Lapworth, was engaged in the manufacture of elastic and non-elastic fabrics. It employed 125 workers
and the plant was equipped with 88 narrow looms.
More recently, the large building was occupied for several years by "Grandma's Attic."
Lapworth was born in Coventry, England on March 3, 1844. He gained his early experience in weaving
in his native land and in 1870 he came to the United States.
He was first employed as an elastic weaver by an English house in Connecticut, and his knowledge
and skill were at once recognized.
Subsequently, he worked for the Boston Elastic Fabric Company of Chelsea and next he became
associated with the Glendale Elastic Fabric Company of Easthampton in the capacity of manager.
He was one of the organizers of the Hopedale Elastic Fabric Company of Hopedale, remaining a
stockholder and general manager of the business for 11 years.
Then he embarked in elastic webbing independently. His inventive genius and thorough understanding
of the work resulted in his producing many patents, all of which were regarded as indispensable in the
production of elastic web and he became the pioneer manufacturer of elastic twill.
He also invented the elastic web from which the celebrated policemen suspenders are made and he
introduced various other weaves of equal value.
The rise of the elastic webbing industry in America and its diversified use, as well as the constantly
widening field opening to the manufacturer of this domestic and personal necessity was due perhaps
more to the energy, inventive genius and business sagacity of Lapworth than to any other
representative of the industry.
His plant at Milford covered about two acres and was the last word in equipment, commercial stability,
skillful workmanship, superior management and perfection of product. the business ranked among the
foremost in elastic web manufacturing in the country and was conducted in a most systematic manner,
everything being done according to a most thoroughly worked out system in the offices and in every
department of the plant.
The weaving room, 180 by 120 feet, was one of the best lighted in the country and its 100 looms were
operated by skillful employees, many having been with the company for a long period.
A number of these looms produced the beautiful and dazzling colors of the "Boston Silk Garter," each
loom being devoted to a particular color.
The warping and winding room contained a number of machines which warp and wind the fabrics. The
dressing room was used for dressing the beautiful and many-colored webbing and it contained
machines of great size and of the latest invention.
The rubber stock room was kept cool and somewhat dark with great rolls of rubber upon the floor and
shelves, looking like brown yarn.
There was a finishing department where the last touch was added to the beautiful fabric of elastic
webbing and then neatly rolled, ready to be packed.
Lapworth was regarded as an expert on rubber, from the time it was taken from the tree until it was
formed into the smallest thread and only its finest product was used by this company.
Lapworth gave equal attention to the welfare of his workers, in which connection he gave most
comprehensive study to the ventilation of the immense weaving room, so that pure air was conveyed to
every section, there being two large skylights which were operated from the floor and two powerful fans
that could be regulated immediately. The output was from 12 to 14 million yards annually, the capacity
of the weaving department being about 20 yards per minute.
The product included only high-grade goods, principally silk web of every shade and color and of
varying widths for garters, hose supporters, arm bands, etc., and was sold to both wholesale and retail
merchants. Milford Daily News, July 6, 1996.
Street. The original house is
shown above, and the house
after alterations on the right.
Hopedale, yesterday observed his 87th birthday anniversary with a quiet celebration at his
residence on Adin Street, at which the members of his family were present.
Though his advanced years mark him as the last of the "Old Guard" of veteran industrial
promoters in this vicinity and possibly of the entire state, Mr. Lapworth still remains active in
the business world and continues almost daily to go to his factory, located off Depot Street
[Milford] and confer on various matters with his sons, who have for years been associated with
him in the industry.
Until recently, when his age forced him to cease activities to some extent and cause more
automobile riding between his home and the mills, Mr. Lapworth often walked to and from,
being a great lover of the outdoors and believing that this healthy exercise was essential for
the mind and body, either before or after hours of labor of daily toil.
Proud of his successful business career, which has been noted throughout the general
business world, and of his family life, in which he insisted upon strict discipline that resulted in
ultimate happiness and affection for all, Mr. Lapworth always spoke mildly and modestly upon
the reasons he attributed for the growth and advancement of a substantial business.
He does not claim to deserve any more honor or distinction than could be rightfully bestowed
upon an individual who had succeeded after diligent and hard work and prevented social
activities to interfere with the objects he was striving to overcome.
