The Mill Owners

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Portrait of Frederik Ayer.

Frederick Ayer was a successful merchant with a strong pedigree who owned mills throughout Lawrence and Lowell. His son-in-law, Wood, born in 1858, was a classic "rags-to-riches" story, working his way out of poverty through the mill ranks to finally run some of Massachusetts' most successful mills; he was long a multi-millionaire when the strike began. 

In 1923 Wood told an American Magazine reporter “I started to work. That was where my good fortune began. Work is whatever you make it: hardship or happiness, a punishment or a pleasure. I have worked practically al my life and I love it. A man who doesn’t work not only shirks his duty but misses the greatest satisfaction” (in Bruce Watson, Bread and Roses, p. 21). 

The American Woolen Company was established in April 1899 under the leadership of Wood and his father-in-law, Ayer. With Ayer’s financial backing, Wood eventually brought together over fifty under-performing mills to reduce competition and increase prices for his products. A clear product of the era of trusts, American Woolen’s business was routinely protected by Congress with the passage of high tariffs to keep foreign competition at bay, often to the detriment of the lives of workers.

It was at this company, a consolidation of eight financially troubled New England woolen mills, and others like it that the striker's ire was directed.