Our Story: Benjamin Bates
Former schoolteacher Benjamin Bates first came to Lewiston, Maine in 1847. Upon arrival he noticed tremendous potential in the currents of the Androscoggin River: with construction of canals to control the hydropower, Bates knew he would be able to run a successful and efficient mill. At this time 98% of the cloth made in America was made in the home by families for their own use, but the Industrial Revolution and contributors to it (such as Benjamin Bates) would change the face of textile production forever.
Machinery and construction supplies arrived in Lewiston only one year after the city’s first railroad was introduced, and the mills were built quickly. The ten years following the opening of the Bates Mills in Lewiston are marked as one of the most productive and prosperous times in Lewiston history. News journalists stayed busy writing articles about the constructions and additions of the new mills in the area, each mill with double the capacity than the one built before it. Bates would add new machinery as soon as help could be attained, so laborers traveled from hundreds of miles away to work in these fantastic mills. By 1857 the Bates Mill in Lewiston ran 36,000 hands, employed 1,000 hands, and annually turned out 5.7 million yards of the best quality of cotton goods. Even after winning multiple achievements and awards for his textiles, including “Best Pantaloon Stuffs” and “Best Plain and Fancy Cotton Fabrics”, Bates wanted more. Accordingly, in 1858 the Bates Manufacturing Company wove the first Bates bedspread.
Upon the Civil War most New England mills started selling their cotton stock, assuming that the war would only last 90 days. Instead, Benjamin Bates bought as much cotton as he could find (despite the skyrocketing prices) and became the main supplier of Union textiles during the 4 year war. Even afterward, despite post-war depression, the Bates Mills in Lewiston prospered and continued to expand. It was at this time that the French-Canadian population began to immigrate to Lewiston for work; even today the city of Lewiston continues to have a great French-Canadian influence (and many of the current mill workers have French-Canadian ancestors that began their American lives as mill workers). While steadily bringing business into Lewiston, Bates also substantially contributed to what was then called the Maine State Seminary. Over his lifetime he donated more than $100,000 to the Lewiston university, and it was because of his generosity that in 1863 the university president and founder Orel B. Cheney renamed the institution Bates College.
Throughout the Civil War and both World Wars the Bates Manufacturing Company continued to weave its fine quality cloths, with bedspreads being the most rendered for the past 50 years. The Bates Manufacturing company opened its doors when America was a farming community of only 23 million people and 30 states. Now the weaving company is called Maine Heritage Weavers, a new company birthed in 2001 by former Bates Mill employees. The Bates Mill Store originally opened in the 1950′s to offer discounted second quality bedspreads to Bates Mill employees, but now we sell elegant first quality Bates bedspreads woven by Maine Heritage Weavers the same way that Benjamin Bates designed.
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