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Mss:526 1843-1933

Whitin Machine Works. Whitin Machine Works Records, 1843-1960: A Finding Aid

Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

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Harvard Business School, Boston MA 02163.

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: Mss:526 1843-1933
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Creator: Whitin Machine Works
Title: Whitin Machine Works records
Date(s): 1843-1960
Quantity: 390 linear feet (584 volumes, 308 boxes, 7 cartons)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Records of the Northbridge, Massachusetts textile manufacturing and textile machinery firm Whitin Machine Works includes correspondence, financial records and labor and payroll records, 1843-1960.

Provenance:

Gift of Whitin Machine Works, 1943-1944 and James Knott, 2004; Purchase, 2001, 2004 and 2005.

Processing Information:

Processed: June 2012
By: Benjamin Johnson

Processing Note:

The collection was reprocessed in 2012 to incorporate three addenda collections acquired between 2001 and 2005. The material that makes up the existing collection has been left in it's original physical order. Some of the material has been rearranged intellectually to give the researcher greater discoverability. The largest addenda includes correspondence and can be found in Series I, Subseries H.

Conditions Governing Access:

Some material may be stored offsite. Please contact histcollref@hbs.edu for more information.

Preferred Citation:

Cite as: Whitin Machine Works Records. Baker Library Historical Collections. Harvard Business School.

Related Collections:

See also the Northbridge Cotton Manufacturing Company ledger, 1814-1816 and notes receivable and payable, 1822-1848.

Historical Note:

