In many ways, the history of Cranston is the history of the American Industrial Revolution… Our roots go back to 1807 and to the establishment of a tiny cotton printing plant founded by a Rhode Island governor, William Sprague.
In order to understand how Sprague was able to build a textile empire in Rhode Island, we have to travel back to England in the late 1700’s…
Samuel Slater and the American Industrial Revolution In 1769, one year before the Boston Massacre, and six years before the colonies were to gain their independence from England, an English inventor, Richard Arkwright, patented a spinning frame that would revolutionize the production of cotton cloth. Two years later, in 1771, another invention, the spinning jenny, was introduced by Englishman James Hargreaves. In 1779, the spinning mule, a device for spinning muslin yarns, was invented by Samuel Crompton in England. The Textile Industrial Revolution in England was soon in full swing.
Even after the Revolutionary War in 1776, America was still viewed as an ideal market for the vast amounts of cloth, textiles and trims that England was producing. Industry secrets and technology were closely guarded. American mills offered “bounties” for English apprentices who could provide plans for Arkwright-Hargreaves mill works. It wasn’t until 1789, that the English methods of cloth production would be brought to America. Responding to the offer of a “bounty”, a young 21 year old Englishman, Samuel Slater, disguised himself as a common laborer and was granted access to emigrate to America. As we will see, his journey was to forever change the way in which American textile mills operated.
Samuel Slater had been a partner of Richard Arkwright, and smuggled in Arkwright’s industrial secrets in a most unusual way, he committed the workings of the mill to memory! Slater’s first American mill was constructed in what is now Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He later established mills in Oxford, Massachusetts, which is today known as Webster, MA. (One of those early Slater mills became part of Cranston Print Works Company in 1936.)
Governor William Sprague Samuel Slater’s journey and a number of other factors enabled William Sprague, a governor of Rhode Island, to take a small cotton printing plant and make it into one of the great textile empires of the day. The mill was called “Sprague Print Works” and located in Cranston, Rhode Island, the administrative home of Cranston Print Works Company today. Access to waterways, new technology and natural resources made Sprague Print Works a thriving business until after the Civil War, when an economic depression set in and ownership was passed to BB & R. Knight. The Knight corporation licensed and operated the mill under the “Fruit of the Loom” trademark. It is interesting to note that the original Sprague Mansion and other memorials can still be seen in Cranston today.
1920-1987 Expansion and Innovation In 1920, the William G. Rockefeller interests bought the Knight plant and reorganized it as Cranston Print Works Company.
Capacity increased greatly in 1936 with the purchase of the Slater East Village mill and print works in Webster, Massachusetts. As you remember, it was at this historic mill that Samual Slater developed the first American cotton-spinning machinery. In 1949, Cranston boosted capacity still further by opening a plant in Fletcher, North Carolina.
1987 Employee Ownership In August, 1987, Cranston became an employee-owned company whose fundamental and on-going mission is to continue to serve the needs of its customers, employees and the society in which we live. All of us at Cranston are proud of our rich heritage, and determined to continue our history of quality. As a new century approaches, we look forward to continuing our commitment to the environment, our local communities and to our customers. After all, “quality” is not just a byword at Cranston Print Works– it’s a centuries-old tradition!