duty given in chapter xx, p. 325. The ad valorem (protective) rate on the dearer goods was pushed up a notch in 1890, and still another in 1897, reaching 55 per cent in the latter year.
The account given by the representative of this firm seems to me so instructive on various aspects of the textile situation that I quote from it with some freedom.

"Many European woolen enterprises have existed for generations, and even those of more recent origin can draw their help from mills which have had such a long existence. The employers, and in very many cases their fathers and grandfathers before them, have been born and brought up in the business; and as a rule the children and grandchildren of the workpeople are also trained to the same trade.

"And what is true of the firms, and the workers and their families, is also true of the communities. The older seats of the woolen industry, like Bradford and Huddersfield in England, parts of the Rhine province, the Lausitz, Silesia and Saxony in Germany, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Elboeuf and Sedan in France, to mention a few of the best known, having gathered about them for centuries a group of trained and efficient workers, possess an inestimable advantage over the centers of the woolen industry in America, the latter being, in comparison with those of Europe above named, themselves still in their childhood and their workers more or less migratory.... The operatives in American woolen mills, in spite of the very much higher wages paid, are largely drawn from the ranks of unskilled labor. And whence does this unskilled labor come? There is little of it among native-born Americans. It is taken from the steady flow of immigrants into this country....

"When establishing our enterprise in Passaic, N. J., we were obliged, in order to be able to compete, not only as to price, but also with respect to quality and technical perfection, with the best European mills, to import most of our machinery, because a great deal of American spinning, weaving, dyeing, and finishing machinery is not yet so highly developed as the European. This is especially true of the machinery used in what is known as the French system of worsted spinning, which is being adopted more and more each year. [The French use the mule exclusively, and a drawing system of their own; the whole adapted to making soft fabrics from fine wool of comparatively short fibre. See Barker, Textiles, p. 247; Tariff Board Report, p. 1031.] Also our entire woolen spinning machinery had to be imported to enable us to compete with the best European manufacturers.

"A great part of our looms could be bought here, while others had to be imported on account of special requirements; but those purchased in this country were nearly as expensive as the imported ones, so that in buying them we had to bear our share of the protection of the textile machinery of this country. Dyeing and finishing machinery used in our mill also had mostly to be imported." From a memorial to Congress, by J. Forstmann, reprinted in Bulletin Wool Manufacturers, September, 1921, pp. 416-417.

I am glad to record that my general conclusions are similar to those reached by Mr. T. W. Page of the Tariff Board and stated by him in the address already referred to; see Bulletin Wool Manufacturers, June, 1913, p. 169.

End of Notes


Return to top