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Quaker Lace Company records

1897-1972
 Collection
Accession: 2050

Abstract

The Quaker Lace Company manufactured Nottingham lace and was one of the textile firms founded by John Bromley (1800-1883) and his seven sons. The records represent a fraction of the total Quaker Lace archive which was salvaged from the 4th and Lehigh mill during the liquidation of the company. The collection is arranged into seven series: General administrative files and correspondence; Sale literature; Advertising and promotional materials; Production records; Legal records; Financial records; and Tax records.

Dates

  • 1897-1972

Creator

Extent

28 Linear Feet

Historical note

The Quaker Lace Company manufactured Nottingham lace and was the last survivor of a number of the textile firms founded by John Bromley (1800-1883) and his seven sons.

Bromley, an English immigrant, in 1845 started a carpet factory with a single hand loom in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. His company grew to be one of the city's largest textile enterprises. When his children joined the firm it was renamed John Bromley & Son in 1856 and later John Bromley & Sons in 1860. In 1868, the Bromley sons began to strike out on their own in Philadelphia's booming textile industry. At first the business ventures of the younger Bromleys were confined to the ingrain carpet manufacturing that their father had so successfully lead.

In 1889, Bromley's sons John H. (1844-1918), Joseph H. (1852-1931), and Edward (1861-1915) established the Bromley Manufacturing Company to produce lace curtains. The Bromley brothers were the first to make a serious effort to weave lace in America on a large scale and after some difficulty were able to induce large numbers of skilled Nottingham weavers to emigrate. During the depression of 1893 to 1898, the Bromley began shifting most of their capital from carpets into the new product lines. The Bromley firms were a series of inter-linked proprietorships and partnerships that were entirely self-financing. The profits of the carpet business enabled the Bromleys to overcome the barriers to entry posed by the high cost of lace-weaving machinery.

Joseph H., John H., and Edward Bromley formed the Lehigh Manufacturing Company in 1894. The firm constructed a new lace curtain factory at 4th and Lehigh. Three years later, Joseph withdrew from the older Bromley companies, and John and Edward withdrew from Lehigh Manufacturing. The company opened a new factory at 22nd and Lehigh that was said to be the largest in the world. Joseph, along with his sons, continued to operate the 4th Street plant under his own name as an individual proprietorship, also known as the Joseph H. Bromley Mill. The Bromleys also established the North American Lace Company around 1902 and the National Lace Company around 1904.

In December 1911, Joseph H. Bromley consolidated his efforts to form the Quaker Lace Company. The expansion of the American lace industry had been facilitated by a 1900 tariff revision that raised the duty of lace goods and suspended the duty on imports of lace-making machinery until 1911. However, the lace tariff was reduced to its former level by the Wilson administration in 1913, and several firms started since 1901 failed.

At the same time, consumer taste began shifting away from lace curtains. The Bromleys were thus impelled to redirect their investments in lace. The large 22nd Street mill was closed in 1916. Quaker Lace then took over the 4th Street mill where they manufactured tablecloths, scarves, napkins, doilies, and government camouflage and mosquito netting during World War I. Unlike smaller textile firms, Quaker Lace was responsible in-house for the complete manufacturing process including winding, warping, threading (brass bobbins for Nottingham lace), weaving, mending, wet processes like dying and bleaching, folding, and packing.

After World War I, Joseph H. Bromley gave the old 22nd Street mill to his son Charles S. Bromley (1882-1950), who converted it to a hoisery mill in 1919 under the style of Quaker Hosiery Company. Fueled by the popularity of silk stockings in the 1920s, the full-fashioned hosiery industry boomed in Philadelphia. Quaker directed the bulk of its new investment into its hosiery company during this decade.

The Bromley enterprises initially survived the structural changes that precipitated the decline of the Philadelphia textile industry. In the 1930s, the Bromleys began to move their investments out of Philadelphia with the purchase of the Riverside Mills in New Jersey, the Mayfair Mills in Athens, Georgia, and the Smoky Mountains Hosiery Mills in Kingsport, Tennessee. The depression proved a difficult time for the hosiery industry, and on December 23, 1940, the Quaker Hosiery Company was dissolved. Assets of the hosiery company were conveyed to the Van Pelt Realty Corporation. On June 20, 1942, the Quaker Lace Company merged into Van Pelt Realty, which subsequently changed its name to the Quaker Lace Company (briefly reffered to as Quaker Lace Company (new)).

Quaker Lace continued to operate as the textile industry moved into terminal decline. In the 1960s, the knitting operations were moved to Lionville, Chester County, Pennsylvania and Winthrop, Maine. Bleaching, drying, and cutting continued at the 4th Street plant. The final blow came in the 1980s with the closing of department stores that were the company's principle outlet. Quaker Lace declared bankruptcy in 1992, and its properties were sold at auction in 1993.The 4th Street plant was destroyed in an eight-alarm fire on the night of September 19, 1994. The arson was ordered by drug dealers to end police surveillance of the neighborhood from the abandoned building.

Scope and Contents

The records represent a fraction of the total Quaker Lace archive which was salvaged from the 4th and Lehigh mill during the liquidation of the company. The collection is arranged into seven series: General administrative files and correspondence; Sale literature; Advertising and promotional materials; Production records; Legal records; Financial records; and Tax records.

General administrative files include correspondence, newsletters, reports, trade catalogs, and press releases. Subject matter includes general day-to-day management, legal and personnel matters (especially the Taft-Hartley Act), insurance, the impact of tariffs and trade regulations, and applications for the Good Housekeeping Seal Approval.

Sales literature series reflects the activities of the sales force and the operation of the company's New York showroom. It includes correspondence from the customer relations manager, credit manager, and traveling sales personnel, files on wholesale customers, sales quota reports, salesmen's commissison books, price lists, and delivery schedules. It also includes correspondence with William Ewart & Sons, New York, Ltd., a maker of Irish linen distributed and sold in the United States by Quaker Lace.

Advertising and promotional materials describe the firm's marketing practices and include correspondence with advertising agencies. There are six advertising scrapbooks for lace, tablecloths, curtains, and hosiery from 1913 and 1936 to 1951. Reports from the Home Window Decorating Guild (1939-1941) include a study of lace color preferences. A company self-survey outlines the company's production and marketing history, while a 1931 sales study by J. Walter Thompson describes its place within the industry.

Production records contain information on machinery, design, distribution, personnel, piecework rates, output, and inventories. Seasonal forecasts and production files (1950-1972) describe changing products and the links between sales and production. The series includes a scrapbook of lace samples with data on physical characteristics.

Legal records describe the sale and leasing of hosiery knitting machines and other equipment, rental of parts of the factory buildings, real estate assessments, and labor disputes. Among the latter is a case brought by two employees of the Smokey Mountains Hosiery Mills for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Financial records include account books, personnel records with wage and piecework rates, and information of World War II production.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Related Materials

Quaker Lace Company records (Accession 2357), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Quaker Lace Company records (Accession 2684), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Separated Materials

Quaker Lace Company photographs (Accession 1995.295), Audiovisual and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

A number of trade catalogs, reports, and other titles were sent to the Published Collections Department. Items can be found searching the library catalog or contacting Published Collections Department.

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Quaker Lace Company records
Status:
Author:
Ellen M. Felser
Date:
1995
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Ashley Williams

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400