These Are Not Francis Cabot Lowell (And One That Is)

The Internet is a great place for information, but it can also be a storehouse for misinformation. A small mistake become an information virus as people replicate that mistake over and over until it starts to appear to be correct.

Likenesses of Francis Cabot Lowell, founder of the Boston Manufacturing Company (BMC) which occupied the historic mill building bearing his name and now home to the Charles River Museum, have fallen victim to this problem. If you Google images of "Francis Cabot Lowell," a number of portraits come up. Some are a result of data association, and when you click through to the page itself the image is correctly attributed (type your name into a search engine and see how many faces come up as a result that aren't you). But many times there are portraits of other persons directly, and completely wrongly, identified as Lowell.

This page of quotations here is one example, as is this page from InformationWeek here. Is that Francis Cabot Lowell? No, that's Nathan Appleton, Lowell's business partner and one of the Boston Associates, the collective of BMC partners who founded the City of Lowell as well as so many other great factory cities around New England. Two other of Lowell's associates, BMC partner Patrick Tracy Jackson and BMC machinist and master engineer Paul Moody, have met the same fate of mistaken identity, though nowhere near the frequency that Appleton has.

Portrait of Nathan Appleton (October 6, 1779 – July 14, 1861)

Portrait of Nathan Appleton (October 6, 1779 – July 14, 1861)

It's understandable how someone so closely tied to Francis Cabot Lowell could find their portrait mistaken for him. Another image which pops up in several places and directly being identified as Lowell is perhaps not so easily explained. Though the YouTube video here, and at the history website found here claim that the stately visage pictured is that of Francis Cabot Lowell, a bit of research shows provides a more than convincing argument that this is not so.

How William Livingston, colonial-era governor of New Jersey, came to be identified as Lowell is a puzzle. While they were somewhat contemporaries, the good governor, however, passed away when Lowell was still at the humble age of 15.

Portrait of William Livingston (November 30, 1723 – July 25, 1790)

Portrait of William Livingston (November 30, 1723 – July 25, 1790)

Another image that may reveal itself in searches both on Internet and through other research, is notable for reasons other than inaccuracy. While the image below is indeed that of Francis Cabot Lowell, it is not our Francis Cabot Lowell. His honor, Judge Francis Cabot Lowell, federal judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts appointed by President McKinley,  was the great-grandson of our Lowell, and, obviously, his namesake.

Judge Francis C. Lowell (January 7, 1855 – March 6, 1911)

Judge Francis C. Lowell (January 7, 1855 – March 6, 1911)

So that brings us to our last portrait, one which is perhaps the least revealing while being the one that is generally accepted to be Francis Cabot Lowell, pioneering American businessman and founder of the Boston Manufacturing Company. A humble silhouette, it is the only known likeness we have that is historically attributed to be his.

The only known likeness of Francis Cabot Lowell (April 7, 1775 – August 10, 1817), founder of the Boston Manufacturing Company.

The only known likeness of Francis Cabot Lowell (April 7, 1775 – August 10, 1817), founder of the Boston Manufacturing Company.

Most men of his social standing would have sat for a formal portrait at some point in their lives, but the lack of such a painting may be due to a number of factors, the most likely of which was his early death at the age of 42. And so, we are left with this seemingly inauspicious profile.

There has been some speculation (such as that on this webpage about the City of Lowell here) that this image may simply be a generic placeholder in lieu of any other extant image. However, the image below—a page from an article entitled The Cotton Industry in New England, in the October 1890 issue of The New England Magazine—depicts the silhouette with the caption "Francis C. Lowell. From a silhouette loaned by Francis C. Lowell, Esq., of Boston," suggesting that the aforementioned grandson, at the very least, believed that the image was that of his notable ancestor.

"The Cotton Industry in New England," The New England Magazine, Page 175, October 1890.

"The Cotton Industry in New England," The New England Magazine, Page 175, October 1890.

And while such a silhouette may seem a trivial image, the American historical importance of the man it represents is inarguably gargantuan. 

1922 Boston Manufacturing Company Insurance Map

This museum is important, not just because of what it houses, but because of what houses it. Being on the site of the Boston Manufacturing company, founded in 1813 by Francis Cabot Lowell and by 1815 producing cotton textiles woven by mechanized power looms, an industrial first in the United States, the Charles River Museum is part of the history it so celebrates. The buildings of the BMC–from the first one, built in 1814 (visible from Moody Street as the first portion of the main mill building) to one of the very last, the 1911 boiler house and now the Museum's main gallery–are an endless source of curiosity and ever-revealing engineering and architectural stories.

We are lucky that there are snapshots in the form of documents such as the one below, which delineate in great detail the workings of the BMC. This fire insurance map, surveyed by the Associated Mutual Insurance Co. in early 1922, just a few years before the BMC ended production here (the "1901" date following the Boston Manufacturing Company's name marking a business restructuring in an effort to deal with increased competition), is chocked full of great information. 

