Clothes Wringers and Rubber Shoes

Textiles were not the only products fueling Woonsocket's growth in the second half of the nineteenth century. New industrial enterprises including the Bailey (later American) Wringer Company, the Woonsocket Rubber Company and the Woonsocket Machine & Press Company also prospered.

Bailey Wringing Machine advertisement from the Woonsocket Directory, 1886-2887

Bailey Wringer Company

The mechanical clothes wringer was a simple device. Rubber rollers were held together with springs to squeeze the water out of clothes. The rollers were connected by gears to a hand crank that fed the clothing through the machine. It was fast, easy to use and extremely popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Seldon A. Bailey invented the mechanical clothes wringer in 1859 in New London, CT. He moved to Wrentham, MA in 1860 where he began producing wringers on a small scale. Simeon S. Cook persuaded Bailey to move his business to Woonsocket where his device could be mass produced and properly advertised. In 1865, production began in a small mill at Island Place near Market Square. The company was called the Bailey Wringer Company and its officers were Simeon S. Cook, Lyman A. Cook and Seldon A. Bailey.

American Wringer Company Mill (c. 1889) from a 1911 picture (Woonsocket Harris Public Library) By 1870, the Bailey Wringer Company was producing 50,000 wringers per year. In need of more space, it moved from Island Place to a new location on the corner of Pond and Social Street. Eventually, the company built a huge mill on the site that filled the entire block from Social Street to Clinton Street. Sometime before 1899, the company changed its name to the American Wringer Company.

The American Wringer Company's years of prosperity ended in the 1920's when the electric washing machine was invented. By adjusting its product line to include large industrial wringers and reducing overall production, the American Wringer Company was able to stay in business until the 1950's.

Woonsocket Rubber Company

When the Bailey Wringer Company could not obtain satisfactory rubber rollers for its wringing machines, its principals formed the Woonsocket Rubber Company. Soon, the Woonsocket Rubber Company would exceed its sister company in size and profitability and become one of the largest rubber companies in the country.

Joseph Banigan (Woonsocket Harris Public Library) Simeon S. Cook, Lyman A. Cook and Joseph Banigan incorporated the Woonsocket Rubber Company in 1867. It began operations at Island Place near Market Square, and for a time, shared facilities with the Bailey Wringer Company. Eventually, the company occupied 1- acres at Island Place including the Falls Yarn Mills.

While the company initially made rollers for the Bailey Manufacturing Company, it later specialized in rubber shoes and boots. Joseph Banigan built machines and developed a process that allowed the Woonsocket Rubber Company to produce the finest rubber shoes and boots in the world. By 1876, the Woonsocket Rubber Company was producing 130 cases of footwear a day.

Alice Mill Complex (c. 1900) from Blackstone River Valley NationalHeritage Corridor In 1889, the company built the Alice Mill on Fairmount Street. At the time of its construction, it was the largest rubber mill in the world and employed 1,500 people. Two stair towers project from an immense four story structure. Although utilitarian in purpose, the stair towers also provide visual relief to what would be a facade of overwhelming proportion. By 1890, the Woonsocket Rubber Company was the largest rubber importer in the United States.

In 1892, the Woonsocket Rubber Company was sold to the US Rubber Company, but continued to operate under it own name. The company prospered until the 1930's when the Alice mill was closed. It was reopened during the Second World War and remained open until the 1960's. The Alice Mill is currently occupied by Tech Industries.

Woonsocket Machine & Press Company

While several machine shops were established in Woonsocket to support the textile industry, the Woonsocket Machine & Press Company was the largest and most influential.

Woonsocket Machine & Press Company from the Woonsocket Library Historical Collection One of the earliest machine shops in Woonsocket was Willing Cook & Company formed by Willing Vose and brothers Willis and Lyman Cook in 1828. By 1868, the company was known as the Woonsocket Furnace Company and was was located on Main Street in the location of the current Commercial Building. In 1868, the firm was sold to Simeon S. Cook and its name was changed to the Woonsocket Machine Company. It moved to a new, larger factory in the Fairmount district in 1879.

In 1884, the Woonsocket Machine Company merged with the Woonsocket Press Company and took the name of the Woonsocket Machine & Press Company. By 1889, the company had 200 employees and was the largest manufacturer of fly frames in the country.

This page utilizes information from:

  • History of Woonsocket written by E. Richardson and published by S.S. Fosse Printers, Woonsocket, RI 1876 (printed by Higginson Book Company, Salem, MA)
  • History of Providence County Rhode Island edited by Richard M. Bayles and published by W. W. Peston & Co., New York, 1891
  • Statewide Historic Preservation Report for Woonsocket, Rhode Island published by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission in September, 1976.
  • Woonsocket - Highlights of History 1800-1976 written by Alton Pickering Thomas, MD and published by the Woonsocket Opera House Society in 1973.
  • Woonsocket, Rhode Island - A Centennial History 1888 - 1988 published by the Woonsocket Centennial Committee in 1988.

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