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History of the Hooper Mills
Viator C. Buhl
TAU BETA PI
University of Maryland
History of Baltimore City and County
J. Thomas Scharf Philadelphia 1801
History of Baltimore Vol.1
Clayton Colman Hall
History of Amerioan Manufactures Vol. l&B
J. Leander Bishop Philadelphia 1864
Maryland File Room, Central Library of Baltimore
Personal Int srviewe
Mr. Joshua Jones, Baltimore
Mr. Harriaon Robins, 111
Whan, in 1300, William Hooper came to
Baltimore, he realized the fame that had been given
to the city by the Baltimore Clipper Ships, the
speediest merchant ships of their day, and was struok
with the idea of a mill which would supply these vessels
with material for sails. This was the beginning of the
Later, the deaand presented itself for a wider
variety of manufacture ootton goods, bo the factory was
expanded to answer the purpose* With his strongest rival,
Horatio H. Gambrill, moving southward and nearer to the
raw material, Mr. Hooper bought his interest in the
Hooper, Park and Ueadow Mills, in which new machinery
was installed for new fields of endeavor.
Coming nearer the present, the new Hooperwood
Mills were built in the heart of Woodberry and on Jones 1
falls. Here they stand today, in the second century of
their progress, as the work of four generations of a
family which is promising to devalope still further the
enterprise which had its beginnings so many years ago*
A History of the Hooper
Within the United States there exist
approximately seventy- five firms with a life history
of over one hundred years, during which time the business
has been handed down from father to son. William S.
Hooper and Sons Company is one of the three concerns
in Baltimore enjoying this distinction, and its history
covers nearly the entire period of Baltimore's textile
For four generations, now, the Hooper family
has been instrumental in establishing Baltimore as one
of the world's leading cities In the field of textile
manufacture. Their plant a at one time olothed the
ships of almost the entire world with sail, and supplied
practically all of the cotton duck used in the United
States. This was, needless to say, Baltimore's leading
single article of manufacture.
The Baltimore Clipper Ships, the speediest
merchant vessels of their day, were rapidly giving the
oity of their name world wide fame as a shipping center.
Equipping these vessels with sail had created a large
and highly specialized industry, and one which, as its
history proves, had its appeal to the youth seeking
his fortune in the new world.
When, in the year 1800, William Hooper arrived
at the harbor of Boston, he soon found hie way to
Baltimore, where he followed the custom of the time
by serving an apprenticeship. In his case, of course,
it was an apprenticeship to a sail-maker whose name was
Hardest or, and it was not long before the ambitious
young man had started in business for himself. Taking
in his former employer as a partner, he established
the firm of Hooper and Hardest or. In this combination
we find the beginning of a business of lasting greatness,
a business which was later to supply the United States
with from two thirds to three fourths of the country's
total output of ootton duok, to say nothing of the great
quantities which were shipped to the far corners of
In 1843 he retired from active -#©*& and
passed the responsibility of the work to his son,
William E. Hooper, who, for several years, had been
learning the trade from his father. It was under the
guiding hand o<f this man that the Hooper Mills^their
greatest progress. His ambition was to further the
interests of the concern, and in two years he bought
out hie partner in order t! at the business might be
carried on exclusively in the Hooper name.
It is often told that he would xw* out
the Pat apse o river and even down the bay to meet
incoming 6 Upper ships in order that he might secure
orders for new sails. He often rose before the sun
with the aim of being the first Ealtimorean aboard.
During the period when William Hooper and
hia son were the presidents of the concern other
mills were being constructed along Jones' falls* The
location proved to be a suitable one for these mills
because the stream furnished a great deal of water power
at a time when steam and electricity were unheard of,
and because grants of free land were, at that time,
being given to millwrights.
One of the first of these, the Washington
Manufacturing Company, was ereoted in 1810, Owned by
Mr. Thomas FUlton and having a capitol of $100,000.,
it was one of the eighty-seven cotton mills in the
country and is said to have been the finest cotton
goods factory in the state of Maryland. With two
hundred and eighty-eight spindles working, the stock
shares were priced at $53.
In 1834, Horatio N. Gambrill and David Carroll
purohased the factory and proceeded to rebuild and
enlarge it for the purpose of the manufacture of
cotton duck. So successful was this venture that
located in Woodberry in northeast
Baltimore, were the baaio reason
for the selection of Yfoodberry for
the sight of the Hooper Mill.
lir. Gambrill bought a tract of land owned by a Mr,
Weodberry, and replaced the existing flour mill with
a more modern plant for the production of mora duel:.
This took place In the year 1834, Thie mill marked the
first use of steam, in this part of the country, for
manufacturing purposes, and the result was that the
capltol had been doubled by 184 5.
Two years later the Laurel Mill was bought from
a Mr* Jenkins, and soon the first of the three Mt.
Vernon Mille came into existence. Hers the five thousand
spindles produced -orer eighty thousand pounds of cotton
a month, or 960,000 pounds a year.
The second lit. Vernon Mill was erected in
18 53, and Its five thousand spindles employed one hundred
and fifty men. Two years after the opening, the
energetic pioneers branched out into another field of
endeavor- that of the manufacture of seine netting.
This too beoame quite a large industry, and was set up
in thw new Park Mill, which had been built especially
for this purpose.
In 1853, the Ifhite Hall Mill, which Mr.
Gairbrill had bought in 1832, was burned to the ground.
On this sight, the Olyo e * Mill, one of great capacity,
was erected, and was in operation within six months
THE lit. VERNON MILL,
the groat « Bt ri»al to the Hooper Mill,
and once owned by Horatio N.Gambrill
after the fire. Mi s fortune in the same form visited
the eite once again, however, and this great plant
Buffered the same fate as had ita predecessor. Not
to be discouraged by the double destruction of their
plant, the workers, this tlme A and succeeded in doubling
its former capacity.
