Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Waterpower in Lowell: Engineering and Industry in Nineteenth-Century America

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Waterpower in Lowell: Engineering and Industry in Nineteenth-Century America

Article excerpt

Waterpower in Lowell: Engineering and Industry in Nineteenth-Century America. By Patrick M. Malone. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. 272 pages. $25.00 (paperback).

In Waterpower in Lowell, Patrick M. Malone offers an excellent discussion of the impact of waterpower in Lowell. The choice to make Lowell an industrial center was based on the fact that its water power could be readily harnessed for industry. Malone contends that "waterpower spurred the industrialization of the United States and was the dominant form of power for its manufacturing until well after the American Civil War" (1). Malone asserts that Lowell quickly surpassed the planned industrial community at Paterson, New Jersey, an ambitious attempt to harness the power of water, and became "a model for many future efforts to harness large-scale waterpower sites in America" (5). Therefore, because of its success, Lowell was later seen by many industrialists and promoters of industry, such as Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster, to be a model for the use of waterpower. Many Americans attempted to apply its lessons elsewhere, a fact that further attests to the importance of the city. Despite the subtitle, Waterpower in Lowell is less a study on engineering and industry in America than a case study of waterpower in Lowell and the engineer responsible for the success of that project, James B. Francis.

Over the course of six chapters, Malone charts the development of waterpower in Lowell-the construction of new canals, technological innovations, flood prevention, the advent of turbines, and the eventual impact of steam power. Notably, Malone provides adequate background about the canals, the town of East Chelmsford that eventually became the city of Lowell, and the rivers that powered the Lowell mills. Additionally, the book is filled with useful illustrations including maps of Lowell and the surrounding areas as well as images of the canals, paintings, and technical diagrams that are quite helpful for readers and historians unfamiliar with the workings of canals and mills. As a whole, Malone's book should prove particularly useful for historians of the antebellum era because it is clear and concise as well as informative. While historians know that canals were vitally important in so many facets of life, few historians seem to understand exactly how canals worked (canal locks in particular seem baffling to many people), and this work can help clarify these points.

While focusing primarily on waterpower and technology, Malone is also attentive to other aspects of nineteenth-century industry. He discusses, in great detail, the treatment of laborers who were usually women or Irish men-workers whose religious devotion and committed work ethic was often manipulated. Though the mill owners sought to cultivate a benevolent and paternalistic image, care for the workers did not outweigh their business concerns. Contemporaries often mocked the mill owners for fostering an aura of protective paternalism toward the women employed in the mills, while placing financial gain over the spiritual needs of the Irish canal laborers who were made to clean out the canals on Sundays and, therefore, missed a day of leisure and church attendance.

Malone also offers an excellent discussion of corporate landscaping, or the beautification of the city, promoted by men like James B, Francis, who laid out rows of trees and greenery, promoted the preservation of green spaces as parks, and, rather than hiding the canals, embraced them as tourist attractions. …

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