12 February 2012

The Growth of Holyoke

As I sit in the wonderful city of Holyoke MA, home, preparing for a guest lecture tomorrow in a legal history course at UMass entitled "What is Capitalism, and How Does it Work?".  I have decided to go the case study route with my lecture.

As such, I have been reading an old, and not particularly excellent essay that I wrote a few years ago on the production of paper in the mills of Holyoke.  We all evolve as scholars, and there is a lot of changes I would make to the paper if I were to write it again today.  I did however want to share the section of the paper that introduces the growth of paper making in Holyoke and the growth of city itself.

Out of context, and without the Marxian analysis that follows in the essay, there is nothing overly exciting here:  I just find some of the growth numbers fascinating, and thought some of you might as well.  I remember reading somewhere that in the early 1900s Holyoke had the highest per-capita millionaires in the United States.  That was largely due to the paper production in "The Paper City" .  70 Years after the decline of paper making (and the wealth of Holyoke) the history of this city has left us with a mediocre brewery of the same name (Paper City Brewery). 

The following is from my paper circa 2008:     
Hope you find the numbers interesting as well, and a public thank you to Dan MacDonald for inviting me to lecture tomorrow.  I am looking forward to it!

Holyoke was transformed during the first half of the 1800’s from an agrarian backwater to a major industrial center.  The two main industries operating in Holyoke were textile production, that was common in much of the region during this time period, and paper making.  There were a number of factors that allowed for a speedy industrialization in Holyoke, although a factor that cannot be understated is its location on a rapidly flowing section of the Connecticut River. 

            During the 1830’s and 40’s two large construction projects were undertaken in Holyoke with the intention of attracting industry.  Holyoke built an intricate canal system allowing for direct fresh water supply to numerous parts of the downtown area,, and built a large hydroelectric dam on the Connecticut River. 

            The canal system was considered vital for paper makers that decided to open shop in the city.  As will be discussed in more detain in the next section 100’s of gallons of water were needed for each pound of fibrous material to turn it into the “chemically pure” pulp needed for high quality paper.  The canals provided easy access to large amounts of water for a much larger number of mills than would have been possible if they were to locate only along the river banks.    

In a stretch leading into Holyoke the Connecticut River falls 70 feet over the span of two miles.  This allows for massive power generation at what is today known as the Holyoke Dam.  The heavy machinery that became part of both the textile and paper making industries required enormous amounts of power by the standards of the middle 19th century.  Proximity to the Holyoke Dam allowed for uninterrupted and relatively cheap access to large quantities of power for manufacturing concerns in the community.  The “Great Dam” as it was then know, was completed in 1849.   

            Another factor that was important for Holyoke paper manufactures was the proximity of a large textile concern (Farr Alpaca) that was also located in Holyoke.  Again to be discussed in the next section one of the inputs for the paper mills of Holyoke was linen and cotton rags.  The proximity of textile manufacturers lowered the cost of these inputs, as they did not have to be shipped far, and could be purchased from local businesses with whom relations were generally good.  In Marxian language it could be argued that it was the possibility of cheaper C compared with other areas that originally encouraged paper mills to open in Holyoke.  It was estimated that in the early days of industrialization a paper mill could be opened in Holyoke for as little as $5000 in initial capital compared with estimates of $8000 to $10 000 elsewhere. 

            The growth of the workforce in Holyoke, and the population in general, tends to coincide with the growth and success of the paper and textile industries in the City.  The first paper mill in Holyoke was opened in 1853 with many more following in the next 10 years.   

Holyoke Population

1896, May      

            The population numbers of the town and then city of Holyoke (became city sized circa 1870) tell a story of a rapidly growing industrial community during the second half of the 19th century.  Computing an average yearly growth rate for this period yields a whopping 5.85% yearly population growth in Holyoke, compared with the United States national population average growth rate of roughly 2.2% for the same period.  As the textile and paper industries stopped growing so did the population of Holyoke.  As of 2007 the city was home to 39,765 residents.  This is almost 5,000 less people than its peak around 1900. 

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