Factory Life

Life in the 1830's

The Waltham-Lowell System and Slater System.

The Lowell system was a labor and production model employed in the United States, particularly in New England, during the early years of the American textile industry in the early 19th century.


Before industrialization, textile production was typically done at home, and early industrial systems such as the Slater system maintained housing for families, with only spinning done in the factory. The Waltham-Lowell System saw all stages of textile production done under one roof, with employees living in company housing, and away from home and family.

The system used domestic labor, often referred to as mill girls, who came to the new textile centers from rural towns to earn more money than they could at home, and to live a cultured life in "the city". Their life was very regimented - they lived in company boarding houses and were held to strict hours and a moral code.


As competition in the domestic textile industry grew and wages fell, strikes began to occur, and with the introduction of cheaper imported foreign workers by mid-century, the system proved unprofitable and declined.


The Slater system was fairly similar. Invented by a man by the name of Samuel Slater.


A few years after starting his mill, Slater began hiring whole families from the surrounding area, including children, to work the spinning machines. Child labor had long been used in Britain's textile factories and Slater himself had worked in them as a youth. In the Rhode Island mills, the families made up the workforce. Wages were low and the hours were long. But the Rhode Island system of labor worked, and by the 1820s it was firmly established in American industry. In 1832 an estimated 40 percent of all factory workers in New England were between the ages of seven and sixteen.