Francis Cabot Lowell

Francis Cabot Lowell was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on April 17, 1775, the son of John Lowell, noted jurist and delegate to the Continental Congress.

Frances Cabot Lowell

Lowell became a successful merchant and traveled to England, where in 1810 he acquired information about the Lancashire power looms' inner workings. Upon his return to the United States, Lowell collaborated with master mechanic Paul Moody to construct an improved version of the machinery that conducted the spinning and weaving functions.

In 1814, the Boston Manufacturing Company successfully gathered the entire process under one roof in Waltham, Massachusetts on the Charles River. Nine years later, after Lowell’s death on August 10, 1817, the plant was relocated as a massive complex in a town bearing the founder’s name.

Efforts were made to foster the “Lowell System,� a plan to address all the needs of the female former farm workers (and later immigrant women) who were employed in the plant. The company owned and operated not only the factory, but the dormitories, shops and churches. Behavior was carefully regulated, supervision was intense and wages were initially high. Lowell increased from a population of several dozen to more than 8,000 in 15 years.

Not everyone was impressed by the supposed utopianism of the Lowell System, notably Henry David Thoreau, who became a critic.