The opinion that anyone with push, common sense and perseverance which, together with
real work would, in the end, overcome all obstacles, could rise to the top, was his firm
conviction throughout life. He has evidenced this fact in his own career and that of his sons,
each one of whom he launched into the business world.
Yesterday at the Lapworth residence the festivities included a family dinner and reunion,
during which some of Mr. Lapworth's experiences of the early days were related. Many friends
called to extend congratulations and he was showered with flowers, cards, telegrams and
tokens of the event.
William Lapworth was born in Coventry, England, March 3, 1844, and came from a family
whose male members possessed a knowledge of weaving equaled by few in their time. His
ambitions to get ahead in life resulted in his decision to come to America and at the age of 26
he arrived in the United States.
He believed that his knowledge of weaving obtained in his native country, together with an
unusual amount of energy inherited from his parents, would result in achievement, hence is
early decision to come to this land of opportunity and inducement.
While in Norwich, Ct., he secured employment with a branch English house as an elastic
weaver and his knowledge and skill were at once recognized and stamped his as an individual
in this line of endeavor.
Mr. Lapworth's ambition a few years later caused him to make a start for himself and in 1886
he came to Hopedale and founded the Hopedale Elastic Fabric Co., the pioneer concern of its
kind in this locality, and he was at once successful, despite the fact that he was besieged with
obstacles that were almost continually thrown in his path.
His general knowledge of the business, much of which he acquired through his father, John
Lapworth, and to which he added by his own natural talents and experience, instilled within
him a desire to pursue a wider field, which he did by coming to Milford to locate in 1896.
While in Hopedale, Mr. Lapworth was a stockholder and general manager for the company 11
years but he was constantly in search for an opening to secure a more modern and larger
plant, to which he could build from time to time as the occasion warranted. He finally decided
upon Milford and bought up the old storage battery car barns, which he converted into an
excellent mill that is part of the Lapworth & Sons plant today.
As is well known his success from then on resulted in a steady upgrowth of the elastic
webbing venture and Mr. Lapworth acknowledged, as the head of one of the most extensive
silk web works in the country.
measure revolutionized this important industry and proved a distinct achievement for Mr.
Lapworth. He has many patents of various devices used in the manufacture of his goods and
his creation of the elastic twill was possibly one of his greatest accomplishments.
Mr. Lapworth invented the elastic web from which the policemen suspenders are made and
have become world-famous, while looms at his plant produce the material that made the
popular "Boston" silk garter. The Lapworth factory covers more than two acres. The various
departments were well planned and arranged.
Years of study and persistent work by the successful promoter reached the goal for which Mr.
Lapworth strove when a young man and he justly deserves to enjoy the fruits of one of the
longest possible careers in life.
His wife, who was the former Miss Frances Smith of London, England, died 17 years ago. The
Lapworth family includes six sons, Charles A. of Brockton, Frank A. of Hopedale, Arthur F. of
Los Angeles, Cal., W. Sumner, Winfield S., and Clarence H. Lapworth of Hopedale, and three
daughters, Miss Fannie, Mrs. Florence Schnetzler and Miss Mabel I. Lapworth, at home.
Milford Daily News, March 4, 1931
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|William Lapworth, 87, Veteran Manufacturer
His Birthday Anniversary Observed At Adin Street Home
One of the Last of "Old Guard" in Bay State
|A Top Elastic-Web Manufacturer
by Gordon E. Hopper
Lapworth Elastic Fabrics, Depot Street, Milford. Grandma's Attic Moving
and Storage is now on the site. Thanks to the Milford Museum for this.
From Leading Business Men of Milford, Hopkinton and
Vicinity, 1890. Thanks to Peter Metzke of Melbourne,
Australia for sending it.
that time it was the home of Alan and Theresa Ryan.
Interests closely tied in with George Draper & Sons Co., builders of the Draper looms at
Hopedale, Mass, were responsible for the starting of the Hopedale Elastic Fabrics Company
in 1887. General William F. Draper, president of the company, was the largest shareholder. E.
L. Osgood, who married a sister of William F. Draper, served as treasurer and among other
holders were Eben S. Draper, later governor of Massachusetts, Claire and George Otis
Draper ; Eben D. Bancroft; and William Lapworth, who had been hired away from Glendale
Elastic Fabrics Company to serve as general manager. Lapworth was the only practical web
man of this group. Captital $125,000.
