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ThrowBackThursday: The Cordage Company

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Plymouth Cordage Company was the world’s largest maker of ropes and twine in the late 19th century. Founded in 1824 in Plymouth, Massachusetts by Bourne Spooner, Plymouth Cordage Company was the largest employer in Plymouth for over 100 years and recruited workers from all over the globe, including Ireland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Cape Verde, and the Azores.
We caught up with Bill Rudolph, the curator at the Cordage Company Museum, to learn more about this historic company and its fascinating history. Here’s a condensed history of Plymouth Cordage Company, as told by Bill Rudolph:
Borne Spooner, a native of Plymouth and a Direct Descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims, learned how to make rope while he was in New Orleans after the War of 1812. Spooner believed that using paid labor as opposed to slave labor (as was used in Louisiana) would make for better business, as he wouldn’t have to train new workers each and every day; rather, he’d pay them well and treat them well and his workers would want to produce results.
In 1824, Spooner and several businessmen from the South Shore and Boston put up $20,000 for the Cordage Company. He chose the location in North Plymouth because it was an abandoned grist mill, and started Ropewalk in 1824.
The buildings are called “Ropewalks” because of the way workers manually twisted rope while walking backwards down the ropewalk; 600 feet of rope required 900 feet of space, which is why ropewalks are typically long narrow buildings.
In 1824, Cordage Company was completely surrounded by farmland, and it was there that Spooner built his house, which is now Davis Funeral Home.
Plymouth Cordage Company began actively recruiting workers from across the globe by offering them and their families a fare over, a job, and a place to live. In 1830, the first foreign worker was brought in to work at the Cordage Company; a man from Ireland. After that, communities from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Cape Verde, and the Azores immigrated here to work at Cordage.
In 1899, Cordage started what they called “Industrial Welfare”, a program through which they provided good and inexpensive housing, health benefits, full-day kindergarten services for kids, and more for their workers, they’d stay on longer. The Loring Reading Room was created as a place for workers to read books in their native languages and continue their home country’s traditions and customs, and the company began offering housing units with vegetable gardens for workers- they thought if people were happy and healthy, they’d serve as better employees.
The Plymouth Cordage Company was the largest rope manufacturer in the world between WWI and WWII, and when the Town of Plymouth had a total population of 12,000, almost 20% of them worked at Cordage Co.
Unfortunately, the Cordage Company went through a hostile takeover in 1964 and was bought out by the Columbian Rope Company in 1965, but its legacy as being ahead of its time in employee welfare and benefits and a driving force in the world’s rope industry continues today.
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