UMass Lowell & the Lowell National Historical Park

Evolution and Manufacturing

As America’s premier manufacturing city in the early 19th century, Lowell has long been recognized as a center for technological creativity, experimentation, and innovation. The internationally renowned Lowell Hydraulic Experiments, led by civil engineer James B. Francis in the 1850s, marked the nation’s earliest large-scale scientific engineering endeavor. At the same time, Lowell’s textile industry fostered mechanical ingenuity and inventiveness. From the 1830s to the 1950s hundreds of patents were awarded to men and women who were connected to textile manufacturing.

In the mid-1890s two state sponsored institutions, the Lowell Textile School and the Normal School, were established in Lowell. Over the succeeding decades each markedly shaped and was influenced by the changing economic fortunes and social well-being of the city and the region. While the Normal School trained primarily women to become part of the growing teaching profession, the Textile School trained primarily men to advance both technological and managerial practices in the textile industry.

Over the course of the 20th century New England shifted from an older manufacturing economy, dominated by textiles, machine tools, and shoe production, to one based on electronics, plastics, aerospace, and computer technologies, and more recently life sciences and bio-medical engineering. Lowell’s higher education institutions, which were merged in 1975 and then joined the UMass system in 1990, adapted to the accompanying cultural changes and societal needs. Today, this may be seen not only in the university’s academic programs and in the university’s physical landscape throughout the city, but also in the character and diversity of UMass Lowell’s students, faculty, and staff.