Son of a thoroughly trained weaver, William Lapworth was born at Coventry, England, and
from childhood absorbed knowledge of weaving. He received no education other than what
he picked up in a determined endeavor to rise above a disadvantaged family and in battling
to work his wits and make his native abilities suffice in place of academic training. It is stated
by members of his family that for the ninety-three years of his life, he never learned the three
R's and could very poorly sign his name. So great was his ability as a weaver, so powerful
was his domineering personality, so pompous the front he presented to the world, that
nothing he had to face in his career ever got him down.
The polished aristocracy of the wealthy Hopedale group into which he was called never fazed
William Lapworth one iota but that his bluntness gave the Hopedale group many band
moments, there are tales aplenty. There is no doubt that through native ability he could
handle an elastic web mill; neither is there reason to doubt that he constantly irritated the
Drapers, particularly the suave Eben S. Draper
Very little ever escaped Lapworth's dark, penetrating eyes. Nimble-witted, he rarely failed to
catch a point, an expression, and intonation, and it was indeed rare when he failed to have a
comeback to any question or assertion.
Until he was twenty-five, Lapworth lived a stormy career in England, taking advantage of
every opportunity to master the art of weaving elastic webs and to master men and
conditions. In 1869 he came to America to work at Norwich, Conn, for the Norwich Loom
Company, a branch of an English company, which in addition to building looms did some
weaving of elastic webs. This branch company, later known as the Norwich Suspender &
Elastic Company was of few years experience and many troubles.
West, Bradley & Carey Mfg Co of New York City experienced difficulties in weaving buttonhole
webs. They appealed to the Norwich Loom Company for help. William Lapworth was sent
there to straighten them out. This and other things he did for West, Bradley & Carey, winning
their profound respect for his abilities and no inconsiderable fear of his personality.
When Thomas and William Martin withdrew from the Boston Elastic Fabrics Co. to start T.
Martin and Bro., William Lapworth succeeded William Martin as superintendent and the help
quickly recognized that William Lapworth was boss, with a large B.
The Glendale Elastic Fabrics Co. needed a strong hand to control their garter web
department. William Lapworth applied for and won the place. The first thing he did--the first
day--was to blusteringly fire twenty-three weavers.
At Chelsea, Lapworth became a close friend of George C. Moore, then a loom fixer employed
by T. Martin and Bro. At the Glendale Elastic Fabrics Co., Lapworth was again associated
with Moore. They became lifelong friends, had many wordy fights over who saw things first,
and in later years jocosely allowed each had taught the other no end of tricks in weaving.
Following parental example, William Lapworth trained his children to be proficient weavers.
the oldest sons and daughters had worked with their father at Chelsea, and at the Glendale
Elastic Fabrics Co., and when the father was called to Hopedale he took with him a goodly
team of Lapworth sons and daughters who were well grounded in the manufacture of elastic
The Drapers sent Lapworth and his oldest son Charles A. to England to buy up and bring to
Hopedale twenty goring looms from the defunct Rapp & Thetlow mill at Leicester, where
William Lapworth had once worked as a weaver. Upwards of eighty new looms were
purchased in Worcester from loom builders later to be combined as Crompton-Knowles Loom
Many amusing stories are related of the autocratic way William Lapworth handled the
Hopedale Elastic Fabric Company, eek (?) the Drapers, and Lapworth methods of getting
what he wanted out of the business during the eleven years of its existence. Always masterful
in exercising his dominating and domineering qualities, Lapworth played his cards with
adroitness and very close to his chest.
In the management of the Draper Company, there was considerable friction among the
Draper brothers, notably between General William F. and Eben S. In degree this carried into
the Hopedale Elastic Fabric Company and made William F. look with much favor on long trips
It was during one of William F.'s long jaunts abroad that things at the web mill were brought to
a showdown. The free trade depression during the second Cleveland administration had told
heavily on the elastic web industry, atop of which came heavy claims from shoe
manufacturers for gorings they held to be defective. The trouble Billy Lapworth insisted, was
the square needles used in stitching the gores into the shoes, the square needles cutting the
strands of rubber and allowing them to slip into the webs. All of this was undoubtedly true but
probably not the whole story. Just at this time, in order to make low prices so American
gorings would sell beside English webs flooding the market, smaller sized rubber threads
were being used and spaced farther apart in the webs than theretofore.
