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The Mill Museum has a 1950s Whitin ring spinning frame on display in its Dugan Mill Factor…

The Mill Museum has a 1950s Whitin ring spinning frame on display in its Dugan Mill Factory Floor Exhibit Room (see below). The machine spins thick roving (carded cotton, seen wound onto the large hanging bobbins on the top) into thinner, stronger thread or yarn. The roving is pulled through rollers, stretching out out, a process called drawing. The rings then twist the drawn roving (this is the actual spinning part) to make it strong. Finally, the machine winds the thread or yarn onto the smaller bobbins on the bottom. This spinning frame has an important safety feature called a SpinSaVac suction end-catcher — an invention that saved many thousands of lives and which is described below. But first, the spinning frame itself. This particular spinning frame was manufactured in Whitinsville, MA, once the home of the Whitin Machine Shop, one of the largest manufacturers of textile machinery in the world. The Whitin Company was founded in 1809 as a cotton mill, but added “the Shop” in 1831. The Whitin Company reached its peak in 1948, but declined thereafter. The Whitin family sold “the Shop” in 1966, and it closed in 1976. Most of this machine is made of tough, thick steel, designed to last. It is a “ring spinner.” Ring spinners replaced the older mule spinning frames in the mid-1800s — the ring spinning frames were faster, more compact, and required less skill to operate. One consequence is that spinning became semi-skilled labor and wages declined. Although Whitin manufactured the spinning frame itself, two of its key components were made by other companies. The electric motor (this spinning frame is belt-driven, but it is an electric motor that drives the belt, rather than waterpower or steam) was made by General Electric, another New England manufacturer. And the spinning frame also includes a device called a “SpinSaVac suction end-catcher.” As spinning frames drew the thick roving into thin thread, numerous small fibers would pop loose. As a result, for generations spinning frames would be surrounded by clouds of cotton or wool fibers. At the end of the day, workers were coated in lint — so much so, that Southern textile workers acquired the nickname “lint heads.” Workers also inhaled the dust and lint, which settled into their lungs, causing “white lung” disease. Untold thousands of textile workers died young, their lungs ruined by all the fibers they inhaled. In 1955 the SpinSaVac Company, a subsidiary of the larger Parks-Cramer Company, invented and patented a safety device. An aluminum suction tube mounted on the spinning frame sucked up around 90% of the fibers and deposited them into a lint trap sitting just above the electric motor. Lives were saved. Parks-Cramer had been created in 1918, at the end of World War I, when the G. M. Parks Company of Fitchburg, MA, bought the Stuart Warren Cramer Company of Charlotte, NC. Parks-Cramer specialized in AC systems for cotton mills, which needed to maintain precise humidity levels. The Company then developed some of the first HVAC systems used in factories and mills. And in 1955, it came up with the SpinSaVac. Like Whitin, Parks-Cramer no longer exists, closing in 1988. Its Charlotte factory is on the National Historic Register, more because of the Company’s innovative technology than its pretty ordinary architecture. Most of its business records are held by the University of North Carolina. Its catalogs and other records are in the Smithsonian Institution. The Mill Museum’s spinning frame was never used in Willimantic’s American Thread Company mills, although ATCO had many like it. When ATCO closed in 1985, they sold all their excess machinery for scrap. The Mill Museum therefore acquired this spinning frame from North Carolina, thanks to Jay Atwood and Dale Plummer, who found, acquired, and retrieved it.

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