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Willimantic Thread Factory

Janet M. Torpy, MD
JAMA. 2012;307(16):1674. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.382.
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Mills and factories brought the Industrial Revolution—with all its opportunities and its detriments—to 19th-century New England: due to this invasion, the region's agrarian roots and farm economics changed radically. The American Thread Company's bastion of mechanized might loomed over Willimantic, Connecticut, producing 85 000 miles of thread per day during the last decade of that century. The company and its mill—the first industrial building in the United States to use electric lighting—provided employment and housing; the child labor practices, in which the young were recruited because they could be paid less for the same work as adults, were consistent with the standard of the era. The company also brought a mixed bag of environmental and public health havoc, similar to that recorded for many types of industry. Extremes of heat and cold, clouds of dust and debris, dirty working areas, and high levels of noise all comprised conditions detrimental to employee (and community) health. Yet in Willimantic Thread Factory (cover), Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919) painted a pristine white structure that caps a green, grassy knoll, without suggestion of the darker aspects of the mill and its footprint on the surrounding town.


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