George H. Gilbert and Co. recordsCreation: 1842-1863
The George H. Gilbert & Company manufactured broadcloth and cloakings in Ware, Massachusetts, and high-grade woolen flannels, for which it developed a national reputation until 1930. The records consist of applications for fire insurance and insurance policies covering the woolen mill, Gilbert's house, tenant housing, and outbuildings.
- Creation: 1842-1863
- George H. Gilbert Mfg. Co (Organization)
The George H. Gilbert & Company was a woolen mill that manufactured broadcloth and cloakings in Ware, Massachusetts, and later high-grade woolen flannels, for which it developed a national reputation until 1930.
In 1841, George H. Gilbert (1806-1869) and Charles A. Stevens (1816-1892) formed a partnership to manufacture broadcloth and cloakings in Ware, Massachusetts. The partners acquired a mill building on the Ware River and expanded in 1846 and 1847, erecting several new factory buildings and a number of tenements to house the growing population of workers.
The partnership, known as Gilbert and Stevens, dissolved in 1851, with each of the partners taking one of the business products. The newly formed George H. Gilbert Company continued the making of high-grade woolen flannels, for which it developed a national reputation. The company exhibited goods at the London Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 and at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, among others. The firm, however, remained a family business. In 1850, Lewis N. Gilbert (1836-1919) joined his uncle’s firm, establishing himself as a prominent Ware resident and eventually a member of the State Senate in 1877-1878. J.H. Gilbert, the son of George, joined the company in the 1870s. He eventually rose to be president of the company and stayed until the company closed in 1930. In addition, J.H. Grenville Gilbert (1851-1931) helped found the Young Men’s Library Association of Ware and was also president of the Ware Savings Bank.
In 1860, the Gilbert Co. expanded into neighboring Worcester County, acquiring a mill and building tenements in what came to be known as Gilbertville in the Southwest corner of Hardwick. By the turn of the century, the Gilbert Company employed more than 1,000 people in its two factory complexes.
From the beginning, the Gilbert Company operated under the family (or Slater) system common to rural textile mills. Entire families were recruited for mill employment, and kin networks continued to serve as an informal method of labor recruitment into the twentieth century, even as the ethnicity of the workforce shifted from Irish to French-Canadian (1870) to Polish (1900’s).
The company began to experience financial problems in the 1920s, a full five years before the Great Depression. Woolen manufacturers in the region began to slowly lose business to Southern competitors. A series of wage reductions and three-day schedules for employees could not revive the company as the continued slump of the wholesale woolen market finally caused the company to close its Ware plant in 1929. Shortly thereafter, the company closed its Gilbertville complex, bringing to an end almost 90 years of continuous operation.
Scope and Contents
The George H. Gilbert and Company records consist of applications for fire insurance and insurance policies covering the woolen mill, Gilbert's house, tenant housing, and outbuildings. They contain descriptions of the buildings, their contents, and practices relating to fire safety. Some of the applications have sketch site plans of all or part of the mill complex, although they are not as elaborate as those found on later insurance maps.
No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.
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Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- George H. Gilbert and Co. records
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- 2021: Ashley Williams