Submitted by the Carpet and Rug Institute
In the beginning: Woven carpet
The carpet industry in the United States began in 1791 when William Sprague started the first woven carpet mill in Philadelphia. Others opened during the early 1800s in New England. Included in that area was Beattie Manufacturing Co. in Little Falls, N.J., a company that operated until 1979.
In 1839, Erastus Bigelow permanently reshaped the industry with the invention of the power loom for weaving carpets. Bigelow’s loom, which doubled carpet production the first year after its creation and tripled it by 1850, is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collections. He continued to devote his life to innovation — 35 separate patents were issued to him between 1839 and 1876. Bigelow introduced the first broadloom carpet in 1877.
The power loom with Jacquard mechanism was developed in 1849, and Brussels carpet was first manufactured by the Clinton Co. of Massachusetts. The Brussels loom was slightly modified, making possible the manufacture of Wilton carpet. Later, the Hartford Carpet Co. joined with Clinton Company to become Bigelow Carpet Co.
In 1878, four Shuttleworth brothers brought 14 looms from England and established their manufacturing plant in Amsterdam, N.Y. In 1905, the company introduced a new carpet, Karnak Wilton. Its instant success was phenomenal. Flooded with orders, a new building had to be constructed to exclusively handle Karnak production. Weavers worked four and five years without changing either the color or pattern on their looms.
Alexander Smith started his carpet manufacturing plant in 1845 in West Farms, N.Y. An American, Halcyon Skinner, had perfected the power loom for making Royal Axminster in 1876. He and Alexander Smith combined, forming a very successful carpet company. Smith was elected to Congress in 1878, but died on the evening of Election Day. Sixteen hundred people were employed at his factory at the time of his death. Alexander Smith & Sons continued. During World War I, the carpet looms were converted to make tent duck and navy blankets. In 1929 Alexander Smith & Sons was the largest manufacturer of carpets and rugs in the world.