American Woolen Company

American Woolen Company

The American Woolen Company was established in 1899 under the leadership of William M. Wood and his father-in-law Frederick Ayer through the consolidation of eight financially troubled New England woolen mills. At the company's height in the 1920s, it owned and operated 60 woolen mills across New England. It is most known for its role in the Lawrence textile strike of 1912.


The American Woolen Company was the product of the era of trusts. Overproduction, competition and poor management had brought the New England textile industry to its knees by the 1890s. In particular, family trusts, the main shareholders of many of the mills, insisted on receiving high dividends instead of making necessary capital improvements. Frederick Ayer, successful Lowell merchant, purchased the Washington Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts and hired his son-in-law, William M. Wood to run it. Wood had already successfully turned around a bankrupt mill in Fall River. With Ayer's financial backing, Wood brought together various under-performing mills in the aim of reducing competition and increasing prices. He convinced investors to permit profits to be reinvested into new plants and machinery.

In 1901, the company purchased the failing Burlington Mills in Winooski, Vermont and restored their profitability. [ [ Burlington Vt. area] ] These mills closed in 1954.

In 1905, the American Woolen Company built the largest mill in the world, the Wood Mill in Lawrence, followed by the neighboring Ayer Mill in 1909. The Ayer mill's 22 Foot diameter 4-sided clocktower is only a foot smaller than Big Ben and purportedly only second to it in size in the world (among chiming 4-sided clocktowers).

Following the 1912 Lawrence textile strike, the AWC was forced to increase wages. The company reached its apogee in the 1920s, when it controlled 20% of the nation's woolen production. However, its water-powered mills were unable to adapt to produce new fabrics in response to changing consumer demand, and non-unionized Southern mills were able to produce staple woolen products like blankets more cheaply. The two world wars were a boon to the AWC, keeping the company prosperous into 1945. Following the end of the Korean War, government contracts ended. Virtually bankrupt, the American Woolen Co. was purchased by Textron and incorporated into its Amerotron division in 1955.


*Roddy, Edward. Mills Mansions and Mergers: The Life of William M. Wood. North Andover, Massachusetts: Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, 1982.

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