engaged in the manufacture of elastic and non-elastic fabrics. It employed 125 workers and the plant was equipped
with 88 narrow looms.
More recently, the large building was occupied for several years by "Grandma's Attic."
Lapworth was born in Coventry, England on March 3, 1844. He gained his early experience in weaving in his native
land and in 1870 he came to the United States.
He was first employed as an elastic weaver by an English house in Connecticut, and his knowledge and skill were at
Subsequently, he worked for the Boston Elastic Fabric Company of Chelsea and next he became associated with the
Glendale Elastic Fabric Company of Easthampton in the capacity of manager.
He was one of the organizers of the Hopedale Elastic Fabric Company of Hopedale, remaining a stockholder and
general manager of the business for 11 years.
Then he embarked in elastic webbing independently. His inventive genius and thorough understanding of the work
resulted in his producing many patents, all of which were regarded as indispensable in the production of elastic web
and he became the pioneer manufacturer of elastic twill.
He also invented the elastic web from which the celebrated policemen suspenders are made and he introduced
various other weaves of equal value.
The rise of the elastic webbing industry in America and its diversified use, as well as the constantly widening field
opening to the manufacturer of this domestic and personal necessity was due perhaps more to the energy, inventive
genius and business sagacity of Lapworth than to any other representative of the industry.
His plant at Milford covered about two acres and was the last word in equipment, commercial stability, skillful
workmanship, superior management and perfection of product. the business ranked among the foremost in elastic
web manufacturing in the country and was conducted in a most systematic manner, everything being done according to
a most thoroughly worked out system in the offices and in every department of the plant.
The weaving room, 180 by 120 feet, was one of the best lighted in the country and its 100 looms were operated by
skillful employees, many having been with the company for a long period.
A number of these looms produced the beautiful and dazzling colors of the "Boston Silk Garter," each loom being
devoted to a particular color.
The warping and winding room contained a number of machines which warp and wind the fabrics. The dressing room
was used for dressing the beautiful and many-colored webbing and it contained machines of great size and of the
The rubber stock room was kept cool and somewhat dark with great rolls of rubber upon the floor and shelves, looking
like brown yarn.
There was a finishing department where the last touch was added to the beautiful fabric of elastic webbing and then
neatly rolled, ready to be packed.
Lapworth was regarded as an expert on rubber, from the time it was taken from the tree until it was formed into the
smallest thread and only its finest product was used by this company.
Lapworth gave equal attention to the welfare of his workers, in which connection he gave most comprehensive study to
the ventilation of the immense weaving room, so that pure air was conveyed to every section, there being two large
skylights which were operated from the floor and two powerful fans that could be regulated immediately. The output
was from 12 to 14 million yards annually, the capacity of the weaving department being about 20 yards per minute.
The product included only high-grade goods, principally silk web of every shade and color and of varying widths for
garters, hose supporters, arm bands, etc., and was sold to both wholesale and retail merchants. Milford Daily News,
July 6, 1996.
Street. The original house is
shown above, and the house
after alterations on the right.
yesterday observed his 87th birthday anniversary with a quiet celebration at his residence on Adin Street, at
which the members of his family were present.
Though his advanced years mark him as the last of the "Old Guard" of veteran industrial promoters in this
vicinity and possibly of the entire state, Mr. Lapworth still remains active in the business world and continues
almost daily to go to his factory, located off Depot Street [Milford] and confer on various matters with his sons,
who have for years been associated with him in the industry.
Until recently, when his age forced him to cease activities to some extent and cause more automobile riding
between his home and the mills, Mr. Lapworth often walked to and from, being a great lover of the outdoors
and believing that this healthy exercise was essential for the mind and body, either before or after hours of
labor of daily toil.
Proud of his successful business career, which has been noted throughout the general business world,
and of his family life, in which he insisted upon strict discipline that resulted in ultimate happiness and
affection for all, Mr. Lapworth always spoke mildly and modestly upon the reasons he attributed for the
growth and advancement of a substantial business.
He does not claim to deserve any more honor or distinction than could be rightfully bestowed upon an
individual who had succeeded after diligent and hard work and prevented social activities to interfere with the
objects he was striving to overcome.
