Saturday, December 26, 2015

Song of a Thousand Looms

Let's revisit Liberty Hyde Bailey's unexpectedly impassioned tribute to "The Tones of Industry" ca. 1915:

...The roll of belts and chains
The whirl of spindles
The hiss of steam
The tip-tap of valves
The undertone rumble of a mill...

As I read those words I was thinking of an 1896 speech by Locke Craig, who as NC governor two decades later would recover Mount Mitchell from the timber companies to establish the first state park in the Southeast. The speech, though, was a declaration of Manifest Destiny for the rise of cotton mills in the Old North State. Growing up with some sense of what textile mills meant to this state in the 20th century, I had one advantage over Craig, and that was the luxury of hindsight.

With the exception of the child laborers, these old pictures are reasonable approximations of places I worked - for a mercifully short time! 

Nothing more I need to add. Craig's oratory speaks for itself:

I shall never forget with what emotion I saw and heard for the first time in operation, a large cotton mill.

I have stood upon the dome of Mount Mitchell at midnight, while beneath me the storm thundered in terrific rage and power, the clouds shot electric fire, and the awful artillery of Heaven was unlimbered. The giant oak and granite boulders were uprooted, and hurled booming and crashing into the abyss amid the mighty battle of the elements, as of primeval chaos.

I have stood upon the sand dunes of Hatteras, and seen the stampede of hurricanes from equatorial storm fields, as they swept over the seething, tumultuous Atlantic in unbridled force and destruction from tropics to polar sea.

But, when I stood in that great cotton mill and listened to the song of a thousand looms, and the music of thousands of spindles, it was finer and grander than mountain storm or ocean hurricane.

It was a marching Hymn of universal progress. The energy that wrought the havoc of the storm had been harnessed and trained by the genius of man to do the service of man.

This chorus in the recitative of triumphant industry sounds around the world, to feed and to clothe — to liberate the toiler from ancient bondage — to beat down poverty from its hopelessness and degradation — to bless all God's children to a higher life — answering the prayer: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done."

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