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The Rosencrantz Cotton Warp Mill

Diagram of a picking machineJohn Rosencrantz opened the family's cotton warp mill on July 7, 1834, with 22 people working at carding, spinning, and ruling. In 1836, the mill had 888 spindles and was producing 1,000 pounds of yarn a week, for a net income of $98. John considered adding weaving looms at the mill but did not do so. [Tell me more about early industrialization in Bergen County.]

Elijah II took charge of the mill in 1838, after John married Caroline Ripka and accepted a job with his father-in-law. Elijah was 24, and although he had already been working with John for four years, he had no other education or experience in managing a factory. He gained knowledge by observing his brother, who was also learning through trial and error, by talking with other mill owners, and perhaps through some reading—a situation most entrepreneurs faced in the early years of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. In 1841, John complained about the yarn Elijah was sending to the Manayunk mills: “If you become familiar with the machinery you cannot fail to make a manufacturer.” In July 1848, Elijah wrote to John: “We can’t get warpers from Paterson, and in most cases have to learn them.”

As the mill’s owner, Elijah had to recruit, train, and manage skilled and unskilled workers. He employed between 20 and 40 people, most of whom lived within walking distance. Seventeen of the mill’s 31 workers in 1850 were male, and fourteen were female. Five were under 14, and at least two lived in households headed by a single mother. About half of the female workers were teenagers. The age range for the male workers was greater—from eight to 62—but none were teenagers. All of the workers had been born in New Jersey, and more than half had English family names, while the remainder had Dutch, German, or Irish names. The Rosencrantz mill provided a limited number tenant houses for its workforce. The laborers worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, subjected to noise from the machinery and cotton dust in the air. The only days off were Sundays, Christmas Day, and the Fourth of July, for which the workers were not paid. Work was also suspended, again without pay, when the water was too low to run the waterwheel and when there were no orders. Unlike at the large textile mills (including Ripka’s), no labor protests are known to have taken place at the Rosencrantz mill. [Tell me more about how the cotton warp mills operate.]

Despite his lack of training and some early problems, Elijah established enough business to survive the national economic downturn of the late 1830s, and the mill prospered in the 1840s. Elijah obtained raw cotton through merchants in New York City, including his brother George’s firm, Rosencrantz and Watts. He also associated with the New York cotton merchant Samuel Dayton. Equally important, Elijah had a reliable market for his finished product in Philadelphia through John's connection with the Ripka mills.

Continue to Courtship of Elijah II and Killie Dayton

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