The opinion that anyone with push, common sense and perseverance which, together with real work would,
in the end, overcome all obstacles, could rise to the top, was his firm conviction throughout life. He has
evidenced this fact in his own career and that of his sons, each one of whom he launched into the business
Yesterday at the Lapworth residence the festivities included a family dinner and reunion, during which some
of Mr. Lapworth's experiences of the early days were related. Many friends called to extend congratulations
and he was showered with flowers, cards, telegrams and tokens of the event.
William Lapworth was born in Coventry, England, March 3, 1844, and came from a family whose male
members possessed a knowledge of weaving equaled by few in their time. His ambitions to get ahead in life
resulted in his decision to come to America and at the age of 26 he arrived in the United States.
He believed that his knowledge of weaving obtained in his native country, together with an unusual amount
of energy inherited from his parents, would result in achievement, hence is early decision to come to this
land of opportunity and inducement.
While in Norwich, Ct., he secured employment with a branch English house as an elastic weaver and his
knowledge and skill were at once recognized and stamped his as an individual in this line of endeavor.
Mr. Lapworth's ambition a few years later caused him to make a start for himself and in 1886 he came to
Hopedale and founded the Hopedale Elastic Fabric Co., the pioneer concern of its kind in this locality, and he
was at once successful, despite the fact that he was besieged with obstacles that were almost continually
thrown in his path.
His general knowledge of the business, much of which he acquired through his father, John Lapworth, and
to which he added by his own natural talents and experience, instilled within him a desire to pursue a wider
field, which he did by coming to Milford to locate in 1896.
While in Hopedale, Mr. Lapworth was a stockholder and general manager for the company 11 years but he
was constantly in search for an opening to secure a more modern and larger plant, to which he could build
from time to time as the occasion warranted. He finally decided upon Milford and bought up the old storage
battery car barns, which he converted into an excellent mill that is part of the Lapworth & Sons plant today.
As is well known his success from then on resulted in a steady upgrowth of the elastic webbing venture and
Mr. Lapworth acknowledged, as the head of one of the most extensive silk web works in the country.
revolutionized this important industry and proved a distinct achievement for Mr. Lapworth. He has many
patents of various devices used in the manufacture of his goods and his creation of the elastic twill was
possibly one of his greatest accomplishments.
Mr. Lapworth invented the elastic web from which the policemen suspenders are made and have become
world-famous, while looms at his plant produce the material that made the popular "Boston" silk garter. The
Lapworth factory covers more than two acres. The various departments were well planned and arranged.
Years of study and persistent work by the successful promoter reached the goal for which Mr. Lapworth
strove when a young man and he justly deserves to enjoy the fruits of one of the longest possible careers in
His wife, who was the former Miss Frances Smith of London, England, died 17 years ago. The Lapworth
family includes six sons, Charles A. of Brockton, Frank A. of Hopedale, Arthur F. of Los Angeles, Cal., W.
Sumner, Winfield S., and Clarence H. Lapworth of Hopedale, and three daughters, Miss Fannie, Mrs.
Florence Schnetzler and Miss Mabel I. Lapworth, at home. Milford Daily News, March 4, 1931
Businesses Menu Memories Menu 1913 Strike (See April 15, 16) HOME
Thanks to Peter Metzke for this.
|William Lapworth, 87, Veteran Manufacturer
His Birthday Anniversary Observed At Adin Street Home
One of the Last of "Old Guard" in Bay State
|A Top Elastic-Web Manufacturer
by Gordon E. Hopper
Lapworth Elastic Fabrics, Depot Street, Milford. Grandma's Attic Moving
and Storage is now on the site. Thanks to the Milford Museum for this.
From Leading Business Men of Milford, Hopkinton and Vicinity, 1890.
Thanks to Peter Metzke of Melbourne, Australia for sending it.
time it was the home of Alan and Theresa Ryan.
Interests closely tied in with George Draper & Sons Co., builders of the Draper looms at Hopedale, Mass,
were responsible for the starting of the Hopedale Elastic Fabrics Company in 1887. General William F.
Draper, president of the company, was the largest shareholder. E.L. Osgood, who married a sister of
William F. Draper, served as treasurer and among other holders were Eben S. Draper, later governor of
Massachusetts, Claire and George Otis Draper ; Eben D. Bancroft; and William Lapworth, who had been
hired away from Glendale Elastic Fabrics Company to serve as general manager. Lapworth was the only
practical web man of this group. Captital $125,000.
