Corticelli Sewing Silk Thread, 1876

By Andrea Cronin

In a prior post about American Sericulture, Dr. James Mease of Philadelphia wrote to Colonel Timothy Pickering about his sericultural pursuits in 1826. Small American sericulture experiments such as Dr. Mease’s endeavor gave way to industrial enterprise by the 1840s. In Northampton and its surrounding towns, businessmen Samuel Whitmarsh and Samuel Lapham Hill spun the necessary structure for the Nonotuck Silk Company and its Corticelli production line of sewing silk.

Though Samuel Whitmarsh gave Nonotuck Silk Company its name, the company did not survive the mulberry speculation bubble and subsequent implosion in the late 1830s. The Northampton Association of Education and Industry purchased the remains of Whitmarsh’s operations but struggled to produce raw silk until the ultimate dissolution of the association in 1846. 

Samuel L. Hill converted the silk production operations of Northampton Association of Education and Industry into manufacturing mills. The company began importing the silk from China and Japan thereafter. Hill began to manufacture a new silk sewing thread known as “machine twist” that was durable enough to be used in mechanical sewing machines. Hill sent sewing machine inventor Isaac M. Singer some of his entrepreneurial “machine twist” silk spools in 1852. Singer was so impressed that he requested all of the company’s silk spools stock. The silk thread market blossomed under the influence of these two businessmen.

Samuel Hill remained president of the Nonotuck Silk Company until his retirement in 1876. At the 1876 Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, the Nonotuck Silk Company presented this gorgeous 1876 broadside that depicts twelve steps in silk production process from silkworms to raw silk.

Broadside - 12 step silk production

What step in this broadside interests you the most?