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Textile Manufacturing Workers

History

Archaeological evidence suggests that people have been weaving natural fibers into cloth for at least 7,000 years. Basketweaving probably preceded and inspired the weaving of cloth. By about 5,000 years ago, cotton, silk, linen, and wool fabrics were being produced in several areas of the world. Ancient weavers used procedures and equipment that seem simple by today's standards, but some of the cloth they made was of fine quality and striking beauty.

Over time, the production of textiles grew into a highly developed craft industry with various regional centers that were renowned for different kinds of textile products. Yet, until the 18th century, the making of fabrics was largely a cottage industry in which no more than a few people, often family groups, worked in small shops with their own equipment to make products by hand. The Industrial Revolution and the invention of machines such as the cotton gin and the power loom made it possible for a wide variety of textiles to be produced in factories at low cost and in large quantities. Improvements have continued into the 20th century, so that today many processes in making textiles are highly automated.

Other changes have revolutionized the production of fabrics. The first attempts to make artificial fibers date to the 17th century, but it was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that a reasonably successful synthetic, a kind of rayon, was developed from the plant substance cellulose. Since then, hundreds of synthetic fibers have been developed from such sources as coal, wood, ammonia, and proteins. Other applications of science and technology to the textile industry have resulted in cloth that has various attractive or useful qualities. Many fabrics that resist creases, repel stains, or are fireproof, mothproof, antiseptic, nonshrinking, glazed, softened, or stiff are the product of modern mechanical or chemical finishing.

Only about half of the textiles produced in the United States are used for clothing. The rest are used in household products (towels, sheets, upholstery) and industrial products (conveyor belts, tire cords, parachutes).

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