Son of a thoroughly trained weaver, William Lapworth was born at Coventry, England, and from childhood
absorbed knowledge of weaving. He received no education other than what he picked up in a determined
endeavor to rise above a disadvantaged family and in battling to work his wits and make his native abilities
suffice in place of academic training. It is stated by members of his family that for the ninety-three years of
his life, he never learned the three R's and could very poorly sign his name. So great was his ability as a
weaver, so powerful was his domineering personality, so pompous the front he presented to the world, that
nothing he had to face in his career ever got him down.
The polished aristocracy of the wealthy Hopedale group into which he was called never fazed William
Lapworth one iota but that his bluntness gave the Hopedale group many band moments, there are tales
aplenty. There is no doubt that through native ability he could handle an elastic web mill; neither is there
reason to doubt that he constantly irritated the Drapers, particularly the suave Eben S. Draper
Very little ever escaped Lapworth's dark, penetrating eyes. Nimble-witted, he rarely failed to catch a point, an
expression, and intonation, and it was indeed rare when he failed to have a comeback to any question or
Until he was twenty-five, Lapworth lived a stormy career in England, taking advantage of every opportunity to
master the art of weaving elastic webs and to master men and conditions. In 1869 he came to America to
work at Norwich, Conn, for the Norwich Loom Company, a branch of an English company, which in addition
to building looms did some weaving of elastic webs. This branch company, later known as the Norwich
Suspender & Elastic Company was of few years experience and many troubles.
West, Bradley & Carey Mfg Co of New York City experienced difficulties in weaving buttonhole webs. They
appealed to the Norwich Loom Company for help. William Lapworth was sent there to straighten them out.
This and other things he did for West, Bradley & Carey, winning their profound respect for his abilities and no
inconsiderable fear of his personality.
When Thomas and William Martin withdrew from the Boston Elastic Fabrics Co. to start T. Martin and Bro.,
William Lapworth succeeded William Martin as superintendent and the help quickly recognized that William
Lapworth was boss, with a large B.
The Glendale Elastic Fabrics Co. needed a strong hand to control their garter web department. William
Lapworth applied for and won the place. The first thing he did--the first day--was to blusteringly fire twenty-
At Chelsea, Lapworth became a close friend of George C. Moore, then a loom fixer employed by T. Martin
and Bro. At the Glendale Elastic Fabrics Co., Lapworth was again associated with Moore. They became
lifelong friends, had many wordy fights over who saw things first, and in later years jocosely allowed each
had taught the other no end of tricks in weaving.
Following parental example, William Lapworth trained his children to be proficient weavers. the oldest sons
and daughters had worked with their father at Chelsea, and at the Glendale Elastic Fabrics Co., and when
the father was called to Hopedale he took with him a goodly team of Lapworth sons and daughters who
were well grounded in the manufacture of elastic fabrics.
The Drapers sent Lapworth and his oldest son Charles A. to England to buy up and bring to Hopedale
twenty goring looms from the defunct Rapp & Thetlow mill at Leicester, where William Lapworth had once
worked as a weaver. Upwards of eighty new looms were purchased in Worcester from loom builders later to
be combined as Crompton-Knowles Loom Works.
Many amusing stories are related of the autocratic way William Lapworth handled the Hopedale Elastic
Fabric Company, eek (?) the Drapers, and Lapworth methods of getting what he wanted out of the business
during the eleven years of its existence. Always masterful in exercising his dominating and domineering
qualities, Lapworth played his cards with adroitness and very close to his chest.
In the management of the Draper Company, there was considerable friction among the Draper brothers,
notably between General William F. and Eben S. In degree this carried into the Hopedale Elastic Fabric
Company and made William F. look with much favor on long trips to Europe.
It was during one of William F.'s long jaunts abroad that things at the web mill were brought to a showdown.
The free trade depression during the second Cleveland administration had told heavily on the elastic web
industry, atop of which came heavy claims from shoe manufacturers for gorings they held to be defective.
The trouble Billy Lapworth insisted, was the square needles used in stitching the gores into the shoes, the
square needles cutting the strands of rubber and allowing them to slip into the webs. All of this was
undoubtedly true but probably not the whole story. Just at this time, in order to make low prices so American
gorings would sell beside English webs flooding the market, smaller sized rubber threads were being used
and spaced farther apart in the webs than theretofore.