Between the acid complaints the Drapers had to listen to from their aristocratic shoe
manufacturer friends in the western part of Worcester County and the bluster of Billy
Lapworth, under long-time, high priced contract, General William F. Draper felt the need of a
trip to Europe and during that time the sudden success of the new Northrop looms caused the
Draper Company to need more factory space and very promptly.
The story goes that Eben S. Draper lined up control of the Hopedale Elastic Fabrics, promptly
shut in down and sold the hundred looms to Kirby & Moore of Providence, sol them for twenty
thousand dollars with the stipulation that the factory must be vacated immediately. Thereby
hands a tale that will be told elsewhere in this history.
Eben S. Draper had won all his points; Lapworth was out--but not down, not by a jugful. He
insisted on being paid in full for the balance of his contract and, to make sure there were
sufficient funds with which to pay it, his is reported to have gone after the Mechanical Fabrics
Company--the rubber thread supply--for damages, claiming the rubber had caused the
trouble the shoe manufacturers had experienced. He thumped away until he secured a large
reimbursement. Rubber thread manufacturers have suffered such experiences both before
and after the event here numerated.
With the closing of the Hopedale Elastic Fabrics Company, William Lapworth was out of a job--
for a few days only. Promptly he bought the old storage battery car barn near the station in
Milford, and with his large family of sons and daughters and a few looms from the Worcester
companies, plus a loan of $35,000 started a business of his own. Soon he was once again
supplying elastics to George Frost & Co., makers of the famed Boston Garter. The Lapworth
business grew rapidly, eventually totalling 88 looms.
William Lapworth prospered in a large way, built a big mansion on Adin Street, Hopedale's
millionaire road, had his coach and liveried servants and enjoyed letting his neighbors see
that he could take his fur coat as seriously as they. William Lapworth made his hard-headed
sense, perseverance, adroitness in overcoming obstacles and determination to be atop the
heap pay him large dividends but he failed to apply his common sense to the handling of his
sons. In the end he defeated himself by taking his sons into the business as William Lapworth
& Sons, driving them, giving them small authority and ever regarding these able men as
children and, truth be told, the sons were ever scared pink of the old man. Nothing is her set
down as malicious criticism but a critical study.
William Lapworth was deservedly the recipient of much adulation and as a self-adulator he
had few superiors--he strongly concurred in the thought "Blow your own horn, else the same
shall not be blown." Devoid of academic education but marvelously sure of himself, he had
gone a long way from poverty in England to wealth in America and no one, so far reporting,
ever unhorsed him in combat.
Among his patents stands out the famed Police Suspender web, always in demand. He was
first to make webs with twill weave.
Had Billy Lapworth been less adamant in his stubbornness he would have left a thriving
business, to which the services of his sons had liberally contributed, to be carried on to the
glory of a rugged individualist. William Lapworth & Sons dates from 1896.
Living until he was ninety-three, he did not let go his grip until nature called a halt. In the latter
years when age began to slow up his activities, Lapworth drew heavily on the resources of his
company and stubbornly failed to spend money to maintain the plant in position to meet
By will Lapworth left his money to his three daughters, the impoverished business to his sons
who had remained with him. The eldest son, Charles A., had flown the coop shortly after the
start of the William Lapworth mill, having left because fully fed up with things past and present
for which he could not stand.
Leaving a business to men who had long been treated as children, a business that had not
been kept abreast of the times in methods and machinery, a business lacking sufficient
capital to run it, leaving it n the depressing times of the 1930s when the PWA and the WPA
"in our door yard bloomed," proved a bitter pill to the valiant sons who had put their lives into
William Lapworth & Sons, Inc.
The business was closed in 1943 and the 88 looms were scattered, mostly in small lots to the
various aspiring weavers in Pawtucket.
Always a terrific driver, William Lapworth stubbornly managed to have things his way and if in
the light of experience it seems he short-changed himself on common sense it is doubtful,
could he be reached, if he would admit it. By those who knew him well, he is credited as
having stubbornly defeated himself. In England he had gotten a taste of class oppression and
was determined to show the aristocrats of Hopedale that he recognized no superiors. William
Lapworth lived and died a subject of the sovereignty of England. Clifford A. Richmond, The
History and Romance of Elastic Webbing, 114-119.
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