Faribault Woolen Mill


by Eleanor Arnason | July 20, 2009 • Patrick told me a while back that the Faribault Woolen Mill was in trouble. I went on line this morning and discovered the mill has closed. This was a wonderful old mill, established in Faribault, MN in 1865.

Facts and Fictions – Eleanor Arnason writes science fiction and fantasy. Occasional posts are republished with permission from her blog.

Pat and I have four of their jacquard weave blankets with Native American motifs: a bison, a bear, a thunder bird and the moon of falling leaves.

The mill made fine blankets, beginning with the wool. Every step of the manufacture was in house and in Faribault. It provided jobs in a small Minnesota town, and it ran a really neat retail store.

I assume the current economic collapse finished it off, after it survived the economic crises of the late 19th century and the 1930s; though it was probably hurt by overseas competition and places like Walmart.

This got me thinking of Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction. Here is a Schumpeter quote from Wikipedia:

The opening up of new markets and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as US Steel illustrate the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one … [The process] must be seen (as a) perennial gale of creative destruction…

What is not mentioned in this quote is the enormous cost of this creative destruction, in which capitalism builds, destroys, rebuilds and destroys again. Is there progress? Maybe, but at what cost? European and Japanese industry were improved by the destruction of old mills in WWII and the need to build new ones after the war. It’s rather like deciding you need a new house, so you blow up the old one.

War isn’t the only way to get rid of old fixed capital. Another way is the demolition of cities like Detroit and Youngstown and the gutting of the industrial Midwest. Is this really a good use of resources, especially in a world of limited resources?

Can we really afford to rip down working buildings and businesses? Wouldn’t it be better to repair and recycle?

I will miss the mill. I wish I had bought more blankets.

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