John Ryle (manufacturer)

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John Ryle
John Ryle.jpg
Born (1817-10-22)October 22, 1817
Bollington, England
Died November 6, 1887(1887-11-06) (aged 70)
Bollington, England
Known for "Father of the United States Silk Industry"

John Ryle (October 22, 1817 – November 6, 1887) was known as the "father of the United States silk industry" and was the Mayor of Paterson, New Jersey from 1869 to 1870.

A native of Bollington, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, John Ryle started working in the silk mills of his native town at the age of five, where he was known as a "bobbin boy." Ryle's entire family had been involved in the silk industry for generations, and his two eldest brothers, Reuben and William Ryle, were the country's largest manufacturers of silk. These two brothers remained in England and continued their partnership as long as they both lived, and attained excellent reputations and amassed fortunes in their business.

Early life[edit]

John Ryle was one of seventeen children born to Peter and Sarah (Brunt) Ryle. Only five of the children lived to maturity - Reuben, William, Sarah, John and Peter Jr.

John Ryle was left an orphan at the age of seven years by the death of his mother, his father having died four years before that time. He worked in various silk mills in and about Macclesfield until the year 1839, when, having just obtained his majority, he concluded to gratify his strong desire to seek his fortune in America, and accordingly sailed from Liverpool on 1 March 1839, in the ship Marian bound for New York, where he arrived after a voyage of forty-nine days. Descendants of John Ryle are of the belief that their ancestor sailed to the United States to scope out business for his two brothers, and to see how the silk industry was progressing in America without ever having any intentions of remaining there permanently.

By the time Ryle arrived in America, silk was not manufactured to any great extent in the United States. The mutlicaulis fever was then at its height and America promised to be the silk producing country of the world. One of the most largely interested in this multicaulis speculation was Samuel Whitmarsh of Northampton, Massachusetts. This gentleman had also a small silk mill at the latter place, and thither Mr. Ryle went and obtained employment, his work here, however was short lived for in that same year the multicaulis speculation collapsed, and his employer, Mr. Whitmarsh, was ruined in the crash which followed.

John Ryle then returned to New York and for a short time imported the products of the looms of his brothers in England and carried on business of importing and selling in a small way at the corner of Maiden Lane and William Streets.

The Silk Industry Starts in Paterson[edit]

During his first year in America, Mr. Ryle made the acquaintance of Mr. George W. Murray who at that time contemplated starting in the silk manufacturing business.

Mr. Christopher Colt, of Hartford, Connecticut, had a small plant of silk machinery and had made an unsuccessful attempt at manufacturing in what became known as the Old Gun Mill in Paterson, and there Mr. Murray and Mr. Ryle came. In 1840, Murray bought the plant and placed it in charge of John Ryle, who in three years later was admitted to partnership, the business then being carried under the name of Murray & Ryle. In 1846, Ryle with the assistance of his two brothers who remained in Macclesfield, bought out Mr. Murray's interest and continued the business alone. The following year he bought the building in which his machinery stood, and continued to increase his facilities. In 1850, having thoroughly established his business here and being desirous of increasing his knowledge of manufacturing methods elsewhere, he went to Europe and visited the principal manufactories of France, Italy and Switzerland. A fair specimen of Ryle's establishment was the manufacture of a large flag which waved over the Crystal Palace during the exhibition known as the "World's Fair" in New York City in 1855. About that time, he bought the romantic valley and heights surrounding the Passaic Falls, and the following year expended large sums of money in enhancing their already magnificent beauty; at that time Paterson had no public park, and as Mr. Ryle throughout his whole life was a man of acts rather than words, he made his purchase a grand park and threw it open to the people of Paterson.

The city of Paterson at this time had no water service, and John Ryle after furnishing its citizens with a public park, conceived the idea of providing them with a good water service also, and to this end, after procuring the necessary legislative authority, through a charter granted to the Passaic Water Company, built the reservoir now known as the lower reservoir in the Falls Park grounds and proceeded to lay the necessary mains through the principal streets of the city. The water for the reservoir which supplied these mains was taken from the Passaic River, behind the Old Gun Mill, and pumped to the reservoir by the means of an old plunger pump.

In 1855, Mr. Ryle formed a partnership with his nephew, William Ryle, of England. After about two years, the latter withdrew, and John Ryle continued his business alone for a number of years. About 1866, the firm of John Ryle & Co., was formed - John C. Ryle, son of his brother Reuben in England, being a partner, and a large and successful business was carried on by them in the Murray Mill until 1869.

Mayor of Paterson[edit]

As a natural result of the course of his life, John Ryle had by this time gained unbounded popularity throughout the city, and although he had heretofore never allowed his name to be used as a possible candidate for any public office, yet he succumbed to the importunities of his friends and consented in the spring of 1869 to become candidate for the Mayor of Paterson, New Jersey. He was elected by the largest majority that any candidate had received up to that time.

While John Ryle served as Paterson's mayor, he designed the Coat of Arms for the city which depicted a young man planting a mulberry bush. According to popular legend, silk worms are fond of mulberry plants, and given Ryle's association with the silk industry, the image was adopted and is still used today.

The Murray Mill Fire[edit]

On 10 May 1869, the Murray Mill together with a large and costly lot of silk and a complete plant of improved machinery was burned up in a few hours. The property destroyed at this fire was estimated to have been worth $600,000.00 and there was not a dollar of insurance upon it.

John Ryle's capital was so much impaired by this fire that he found it impossible to resume without financial aid. His friends came to his assistance and the Ryle Silk Company was organized and rebuilt the mill.

