Scranton Lace Company – Two Centuries of Quality.


Close-up view of the punch cards used by Jacqu...

Close-up view of the punch cards used by Jacquard loom on display at the museum of science and industry. Photograph taken by George H. Williams in July, 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Scranton Lace Company stood as a testament to quality industry.  The company was the largest producers of Nottingham Lace using massive Jacquard looms brought in by ships from Nottingham, England in 1896.  Construction workers and engineers installed the massive Jacquard looms, planting them firmly on huge concrete footings, then built the plant around them.

Employing over 1400 people in its heyday,  Scranton Lace Company had to be a great place to work.  The plant; spanning over two city blocks, was not only the largest employer in the area, but it also housed its own theater, bowling alley, infirmary, gymnasium and barbershop.  When WWII broke out, Scranton Lace was right there with the troops.  The plant shifted some of its looms into producing camouflage and mosquito netting.  For looms of this size using Punch Card technology, this was no easy feat.

During the 50’s, import competition from a war-torn Japan looking to rebuild and China with its cheap labor force, forced the company to layoff workers.  This hit the town of Scranton very hard as the lace company was it’s largest employer.  Then, when risky investments in the fledging Television industry of the 50’s failed to pay off, the company could no longer compete.  It held on with a skeleton crew producing minimal lace products, until finally in 2002 the company president – walked on to the production floor and during mid-shift, announced the plant closed – effective immediately.  The plant lay abandoned from then on.

Being a lover of fine vintage lace, I started out to write this post to impress you with how lace was produced and to show you one of the best examples of manufactured lace that ever existed.  However, words alone cannot give you the full magnitude of this process, nor the sense of loss you feel when you look upon the abandoned plant.  To appreciate the process fully, you have to see it and to do that without travelling to Scranton, I recommend the pictorial journey through the abandoned Scranton Lace Plant you can find at http://wiseminds.com/thedigitalmirage/?p=136  .  The photographers did a fantastic job of capturing the heart and soul of this plant.  It is well worth your time to see the photography; especially the looms and the punch cards used to produce the miles and miles of lace, that came off them.

I caution you however.  If you love antiques, and long for the quality produced in an era long past, you will come away from the pictorial journey feeling a sense of loss for an era we can never hope to recapture again.  An era when “quality” was a word you heard more often than “profit” in the board meetings.

There is hope for the old plant however.  On December 30 2011, the company’s abandoned building was featured in the pilot episode of the Abandoned TV series.  That drew national attention to it.  In 2012, the factory complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places and then in 2011, plans for restoration were placed before the Scranton City Council.

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