Besides an overhead map of the entire complex, with information on construction materials, measurements, and other infrastructure details, there is also, situated about the margins, elevations providing the function of each building, broken down floor by floor. In addition, it shows buildings long gone from the complex. Most notable of these are the #6 Dye House and surrounding structures along the Charles River on what is now Landry Park, and  Store House #2 which is now the site of Enterprise Car Rental on Moody Street. Maps like these are an invaluable asset to understanding the workings of our building.

While our copy of this map shows quite a bit amount of damage due to water, age, and other factors, we have still been able to pull the information from the map for a fairly complete digital restoration which can be viewed more clearly, as well as printed to allow physical handling that would just further harm the original. We hope to have a reproduction on display soon for you to examine with as great curiosity as we have!

We Love our Boston (Manufacturing) Sox!

We celebrate so many great Waltham companies here at the Charles River Museum–Charles Metz's Waltham Manufacturing Company, the W.H. Nichols Company, and of course, the one which gave us the nickname "Watch City," the Waltham Watch Company. And we have many artifacts on display from each of these historic and important manufacturers. However, we cherish the history and the innovation of the Boston Manufacturing Company, the company whose walls house the Museum today, most of all. 

We unfortunately have very few artifacts from that great and historic company. As America's first integrated factory and the first place where mechanized power looms wove cotton fabric in the US, the BMC, founded in 1813 by Francis Cabot Lowell, was responsible for a major leap in the American Industrial Revolution. Directly tied to the city of Lowell (founded by BMC partners and named in honor of the late company founder), and inspiration to so many American industrial and manufacturing cities which helped forge our country's greatness, the BMC is arguably the most important of all Waltham's historic companies.

So it brought us great joy to have recently acquired a seemingly simple pair of socks, made here, and branded with the Boston Manufacturing Company name. 

These stockings, labeled size "6" and bearing a simple trim of three red stripes, are one of the very few products of the Boston Manufacturing Company currently in our possession. As historically important as the company is, it was fairly a nondescript manufacturer in its own time and, while even then recognized for its innovative origins, it seems very little of the company was preserved for posterity when it ceased operation in 1930. That these socks, seemingly, aside from some light staining, to be in what might be called New-Old-Stock condition, have survived and come back home to us is truly remarkable.

Our fascination with these humble items has just begun. While we know that they originated from the BMC, we don't know when they were manufactured or what other products would have been made alongside them. We will keep you updated as we discover more!

Charles H. Metz and the Wings Over Waltham

Charles H. Metz (1863-1937) was a pioneer in transportation. Beginning by manufacturing his Orient bicycles, made by his Waltham Manufacturing Company and renowned as being some of the fastest racing bikes in the world, he branched out successfully into automobile manufacture and motorcycles (some credit him with first using the term "motor-cycle"). We have examples of all three of types of Metz's vehicles here in our collection at the Charles River Museum.

The only place to go from there was up. Literally. Metz attempted to produce and market a "Metz Air-Car" in 1911, but it supposedly only one was ever built. That same year, he purchased the Gore Mansion in Waltham and surrounding grounds and set up the "Metz Aerodrome" where on June 16-18th he held an aviation meet.

We can't confirm if these picture postcards are from that weekend aviation meet, but it's interesting to consider the idea of airplanes taking off and buzzing about the Gore Estate. Indeed, it's almost as remarkable a concept as the notion of the venerable and stately Gore Mansion being referred to by anyone as a "club house"... 

The manufacturing plant he would set up on the 120 acres surrounding the Gore Estate would unfortunately never produce his own aircraft. Instead his facilities were drafted for use by the U.S. military for DeHavilland airplane production during the First World War–a development which would crush Metz financially.

"The Watch As A Growth Industry" - Appleton's Journal. July 9, 1870

Appleton's Journal was a publication dedicated to literature, art, and science, published in New York City from 1869 to 1891. This article examines, in unique detail, the departments and operations used by The Waltham Watch Company (then the American Watch Company) in the making of their signature machine-made watches, and contrasts Waltham's processes of manufacture with those of the handmade Swiss timepieces.

Take note of the prophetic third-to-last paragraph which not only predicts the generational legacy in which so many Waltham watches would be passed from hand to hand, but also describes a world in which "...telegraphs enclose the globe like a net." (emphasis ours).

VIEW: "The Watch As A Growth Industry" - Appleton's Journal, July 9, 1870


"The Boston Watch Company" - The Waltham Sentinel, March 13, 1856

A very early article on The Waltham Watch Company, while still operating under its earlier name, The Boston Watch Company, written just 6 years after the company was founded and less than a year and a half after opening its factory along the Charles River in Waltham. The company would still be years away from being celebrated the world around for its revolutionary machine-made horological masterpieces.

VIEW: "The Boston Watch Company" - Waltham Sentinel March 13, 1856

Welcome to "Yesterday's News"

A museum such as the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation is not just about the collections of artifacts and objects. Every one of these items has a story to tell and those stories aren't just the ones we have to tell today. Often, insight into history comes from seeing it, not just through modern eyes, but through the eyes of yesterday. Via newspapers, magazine articles, advertisements, letters, picture postcards and photographs, we can learn much about how the contemporaries of the great men and great companies which we celebrate here at the Museum were viewed in their own time.

This is a place where we will occasionally post some of our favorite pieces from our archives for you to view, enjoy, and learn from.