Labour History Review

Transatlantic Migration and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in Fall River, Massachusetts, 1873-79

Labour History Review (2013), 78, (2), 145–170.


Between 1820 and 1900 about 48,500 English-born spent at least some of their lives in Fall River, Massachusetts. The big attraction was the cotton mills, which, at their peak (1875-1900) were regarded as the textile production centre of the world. The majority of the English born hailed from Lancashire and Cheshire and accounted for almost every member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) branch at the time. The branch existed for only six years, the shortest lifespan of any in the USA, and the reasons for its closure form the focus of this paper. These are identified as: a lack of branch secretary training, a high turnover of secretaries and other internal administrators, and, probably the most significant, the industrial and social turmoil branch members and their families found themselves in, with the parallel effects on members' motivation and willingness to remain in the locale. Fall River during the last quarter of the century witnessed a very high population turnover and by the 1880s some people were staying only three or four months. The social turmoil manifested itself in poverty, prejudice, appalling housing conditions, sanitation and constant hunger. The industrial conflict was principally due to the determined power of the industrialists to kill off English-style trade unionism before it got established in New England. A contributory factor to the friction was also the fact that the Lancashire workers in Fall River were treated with a mixture of contempt, arrogance, and fear by the mill managers, and in turn regarded the Fall River mill owners as ‘shoddyites’ as they flooded the market with cheap goods, paid the lowest wages in the locale and supported appalling working conditions. The Fall River strife, however, may have reflected a wider problem. One estimate suggests that in the United States business was disrupted, usually by strikes, on 22,793 occasions between 1875 and 1900. The work provides biographical details of (English) ASE individuals who, having emigrated from the UK, found themselves embroiled in the environmental turmoil, with its parallel consequences for assimilation, acculturation, and the decisions of whether to stay or not.

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Author details

Murray, Stephen