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
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 satisfaction.
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 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
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.
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
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
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 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.
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.