Top – an early Northrop loom.     Bottom – Northrop’s bobbin battery, a main feature of the Northrop loom. As the bobbin in the shuttle ran out of thread, a new bobbin from the bobbin battery pushed the empty bobbin out of the shuttle and took its place.

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.

  Mr. Rhoades, by the way, was still living and working when I started to work in the drafting room of Draper Corporation.  When any of us had occasion to go into the model room, if he wasn’t there, he would soon appear, having, we always guessed, a signal arrangement between the door of the model room and his office.

  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 satisfaction.

                                                              James H. Northrop

  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 Filling Changer

  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 loom instead.

  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 the filling-changing loom.

  As of 1900, “We have now sold over 60,000 Northrop looms.  We are shipping 1500 a month and enlarging our works to increase that output.  We are employing 2500 men and shall greatly increase this force when new shops are ready.  And what does all this mean?  Simply that the success of the Northrop loom is astounding even those who have held their faith.

  “The steady progress of the Northrop loom is a certain evidence of its merit.  Adverse criticism has often killed a good idea in its infancy while its strength was not equal to the struggle.  We escaped the fate that many prophesied.  Our loom has passed the trial stage.” Milford Daily News

                                                      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 the shops of George Draper & Sons, he showed ability as an inventor by developing the Northrop Spooler Guide.

  Desire for outdoor life, ever a passion with him, led to an unsuccessful trial of poultry farming.

  Back in the shop at Hopedale, he found the 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 Northrop loom.

  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 fishing.

  He is survived by his widow, who was Emily Driver of Keighley, five daughters, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  Cotton Chats, December 1940.  

James Northrop died in Santa Ana, California on December 12, 1940.

Bringing Northrop looms back to life – Peter Eaton          Michael Masterson     

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It appears that this newspaper clipping tells us where Northrop lived when he was in Mendon. The Trask home was on Trask Road, which is off of Hopedale Street in Mendon. It’s at the bottom of the hill between the Hopedale-Mendon town line at Freedom Street at one end, and the intersection at North Avenue at the other end

Boston Transcript, 1902
Labor Saving Looms, 1904.