Previous to 1848, William E. Hooper had added
another accomplishment to hie record, and had become one
of the city's largest cotton buyers. This material he was
forced to acquire by way of Norfolk,
When Gambrlll and Carroll began their manufacture
of cotton duck in W o odbur y, they were supplied with their
raw material by the Hooper Mills, and the output of
the rival concern was then put into sales competition
with similar goode from Western Europe*
In December, 1848 Mr. Hooper purchased the rights
of copartnership in this rival concern and also added
the Park, Washington, and Clipper Mills to his collection,
buying them outright feom Horatio N. Gambr ill.
During the Civil War, the Hooper concern
neglected its cotton duck industry in favor of the manu-
facture of ootton thread. Per a tine, it appeared that the
usefulness of the cotton mills might be put to an end, but
yhs pries of ootton fell rapidly, and the new crop of
raw material which had come from the south began to arrive
at tfoodberry Mill, where it was **p» into thread and
sold for the manufacture of olothing articles,
then the great industrialist died, in 1873,
he passed the helm of the activities on to hie eldest
eon, James £. Hooper*
Keeping the mills equipped with nothing but
the latest and most modern machinery, Mr. Hooper has
guided the organization to new and greater heights.
As he expressed it, "Production is speeding up with ever-
increasing force. To survive, one must march abreast of
Not sinoe power was first applied to the looms
have there been such radical changes made with costly
equipment. Ho longer is the cotton duck made exclusively
for sails, and no longer does the William S. Hooper and
Sons Company produce exclusively cotton duck. From all
over the country come orders for their products, which
include cotton dryer felts, cider press cloth, stretched
belting duck, cotton yarns, oil press and biscuit duck,
coal bags, laundry nets, and many other such articles
which are basic to e very-day life as well as A the workers
in other industries. From this list, we may easily see
that at the present time, sail duck, the product for
which the concern first gained repute, plays only a
small and somwwhat Insignificant role •
le find, then, that the change has been in the
machinery which does the work and the time consumed
to do it, but that neither the high standard of quality
nor the distinctive methodology has been altered.
Let ua examine the iaaide of the mill as far
as we are allowed to see. Our greatest poiat of interest
is the process leading up to the actual waevin g of the
First, there is a r e oi e vi p g department, where
the cotton baled in Taxas is opened, cleaned, and made
ready to work with. There is next an adjoining structure
in which the cotton is carded in endless lightly rolled
laps, from these the raw material Is caught up and spun
into threads of many different sizes.
The largest building is reserved for weaving.
Immense looms, small looms, and every concievable size
in between, are arranged in seemingly endless rows. The
hugs machinery which seems to occupy as much space as
a fairly large home is a noiselessly vibrating affair
which performs the actual task of weaving the thread into
For weaving a two hundred and forty inch roll
of cotton duck in one machine go separate threads which
are supplied by 18,000 spools. Needless to say, all of
these threads are moving simultaneously.
Looking now at the labor side of this great
industry, we find a rather unique situation. The
early factories of Baltimore were operated by staffs
which consisted of from fifty to seventy- five percent
women and children, most of them boye and girls
whose ages averaged from six to twelve years of age.
These youngsters attended mainly to the task of holding
and adjusting the flrameB, while the machines were
manned by the women of the force. This left only the
heavy work, such as hauling bales, etc., to be done
by the male employees.
In the Hooper Mills, however, we find quite
a different story. James £. Hooper was one of the
worst enemies that the advocates of child labor had,
and he refused to employ them in this fashion. We also
find that fewer women were working in his plants than
was the case with rival concerns.
In pas Ring we might mention that the average
working day of the time was something like twelve o-f
thirteen hours, and the pay was correspondingly low.
As a matter of fact, the average man employed was payed
only about twelve dollars a month.
As already mentioned, James Hooper was bitterly
opposed to these universally aocepted conditions., and
did all in his power to better those of hie workers. He
was one of the first Maryland advocates of tha regulation
of child labor, and, in 1873, ran for the state
legislature in order that he might at least initiate
legislation along these lines.
Although nothing was legally done at this time,
the various mills consented to the polioy of ceasing
to employ any girl under twelve years of age. It was
not, however, until 1880 that any state regulation of
this evil was entered in the statute books.
Dismissing the. .labor situation from our mind,
now, we find that the opening of the present century
found Mr. Hooper entering into a combination with the
Mt . Vernon-Woodberry groups and other large interests
to form the Mt. Vernon-Woodberry^Duck Assoc i at ion, of
which he was president. A year later, however, he became
opposed to the policies adopted by the group and with-
drew, building the B opowoo - d- Mill number one.
In 1908, when Jamejr Hooper died, his interests
passed to his eldest Son, another William E. Hooper,
who, in 191? sold his interests to hie brothers, Bobert
and James Hooper.
Also about this time, A Hoopers sold the Clipper,
Park, Woodberry and M e do w Mills to the Woodberry Got ton
loo at 3d at Druid Ridge Drivs, th.es© recently
constructed mills are, at the present time,
the sole posession of the William X, Hoop ac
and Sons Company,
and Duck Company and built the sec«nd and third
These were built in the heart of Woodberry,
just below Prospect Hill in Druid Kill Park, where
we find them today.
Thus we find that the long, Tar led, and rather
unique history of the Hooper Mills is brought up to the
present time, and is now being run under the guiding
hand of James Sdward Hooper, the son of the late Robert