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Commemorative silk ribbon issued during 1893 for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
This is an original, scarce 1893 souvenir bookmark issued and woven at the Columbian Exposition World's Fair in Chicago. During this Victorian era, Warner Silk Manufacturing Co. had looms set up at the Fair to weave a silk Commemorative ribbon showcasing their award winning ingenuity & machinery with silk manufactured by the Phoenix Silk Manufacturing Company which had locations in Patterson, N. J. & also in Allentown, Pa.
The Adelaide Silk Mill, (named in honor of the wife of the Phoenix Co.'s president) was opened at 201-207 N. 3rd St., Allentown in 1881.
By the 1900s the Lehigh Valley (not Paterson) was America's silk capital.
American Silk Industry History:
The American Silk Industry has its roots in the colonial era, when colonists began cultivating silk for export to England in an attempt to get rich quick. These efforts exploded in the post-revolutionary period, during what has come to be dubbed the “silk craze”. The craze was abruptly brought to a halt in the 1840’s when blight wiped out nearly all of the mulberry trees, the singular food source of the silk worm, originally imported from France and Italy. It wasn’t until the 1860’s that the silk industry began to reemerge and quickly rose to new heights of productivity and success. With the arrival of various technological advancements, increased industrialization of silk production and the growing demand of the middle class seeking to dress more like society’s elite, the golden age of the American Silk Industry was set into motion in the 1870’s and 80’s.
PA Silk History / Golden Age:
The silk industry of eastern PA was the direct result of the increased industrialization of silk production processes, the desire of silk manufacturers to decrease costs while increasing profits, and the decline of many of the primary industries of the region in the 1870’s and 80’s. Seeking an abundant source of cheap labor, many of the silk companies of Paterson, NJ - heart of the american silk industry from the 1860’s till the beginning of the 20th century - began to relocate their mills to eastern PA.
Beginning with the construction of the first silk mill in PA in Scranton in 1873, and the first in the Lehigh Valley in Allentown in 1881, the eastern PA silk industry experienced a dotcom-like boom through the 1920’s. By the 1910s, PA was the epicenter of the American Silk Industry, boasting more than 300 silk mills by 1916 and a third of the nation’s silk workers by 1920; most of which were concentrated in and around the Lehigh Valley. In fact, the silk industry was primary employer and industry in the region by 1920.
The silk boom hit its bust during the Depression, when the importation of Japanese silk products and the advent of synthetic fibers like nylon and rayon resulted in declining demand and silk prices. Most of the mills closed or transitioned to the production of synthetic fibers in the 1930’s, with a small percentage shifting their silk production towards more specialized, luxury items. Since the 1980’s, there has been a movement to preserve the many abandoned mills that dot the eastern PA landscape and the history they embody, repurposing them into cultural centers, offices and and apartments.