Francis Cabot Lowell (businessman)

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Francis Cabot Lowell
Born April 7, 1775
Newburyport, Massachusetts, U.S.[1]
Died August 10, 1817 (aged 42)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.[1]
Resting place
Forest Hills Cemetery
Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts
Education Phillips Academy (1786)
Harvard University (1793)
Occupation Businessman
Spouse(s) Hannah Jackson Lowell (m. 1798)
Children John Lowell Jr.
Francis Cabot Lowell Jr.
Edward Lowell
Susanna Lowell
Parents John Lowell
Susanna Cabot

Francis Cabot Lowell (April 7, 1775[1] – August 10, 1817) was an American businessman for whom the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, is named. He was instrumental in bringing the Industrial Revolution to the United States.

Early life[edit]

Lowell was born in the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts.[1] His father was John Lowell II, member of the Continental Congress and judge for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. His mother was Susanna Cabot.[1]

In 1786, Lowell graduated from Phillips Academy.[2] In 1793, he graduated from Harvard College.


Boston Manufacturing Company, Waltham, Massachusetts

After graduation, Lowell set out on a merchant ship carrying cargo to the port of Bordeaux, France. Despite the anxieties of his family, he spent a year touring France, gripped in its bloody revolution. In July 1796, he returned to Boston and with his father's financial support, set up as a merchant on Long Wharf.

From 1798 to 1808 Lowell was engaged in overseas trade, especially importing silks and tea from China and hand-spun and hand-woven cotton textiles from India. Starting in 1802, with Uriah Cotting, Harrison Gray Otis and others, Francis Cabot Lowell developed India Wharf and its warehouses on Boston harbor, which became the center of the trade with the Orient. Later, the same group of investors developed the Broad Street area for the retail trade. To enlarge his fortune, Lowell bought a rum distillery, importing molasses from the Caribbean sugar-producing islands. Lowell spent months improving on the machinery of his rum distilling process. He also acquired many properties in and around Boston, which he rented out or resold at a profit.

Despite political independence, the United States remained dependent on imports for manufactured goods. The conflicts between the European Powers and the Embargo of 1807 severely disrupted trade between the United States, Great Britain, France and the Orient. Lowell reached the conclusion that to be truly independent, the United States needed to manufacture goods at home. In June 1810, he went on a two-year visit with his family to Scotland and England. The trip was not due to a decline in health as many have falsely claimed, but a result of a love for travel, trying to expose his four children to Europe, and a desire to copy a trip his brother John Jr. went on in 1803 to 1805. After visiting them, Lowell developed an interest in the textile industries of Lancashire and Scotland, especially the spinning and weaving machines, which were operated by water power or steam power. He found that he was not able to buy drawings or a model of a power loom and secretly began studying the machines. As the War of 1812 begun, Lowell and his family left Europe and on their way home, the boat and all their personal belongings were searched at the Halifax port to ensure that no manufacturing plans were being smuggled out of Great Britain. This proved ineffective as Lowell had memorized all the workings of British power looms without writing anything down.[3]


In 1814, he enlisted the support of his brothers-in-law, Charles, James and Patrick Tracy Jackson, and obtained the financial backing of the merchant Nathan Appleton to establish the Boston Manufacturing Company[4] at Waltham, Massachusetts, using the power of the Charles River. The BMC was the first "integrated" textile mill in America in which all operations for converting raw cotton into finished cloth could be performed in one mill building. Lowell hired the gifted machinist Paul Moody to assist him in designing efficient cotton spinning and weaving machines, based on the British models, but with many technological improvements suited to the conditions of New England.

To raise capital for their mills, Lowell and partners Aidan and Merquack pioneered a basic tool of modern corporate finance by selling $1000 shares of stock to a select group of wealthy investors, such as Senators James Lloyd Jr. and Christopher Gore, Israel Thorndike Sr. and Harrison Gray Otis. This form of shareholder corporation quickly became the method of choice for structuring new American businesses, and endures to this day in the well-known form of public stock offerings.

In 1814, the Boston Manufacturing Company built its first mill beside the Charles River in Waltham, housing an integrated set of technologies that converted raw cotton all the way to finished cloth. Patrick Tracy Jackson was the first manager of the BMC with Paul Moody in charge of the machinery. The Waltham mill, where raw cotton was processed into finished cloth, was the forerunner of the 19th century American factory. Lowell also pioneered the employment of women, from the age of 15-35 from New England farming families, as textile workers, in what became known as the Lowell system. He paid these "mill girls" (also known as Lowell girls) lower wages than men, but offered attractive benefits including well-run company boardinghouses with chaperones, cash wages, and benevolent religious and educational activities. The Waltham Machine Shop attached to the BMC made power looms for sale to other American cotton mills Nathan Appleton established a region-wide system to sell the cloth manufactured by the BMC.

The end of the War of 1812 was a severe threat to the budding domestic textile industry as the British dumped cheap cotton cloth on the American market. In 1816, Francis Cabot Lowell traveled to Washington to lobby for protective tariffs on cotton products that they were included in the Tariff of 1815.

Although he died early at age 42, only three years after building his first mill, Lowell left the Boston Manufacturing Company in superb financial health. In 1821, dividends were paid out at an astounding 27.5% to shareholders. The success of the BMC at Waltham exhausted the water power of the Charles River. To expand the enterprise, in 1822, Lowell's partners moved north to the more powerful Merrimack River and named their new mill town at the Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River "Lowell," after their visionary leader. Many textiles mills were built in Lowell, using the power of the fast-flowing Merrimack River. The Lowell Machine Shop built power looms for sale, and later expanded to build locomotives. With the introduction of steam power, the importance of a river site for the mills began to decline. The Lowell System, first introduced at Waltham, was expanded to the new industrial city of Lowell and soon spread to the Midwest and the South. The mechanized textile system, introduced by Francis Cabot Lowell, remained dominant in New England for a century until the industry shifted to the Midwest and the South. By the close of the nineteenth-century the United States had a thriving textile industry for home consumption and for export.

Personal life[edit]

In 1798, Lowell married Hannah Jackson, daughter of Jonathan Jackson and Hannah Tracy. They had four children: John Lowell Jr., benefactor of Lowell Institute; businessman Francis Cabot Lowell, Jr.; Edward Lowell, a lawyer; and Susanna Lowell, who married her first cousin John Amory Lowell.[citation needed]

Francis Cabot Lowell was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2013.


Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Sobel (1974). The Entrepreneurs: Explorations Within the American Business Tradition. Weybright & Talley. ISBN 0-679-40064-8.  See chapter 1, Francis Cabot Lowell: The Patrician as Factory Master