The Whitin family of Whitinsville, Massachusetts were textile mill operators and textile machinery manufacturers during the 18th and 19th century. The origin of the Whitin Machine Works began with Paul Whitin, born in 1767 south of Worcester, Massachusetts. At the age of 14, Whitin apprenticed with a blacksmith in the town of Northbridge, Massachusetts, and later served as a journeyman blacksmith in South Northbridge (later Whitinsville, named for the Whitin family). Through a business connection, Whitin met James Fletcher who owned an iron forge on the Mumford River in Northbridge. Paul Whitin married Fletcher's daughter and they had four sons; Paul Jr., John, Charles and James.
In 1809, Paul Whitin and Fletcher established theNorthbridge Cotton Manufacturing Company. The company was one of the only power driven cotton mills in the United States at was very successful due to lack of British imports from the Embargo Act of 1807. In 1815, Whitin, in partnership with his two brother-in-laws and Fletcher founded the cotton mill, Whitin and Fletchers. Whitin bought out his in-laws in 1826 and, with his two sons Paul, Jr. and John Crane Whitin, established the firm P. Whitin and Sons, with Paul Jr. marketing the mill's products and John as the mill operator. Upon entering in partnership with their father, the Whitin brothers built a very large brick mill, in anticipation of expansion. The original blacksmith shop, previously owned by James Fletcher supplied the mill with machine parts.
Paul Whitin died in 1831 leaving his widow, Betsey, and three of their sons Paul Jr., John, and Charles as owners of the mill. As production increased, more space was required and Whitin family purchased the defunct Northbridge Cotton Manufacturing Company building. With the increased workload, John turned over supervision of the mills to his brother Charles, so he could spend more time conducting research in the brick mill's repair shop. John wanted to increase speed and mechanize the cotton picking process without harming the delicate cotton fibers. Hand picking cotton was expensive and time consuming, and no single machine could handle the combined picking and carding processes simultaneously. John Whitin's research resulted in a design for a picker, which he patented in 1832. Between 1832 and 1834, three pickers were produced and installed in P. Whitin & Sons cotton mill. This marked the beginning of the machine shop at Whitinsville. The Whitin picker was soon the best available machine on the market and remained unchallenged for nearly twenty years. Demand for the picker skyrocketed, and by mid-century the machine shop was producing nearly fifty orders a year. John C. Whitin also diversified his product line to include cards, railway heads, spinning frames and looms.
P. Whitin & Sons saw major growth and expansion in the twenty years leading up to the Civil War. The firm moved out of the old brick building and built a larger granite structure across the river. Machinery parts produced in machine shop were sold to textile mills in two-thirds of the states in the Union and in Canada and Mexico. Although the machinery business was flourishing, it was still a subordinate part of the expanding Whitin family empire. P. Whitin & Sons had more than 13,000 spindles and were still producing large amounts of cotton sheeting. In 1847, the youngest brother, James Fletcher Whitin was admitted to the firm when the family matriarch, Betsey, sold him half her shares. James had been working in the administrative offices for more than a decade and wanted a more active role in the company's management. The Whitin brothers had focused cotton production at their mill in Whitinsville, but soon began purchasing nearby cotton mills at bankruptcy sales. Between 1841 and 1859 they purchased the Uxbridge Cotton Mills, the Riverdale and Rockdale mill properties and the Douglas Manufacturing Company giving the firm six mills in the Northbridge vicinity.
On December 31, 1863, P. Whitin & Sons dissolved due to conflicting family interests and the Whitin family matriarch's desire to divest her stake in the company. The distribution of Betsey's stake would be equal shares to each brother, Paul Whitin Jr., John C. Whitin, James F. Whitin and Charles P. Whitin. Paul Whitin Jr. received the Rockdale and Riverdale mill properties; Charles P. Whitin received the stone mill and old brick mill in Whitinsville and the East Douglas mill; and James F. Whitin received the Uxbridge mill. John C. Whitin took control of the machine shop and ceased all future interest in textile manufacturing. After the dissolution of P. Whitin & Sons, John C. Whitin closed the recently purchased Holyoke Machine Shop in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to concentrate on the machine shop in Whitinsville. Whitin transferred trustworthy Holyoke employees Gustavus Taft and Josiah Lasell to the Whitinsville machine shop. In 1868, John C. Whitin formerly retired. He incorporated the Whitin Machine Works, became the largest shareholder and appointed his son-in-law Josiah Lasell as treasurer and Gustavus Taft as superintendent of the shop. The power structure continued into the 1880s as the business thrived. The machine shop supplied parts and equipment to recently built mills in New Bedford and the Rhode Island area. In 1882, John C. Whitin died and Josiah Lasell assumed the role of president. The next generation of family members entered the business; Josiah M. Lasell, Cyrus Taft, and George Marston Whitin. In the mid-1880s, cotton production began shifting to Southern mills as cheaper labor was available in the south.
George Marston Whitin, the grand-nephew of John C. Whitin and son-in-law of Josiah Lasell had been actively engaged in managing the Riverdale Mill, previously owned by his grandfather Paul Whitin Jr. In 1886, Marston Whitin became treasurer of the Whitin Machine Works, two months before Josiah Lasell's death. When Gustavus Taft died in 1888, his son Cyrus Taft succeeded him as factory agent. Between 1886 and 1915 Marston Whitin guided the Whitin Machine Works' operations. He reorganized the management structure by doing away with job work, centralized the accounting practices, made technological advances in machine parts and led Whitin through the rise of the Southern cotton manufacturing boom. Whitin took full advantage of the rise of the southern market and hired a southern agent to coordinate orders and sales. Such brisk business allowed Whitin Machine Works to expand again. The company saw four new buildings erected under the leadership of Marston Whitin. Upon Marston Whitin's death in 1920, his son-in-law E. Kent Swift became the treasurer of Whitin Machine Works. Swift had been working for the company since the turn of the century and in an executive role since 1913. Swift guided Whitin Machine Works through the labor starved era of World War I, the dip in production that occurred as a result of the post-war depression and the crash of the stock market. He expanded business in China and Japan, added new products including spinning frames and wool cards and oversaw a smooth transition to war work with the outbreak of World War II. Whitin produced oil pumps, steam engines, turbines and projectiles for the government war effort.
After World War II, labor unionization and new leadership affected Whitin Machine Works. The majority of Northbridge residents and their families worked for the "the shop", as it was called, making the community very insular. The factory had always offset lower wage payments with various community perks including housing, medical services and educational services. With the advent of affordable motor vehicles, reliable labor could be drawn from outside the immediate community. The new commuting workers demanded higher wages and the benefits of unionization. J. Hugh Bolton, former vice-president of the firm was elected as President in 1946. Bolton was able to navigate the demands of unionization while also keeping the company prosperous. He oversaw a post-war business boom with employment numbers topping 5,000 workers and expanded the firm's operations into South American markets. In 1966, Whitin Machine Works was sold to White Consolidated Industries and the factory doors were finally shut in 1976.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

Scope and Content Note:

The Whitin Machine Works Records are broken into seven different series: Correspondence; Financial records; Labor and payroll records; Holyoke Machine Shop records; Castle Hill Farm books; Administrative records; and Photographs. The correspondence includes letters written by Whitin Machine Works executives to agents in Southern states and abroad in foreign countries, letters sent by field representatives fitting replacement parts in clients' factories, letters with account information, and correspondence to and from the machine shop. Much of the early correspondence was sent to the machine shop run by John C. Whitin, a subsidiary arm of the textile manufacturing firm, P. Whitin & Sons. The correspondence details an extremely fast paced textile machine manufacturing firm at the height of the industrial revolution. The letters detail the type of machine parts required for regional textile manufacturing factory operations, advances in machinery innovation, issues with transportation, and cost of parts.
The financial records detail the day to day transactions, business dealings of the company and the fiscal health of the firm. Cash books, day books and ledgers contain information on suppliers, customers and the amount of business that occurred on a given day. The tax records include information on real estate and property holdings in Whitinsville and various locations Whitin Machine Works had factory buildings or held taxable property. Whitin Machine Works was heavily invested in the town, its residents and the surrounding area. Whitin built and rented tenements for its employees, ran a grocery store, provided a doctor, school and library and during the depression eras found odd jobs for it's employees instead of laying them off.

Container List


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