The new Murray Mill was completed in 1870, and Ryle theorized that a one story mill lighted from the top would possess superior advantages in the way of light. This theory proved correct, and the Murray Mill was admitted to be the best lighted mill in Paterson, and, as the light is taken from the north exclusively, the operatives are not inconvenienced by the direct rays of the sun.

It was told that the day after the fire as John Ryle was looking at the ruins, the late George Jackson walked up to him and said: "Well, John, you've got a hard blow. I guess you'll need some help" and putting his hand in his pocket, Jackson pulled out a huge roll of bills, and thrusting them in John Ryle's hand said, "That will help a little, and you can pay me back when you are able." When Ryle took the money to the bank and counted it, the sum was found to be $30,000.00. In after years, when George Jackson got into trouble, Ryle left no stone unturned to get him out of the difficulty.

The Ryle Silk Manufacturing Company began manufacturing operations in 1870, but in a few years John Ryle had become by purchase the sole owner of the stock.

In 1877, he organized the Pioneer Silk Company, the stock of which represented his business and was held by himself and the members of his family and since then the business continued under the same name.

In the spring of 1885, Ryle opened negotiations with some capitalists of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who built a mill upon favorable terms, to which the throwing department of the Pioneer Silk Company was removed. Weaving was also added to the Allentown plant.

Also, in 1885, Ryle received a medal for the silk flag he wove for the Exhibition Building in New York.

Ryle was also a pioneer in the efforts to secure protection to American industry and his face and form were familiar in the halls of Congress in the earlier years before that principle became as well fixed and understood as it is now.

It was claimed that while others reaped golden harvests from the field in which he labored, John Ryle paved the way for their successes, and more than other man is entitled to the credit of having been the pioneer in the silk industry in America.

John Ryle's Family[edit]

John Ryle was married in 1841 to Sarah Morfitt (1825–1867), the daughter of William and Hannah Morfitt of Lancashire, England. Nine children were born to John and Sarah Ryle, namely, Reuben Ryle (1842–1916), William Ryle (1845–1906), Sarah Ryle (1847–1851), Peter Ryle (1851–1893), Annie Ryle (1853–1857), Jemima Ryle (1858–1899), John Ryle Jr. (1860–1886), Thomas M. Ryle (1863–1922), and Charles Storrs Ryle, who died in infancy in 1866.

Reuben Ryle, the eldest son, was the chief operating officer in the Ryle family silk companies. When a branch of the Pioneer Silk Company opened in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1886, Reuben Ryle went to that city to manage the company. He died in Allentown in 1916.

William Ryle was more interested in banking than in silk manufacturing. He was a collector of art, and financed the career of noted landscape artist Julian Rix from California. William Ryle died of Bright's Disease in 1906, shortly after retiring as President of the Silk City Bank.

Peter Ryle channeled his interests in silk manufacturing and banking also, but also went on to become a corporation attorney and set up a law practice with Eugene Stevenson in Paterson. Peter Ryle later went on to own one of Paterson's original newspapers, the Paterson Morning Call. He died of typhoid in 1893 at the age of 42.

Jemima Ryle went on to marry Augustus Roberts, a successful tobacco manufacturer. She died shortly after their marriage in 1899, aged 41.

John Ryle Jr. worked briefly with his family in the silk industry before being sent out to Allentown to assist his brother Reuben in running the family business. He died in Allentown six months after having arrived there, in 1886, aged 26, of typhoid fever.

Thomas M. Ryle, the last surviving child of John and Sarah Ryle, worked briefly in the silk industry, managed the Pioneer Silk Company, but then turned most of his attention to banking and real estate. He purchased a tract of land in present-day Woodland Park, New Jersey where he built an estate called Ryle Park. Ryle Park later became a popular recreation area around the dawn of the 20th century. He served as a Passaic County Freeholder before ill health forced him to retire at an early age. The last of the original silk family Ryles, Thomas M. Ryle died in 1922 at the age of 59.

Death of the Pioneer Silk Manufacturer[edit]

In 1887, John Ryle returned to Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, in the company of his only surviving daughter, Jemima. After several months of revisiting the sites he had not seen since his youth, he took ill at the hotel where he was staying. After recovering from what appeared to be a common cold, on the 6th of November, 1887,[1] John Ryle suffered a massive stroke while dressing for Sunday church services and died in the arms of his daughter. He was 70 years old. At the request of his family, John Ryle's body was returned to his adopted home of Paterson, where he was laid to rest in Cedar Lawn Cemetery, Paterson, New Jersey, one of the most beautiful Victorian cemeteries in the United States. A massive obelisk was later erected over his grave on the hilltop and a bronze bust fitted into the monument and positioned in the direction of the city of Paterson.

John Ryle's children later took charge of his massive real estate holdings in the city of Paterson and formed the John Ryle Real Estate Association, which acted as a holding company for the family's assets. The company was officially dissolved in the 1940s but was later reincorporated and is still owned and operated by the descendants of John Ryle.


  1. ^ [1]
  • Charles A. Shriner, Four Chapters in Paterson History, (Paterson, NJ, 1919), pg. 81
  • Edward B. Haines, comp. "Centennial Edition" Paterson Evening News, (Paterson, NJ, 1892), pg. 69.
  • Irving S. Kull, ed. New Jersey, A History (New York: The Americah Historical Society, 1930), pg. 601.
  • The 1913 Silk Strike, A Role Play Exercise for Students of Twentieth Century American Industry, (Paterson, N.J.) Passaic County Historical Society, 1990.
  • Charles A. Shriner, Random Recollections, (Paterson, NJ, 1941), p. 57
  • Haines, op. cit. p. 69
  • New York Times, 11/7/1887 "John Ryle, Father of U.S. Silk Industry, Dies in England", pg. 2.