Between the acid complaints the Drapers had to listen to from their aristocratic shoe manufacturer friends in
the western part of Worcester County and the bluster of Billy Lapworth, under long-time, high priced contract,
General William F. Draper felt the need of a trip to Europe and during that time the sudden success of the
new Northrop looms caused the Draper Company to need more factory space and very promptly.
The story goes that Eben S. Draper lined up control of the Hopedale Elastic Fabrics, promptly shut in down
and sold the hundred looms to Kirby & Moore of Providence, sol them for twenty thousand dollars with the
stipulation that the factory must be vacated immediately. Thereby hands a tale that will be told elsewhere in
Eben S. Draper had won all his points; Lapworth was out--but not down, not by a jugful. He insisted on being
paid in full for the balance of his contract and, to make sure there were sufficient funds with which to pay it,
his is reported to have gone after the Mechanical Fabrics Company--the rubber thread supply--for damages,
claiming the rubber had caused the trouble the shoe manufacturers had experienced. He thumped away
until he secured a large reimbursement. Rubber thread manufacturers have suffered such experiences both
before and after the event here numerated.
With the closing of the Hopedale Elastic Fabrics Company, William Lapworth was out of a job--for a few days
only. Promptly he bought the old storage battery car barn near the station in Milford, and with his large family
of sons and daughters and a few looms from the Worcester companies, plus a loan of $35,000 started a
business of his own. Soon he was once again supplying elastics to George Frost & Co., makers of the
famed Boston Garter. The Lapworth business grew rapidly, eventually totalling 88 looms.
William Lapworth prospered in a large way, built a big mansion on Adin Street, Hopedale's millionaire road,
had his coach and liveried servants and enjoyed letting his neighbors see that he could take his fur coat as
seriously as they. William Lapworth made his hard-headed sense, perseverance, adroitness in overcoming
obstacles and determination to be atop the heap pay him large dividends but he failed to apply his common
sense to the handling of his sons. In the end he defeated himself by taking his sons into the business as
William Lapworth & Sons, driving them, giving them small authority and ever regarding these able men as
children and, truth be told, the sons were ever scared pink of the old man. Nothing is her set down as
malicious criticism but a critical study.
William Lapworth was deservedly the recipient of much adulation and as a self-adulator he had few
superiors--he strongly concurred in the thought "Blow your own horn, else the same shall not be blown."
Devoid of academic education but marvelously sure of himself, he had gone a long way from poverty in
England to wealth in America and no one, so far reporting, ever unhorsed him in combat.
Among his patents stands out the famed Police Suspender web, always in demand. He was first to make
webs with twill weave.
Had Billy Lapworth been less adamant in his stubbornness he would have left a thriving business, to which
the services of his sons had liberally contributed, to be carried on to the glory of a rugged individualist.
William Lapworth & Sons dates from 1896.
Living until he was ninety-three, he did not let go his grip until nature called a halt. In the latter years when
age began to slow up his activities, Lapworth drew heavily on the resources of his company and stubbornly
failed to spend money to maintain the plant in position to meet competition.
By will Lapworth left his money to his three daughters, the impoverished business to his sons who had
remained with him. The eldest son, Charles A., had flown the coop shortly after the start of the William
Lapworth mill, having left because fully fed up with things past and present for which he could not stand.
Leaving a business to men who had long been treated as children, a business that had not been kept
abreast of the times in methods and machinery, a business lacking sufficient capital to run it, leaving it n the
depressing times of the 1930s when the PWA and the WPA "in our door yard bloomed," proved a bitter pill to
the valiant sons who had put their lives into William Lapworth & Sons, Inc.
The business was closed in 1943 and the 88 looms were scattered, mostly in small lots to the various
aspiring weavers in Pawtucket.
Always a terrific driver, William Lapworth stubbornly managed to have things his way and if in the light of
experience it seems he short-changed himself on common sense it is doubtful, could he be reached, if he
would admit it. By those who knew him well, he is credited as having stubbornly defeated himself. In
England he had gotten a taste of class oppression and was determined to show the aristocrats of Hopedale
that he recognized no superiors. William Lapworth lived and died a subject of the sovereignty of England.
Clifford A. Richmond, The History and Romance of Elastic Webbing, 114-119.