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The history of the looms of Mohawk

By Bob Cudmore
Monday, August 30, 2010

The origin of the looms of Mohawk can be traced to William Shuttleworth and his four sons, who came to America from England in 1875 and started a carpet mill in the Hudson Valley.

After their father died, the four brothers came to Amsterdam in 1878, taking over an empty factory along the Mohawk River in the East End. Carpet making was already well established in Amsterdam at the Church Street mills of Stephen Sanford & Sons, later named Bigelow Sanford.

Mohawk Mills was created with the 1920 combination of the Shuttleworth mill and the McCleary, Wallin and Crouse rug factory in the city’s Rockton section. That complex — started by some of Sanford’s former employees — was known as the Upper Mill and the East End location was called the Lower Mill.

Herbert L. Shuttleworth was named president of the merged company. His son, Arthur, headed Mohawk Mills starting in 1930 and another son, Howard, took the helm in 1940. Arthur’s son Herbert L. Shuttleworth II — who had spent some time running Amsterdam’s New York Yankees farm team, the Rugmakers — became Mohawk vice president in 1948.

The carpet mills ran at full steam during World War II producing blankets and canvas for the war effort, along with a variety of other products. As Mohawk and Bigelow-Sanford went back to producing carpet after World War II, it appeared that Amsterdam’s position as the Rug City was solid.

The mills employed a hierarchy of factory workers from winders and sparehands to weavers and loom fixers. A small army of artists designed the carpets.

Mohawk advertised on national television and had a popular advertising jingle that was sung to the beat of a tom-tom:

Carpets from the looms of Mohawk;

carpets for your rooms by Mohawk;

rugs to grace your floors with beauty;

woven for your roughest duty.

Herbert Shuttleworth II became Mohawk Mills president in 1952. What workers called the “big strike” took place that year when the Textile Workers Union of America were on the picket lines for 12 weeks at factories in northern states, including Amsterdam.

“We got 11 cents [an hour raise],” said the late local union leader Tony Murdico. “There were no ifs, ands or buts. We had to go back to work with 11 cents.”

When Amsterdam celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1954, a huge parade marked the occasion. Ironically, one of the floats was a flying carpet. The next year, Bigelow-Sanford moved its carpet making operation out of Amsterdam to Thompsonville, Conn.

Mohawk Mills made another kind of move — a merger with Alexander Smith, a carpet manufacturer in Yonkers. The new company was called Mohasco.

For a while, management jobs from Alexander Smith helped boost Amsterdam’s economy. But gradually Mohasco moved manufacturing south — to the Carolinas and Georgia. Labor was cheaper there. Land and tax breaks were plentiful.

Another reason the carpet industry left the Northeast was the invention of tufting after World War II.

Tufting produces carpet much more quickly than the weaving process that was used in Amsterdam.

Tufting machines were too huge and heavy to fit into the old multi-storied mill buildings in Amsterdam.
By 1968, carpet manufacturing ended in Amsterdam. The last corporate offices left the city in 1987. In 1992 and 1994, arson fires gutted the former Upper Mill complex at Forest Avenue and Lyon Street. The damaged buildings have been torn down and the site awaits development.

Mohawk Industries today has its headquarters in Kennesaw, Ga. Through the twists and turns of mergers in corporate America, Mohawk Industries since 1993 has owned the rights to both of Amsterdam’s major carpet brands of the past — Mohawk and Bigelow-Sanford.

Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

 

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