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American Woolen Mills – Woven Stories of American History
Not too long ago, it looked like woolen mills would die quietly… along with the products they had created for more than a century. Once thriving, woolen mills experienced a decline in the 20th century coinciding with the growth of overseas manufacturing. Thankfully, several of the woolen mills once popular in the Industrial Revolution are humming once again through a “Made in America” movement and consumer interest in history, heritage, and quality. These mills, some with almost two centuries of production, are weaving the stories of our country’s history into their products.
For 150 years, Faribault Woolen Mills has created quality woolen garments in Faribault, Minnesota. The mill currently makes blankets, throws, scarves and also select apparel and accessories. At one time, the Mill was the largest maker of woolen blankets and created blankets for our army in both World Wars (over 100,000 wool blankets were made for WWI). In 2011, the company was rescued from a certain demise by cousins Paul and Chuck Mooty, and in just a few years they have revived the Mill’s building and product lines. Today, Faribault is creating their classic pure wool blankets and forging new relationships with retailers and businesses.
Woolrich Woolen Mills has built their reputation based on quality and has gathered many loyal customers during their 180-year existence – the longest running woolen mill in America. In 1830, English immigrant John Rich started a small mill in Plum Run, Pennsylvania, and in 1845 he built a new mill by the Chathum Run River. The mill and the surrounding building, homes and establishments comprise the modern-day company town of Woolrich, Pennsylvania. Originally called “Factoryville,” the community, during the Industrial Revolution, created clothes for railroad workers, soldiers, and hunters. Many of these clothes, like the Buffalo Check Shirt, have been worn by generations of men and women. Today, collaborations between Woolrich and other companies have proven to be successful and produced new products, like the Woolrich Rover Pack developed in collaboration with TOPO Designs.
Pendleton Woolen Mills opened in 1909 in an idle mill in Pendleton, Oregon. The company was started by three brothers – Clarence, Roy and Chauncey Bishop – who came from a family of weavers, mill operators and retail merchants that provided the brothers with the knowledge (and financial backing) to open the mill. Over time, the mill has made blankets for Native Americans, as well as robes and shawls. Pendleton’s blankets achieved popularity as a “trading blanket” because of the rich, bright colors; Native Americans were unable to reproduce those colors with the natural pigments of the area. Also, the Jacquard looms allowed the blankets and other woven items to have detailed patterns. The blankets were incorporated into everyday and ceremonial uses, and southwest Native Americans in the Nez Perce, Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations would trade valuable items, like silver and wool, for the blankets. Today, a version of these blankets is available for purchase. There are Native American-inspired designs as well as the legendary series, which produces a blanket every year in collaboration with Native American artists. Additionally, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their American Indian College Fund series of blankets supports grants to Native American college students.
Pendleton Woolen Mills’ National Parks blankets have been made since the early 1900s. Each blanket is marked with a label that identifies its authenticity and an additional label that identifies the park and one of that park’s unique natural features. National Park Blankets are still available to purchase from Pendleton from select retailers or from their online store.
America’s history lives within the blankets and other woolen products woven by these iconic mills – from the Western expansion to the World Wars. With a renewed consumer interest in “American Made”, heritage and quality, gratefully these mills will continue to weave stories past and present into quality pieces – to be worn and treasured by future generations.