Until 1894, the Draper Company didn't sell looms. They sold loom parts and parts for spinning
machinery. In 1887 the company began a research project to develop an automatic loom. Many men
contributed to the seven-year project, but since some of the most important developments were the
ideas of James Northrop, the loom was named for him. Here's what local historian Peter Hackett
wrote about him for the Milford Daily News:
World Famous Northrop Loom Had Its Roots
At Small Farm in Hopedale Area
By Peter Hackett
Did you know that the world famous Northrop Automatic Loom -- the loom that made Draper
Corporation, the loom that made Hopedale, had its beginning in the hen house of Jimmy Northrop's
farm somewhere near the Hopedale-Mendon town line?
From the History of the Northrop Loom as given in the 1904 Draper catalog, Labor Saving Looms, we
read this statement. "On March 5, 1889, Mr. Draper [George Otis Draper, son of General William
Draper] drove to his farm (Northrop's) and saw a rough wooden model of his idea, which was set up
in this hen-house."
Perhaps it could be said at this point, the time had arrived for an automatic loom. In 1888, Mr. William
F. Draper, Jr. (another son of the general), heard of a loom invention in Providence, and saw the
inventors and their device, which was an automatic shuttle-changer. He reported that the idea was
interesting, but, in his opinion, not practical. Draper then had a thorough investigation made of the
patent situation involved and as a result decided to give it a trial.
On Dec. 10, 1888, it was voted to allot $10,000 and assign the project to Mr. Alonzo E. Rhoades of
designing a shuttle-changing loom, which was to follow later. That Mr. Rhoades lost no time in
designing a shuttle-changing loom is proved by the fact that by Feb. 28, 1889, he had such a loom
ready to start. This loom, after being reconstructed from new parts during the next few months, though
not changed in principle, ran with good success. Some 12 years later, for purposes of litigation, the
same loom was started up and ran for days under the eye of a patent expert to his complete
Leaving the Rhoades loom at this point and returning to the "History of the Northrop Loom," it is of
interest to note that one James H. Northrop, an important figure in Hopedale-Draper history, was born
May 8, 1857, in Keighley, England. He became an expert mechanic and factory foreman in his own
country, before coming to America where he landed in May 1881, finally drifting into Hopedale where
he became employed as an expert on metal patterns. His invention of the Northrop Spooler Guide
brought him to the notice of his employers who asked him to see what he could do by way of an
automatic knot tier for spoolers.
Although he did invent such a device it did not appear commercially practical. He became
discouraged and left the shop to take up farming. He soon tired of this and got a job in the shop as a
mechanic at $2 per day.
Northrop, who had noted the Rhoades shuttle-changer progress, expressed the belief to Mr. George
Otis Draper, who had just entered the firm of George Draper & Sons, that if given a chance he
(Northrop) could put a shuttle-changer on a loom in one week's time, that could be made in quantities
for a cost of $1 each. It was at this time, March 5, 1889. Mr. Draper drove to his farm and saw a rough
model of his idea, which was set up in his hen-house.
At Mr. Draper's recommendation, the firm ordered another loom for experiments, and after its arrival Mr.
Northrop was started on April 8, to work out his scheme. By May 20 he had concluded that his first
idea was not practical, and meanwhile having thought of another idea, he asked for an extension of
time, until July 4, in which to perfect it. On July 5, the completed loom was running, and as it seemed
to have more advantages than the Rhodes loom the weaver was taken off and given the Northrop
On Oct. 24, a loom with new construction, from revised patterns, was running at the Seaconnet Mill in
Fall River, and more looms of the same kind were started up there at intervals.
Mr. Northrop had, however, meanwhile thought out his idea of changing filling in the shuttle, some of
the parts of such a mechanism taken shape as early as October. The development at our works
continued so favorably that by April of 1890 a lot of filling changing looms were started in the same
Seaconnet Mill, the shuttle changing looms having been changed back to common looms, in view of
the additional advantages of he filling-changing loom. Milford Daily News, undated.
Here's another story on Northrop.
James Henry Northrop
Jimmy Northrop, as he was familiarly and fondly known around our Hopedale shops, was born in
Keighley, Yorkshire, England, May 8, 1856. With a trade and some experience as a mechanic, he
came to America at the age of 25 and worked for a time in Boston and Woonsocket.
Coming to Hopedale to work in one of our shops of George Draper & Sons, he showed ability as
inventor by developing the Northrop Spooler Guide.
Desire for outdoor life, ever a passion with him, led him to an unsuccessful trial of poultry farming.
Back in the shop at Hopedale, he found the Draper effort to develop an automatic loom in its early
stages with the Rhoades shuttle-changing device. He set to work by himself on the same problem,
and ultimately both the Rhoades and Northrop shuttle-changers were patented. The Northrop device
was given a mill trial in October 1889.
Meanwhile he invented a self-threading shuttle and shuttle spring jaws to hold a bobbin by means of
rings on the butt. This paved the way to his filling-changing battery of 1891 - the basic feature of the
With development of a workable warp stop motion by other members of the Draper organization and
marketing of the first Northrop looms in 1894, the stage was set for the revolution in weaving that has
saved our textile manufacturers and the public millions of dollars and led to better wages and working
conditions in the industry.
By 1898, with over a hundred patents to his credit and the Northrop loom successfully launched, his
great longing for an outdoor life led to retirement at the age of 42. Buying a fruit farm at Santa Ana,
California, he spent the second 42 years of his life as a gentleman farmer and at his favorite sport of
He is survived by his widow, who was Emily Driver of Keighley, five daughters, two grandchildren, and
three great-grandchildren. Cotton Chats, December 1940.
And finally, for Mr. Northrop, a few words from the man himself.
Now answering your question as to what I am doing. I am growing figs and dates. Am paying most of
my attention to dates, which is a new industry for America, and I find it very interesting fruit to grow and
get ready for the market. These dates are shipped mostly in strawberry baskets. I am taking out a
patent for a cover for these baskets. When the dates are picked and brought to the packing house they
are all covered with dust. I am taking out a patent on a machine to clean them, but the most important
machine I have made is a machine for taking the seed out of the dates. About one-quarter of the dates
we grow are not packed on account of some slight imperfection, so they are fed to the hogs. These
can be bought for about 10c per lb.; running them through my machine makes them worth at least
25c. Letter from James Northrop to Frank Dutcher, Indio, Calif, July 14, 1918.
Jonas Northrop William Northrop
Inventors of Hopedale Draper Menu HOME
Northrop's bobbin battery, also called bobbin hopper..
I'd wondered if James Northrop had an active part in the British
Northrop Loom Company. This clipping, sent by Peter Metzke,
appears to answer that. Evidently not.
The Trask farm was on Trask Road off of Hopedale Street, Mendon. It's between the
intersection of Hopedale Street, Mendon, and North Avenue and the Hopedale/Mendon
town line. This was evidently the location of the first developments that led eventually
to the Northrop loom.