Built in 1793, the Old Slater Mill was the first successful factory in the US. It was dedicated exclusively to the production of cotton thread until 1829, and then continuously occupied until 1921 with various owners and renters who altered its physical structure to suit whatever enterprise they pursued. Beginning with modest dimensions of 43" x 29", the mill was periodically enlarged, reaching its maximum of 140" x 51" in 1920. Through the years, production included jewelers' tools, coffin trimmings, cardboard and bicycles.
The demise of the last private owner spurred a small group of local businessmen to organize the Old Slater Mill Association to purchase, restore and preserve the "Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.” Between 1925 and 1930, the Association's efforts secured support from 62 individuals and gave them the honor of being "founders" of one of the first industrial museums in the United States. Industrial giants such as Henry Ford, Walter Chrysler and Harvey Firestone were not only early supporters of the museum, but went on to preserve their own industrial collections.
The Old Slater Mill Association's (OSMA) early preservation efforts were unique in a few important ways. The national preservation movement was still in its infancy after World War I. All historic preservation pre-dating World War I had been associated with prominent politicians or with the colonial and revolutionary periods of American history. The first Association members were businessmen who were closely tied to the textile industry and had witnessed its abandonment of the Northeast in favor of the cheap labor, cheap land and availability of raw materials in the South. Unable to halt the deterioration of the textile-based economy, they sought to preserve and protect the last vestige of their industrial heritage, the Old Slater Mill.
Restoration of the mill was completed by 1925 and the building soon housed an impressive array of industrial artifacts. By the early 1950s, the museum was opened on a regular basis with interpreted tours, demonstrations and an organized exhibit of textile machinery. In 1966, Slater Mill was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. In the 1970s, the Wilkinson Mill and Sylvanus Brown House were restored, additional acreage purchased, and the site was renamed Slater Mill Historic Site and given status as a National Historic Landmark District.
Today, Slater Mill is a museum complex that includes the Old Slater Mill, built in 1793 and restored to its c. 1835 appearance; the Wilkinson Mill, built in 1810; the Sylvanus Brown House, built in 1758; archival materials, collections of hand-operated and powered machinery, a 120 seat theatre, 2 gift shops, a gallery and a recreational park. Highlights of the site include a short film bringing to life the industrial history of the Blackstone River Valley, demonstrations of flax processing, cotton spinning, and weaving in an 18th century artisan's home, exhibitions of 19th and 20th century machinery, and an operating 16,000 pound water wheel. Interpretive programs examine the transition from home manufacture to factory production and the role of water and steam power in the industrial revolution.
A National Historic Landmark, Slater Mill preserves, interprets and researches the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and its collections for the benefit of all. The Mill develops an informed understanding of American heritage in innovative economic, industrial, cultural, artistic and social terms. Slater Mill provides high quality, relevant experiences designed to educate, entertain and inspire.
Slater Mill is accredited by the American Association of Museums and is the cornerstone of the John H. Chafee Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor. Slater Mill is supported by charitable contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations with addition support from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and the City of Pawtucket, RI.
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