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America’s First Wool Farmers & Artisans
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America’s First Wool Farmers & Artisans

The history of wool in the United States is a fascinating tale of resilience, innovation, and the pursuit of economic independence. Did you know that sheep have been common farm animals since at least 10,000 BC? Sheep thrive in almost every part of our world, as they easily adapt to changing climates and they eat a diet of weeds and other vegetation that many other animals won’t eat. Sheep have been companions to humans for an amazing amount of time, supplying food and wool materials for clothing and blankets.


When American settlers were first arriving from England, the motherland discouraged the expansion of the wool industry in the colonies. Why? Because England’s largest export was wool materials. King George III made wool trading a criminal offense and those who disobeyed were punished by having their right hand cut off. Despite these drastic measures, a handful of sheep were smuggled into North America from other countries and soon multiplied to large flocks that could provide enough wool for a booming wool industry run by farmers and artisans. Let’s jump in and learn about how our ancestors used the different parts of the sheep, highlighting the resourcefulness of early American wool producers. 

  1. England's Monopoly and Discouragement: During colonial times, England held a monopoly on the wool industry and actively discouraged the development of a wool industry in America. The British government imposed strict regulations and laws that prevented the exportation of sheep and the manufacturing of wool products in the colonies. This was done to maintain England's dominance and to protect its own textile industry. However, these restrictions inadvertently fueled the determination of American colonists to create their own wool industry.

  1. Overcoming Obstacles and the Rise of American Wool: Despite England's discouragement, American colonists began importing and smuggling sheep from other countries, such as Spain, France, and Germany. By the mid-1700s, wool production began to thrive in the United States, with Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York emerging as key hubs of the industry. Sheep easily adapted to different climates and terrain. American farmers bred sheep for their excellent wool quality; the establishment of mills and weaving operations further propelled the growth of the wool industry. 

  1. Utilizing Every Part of the Sheep: Early American wool producers showed remarkable resourcefulness by utilizing every part of the sheep, ensuring that nothing went to waste. The wool itself was the primary focus, used for making clothing, blankets, and other textiles. However, other parts of the sheep were also put to good use.

Meat: Sheep meat, commonly known as lamb or mutton, was a valuable food source. It provided sustenance for the growing population and was particularly important during harsh winters when other food was scarce. 

Skin and Hides: The sheep's skin and hides were used for making leather goods, such as shoes, gloves, and bags. Early American settlers used a tanning process to transform the raw hides into durable and usable materials. 

Tallow: The fat from the sheep, known as tallow, had several applications. It was used to make candles, soap, and lubricants for machinery. Tallow candles were a common source of light before the invention of electricity.

Bones and Horns: The bones and horns of sheep were utilized for crafting various tools, buttons, and decorative items. They were also ground into powder and used as fertilizers in agriculture. 

The introduction of wool in the United States was a story of perseverance and ingenuity. Despite England's discouragement, American colonists overcame the obstacles, developed their own wool industry, and utilized every part of the sheep. The rise of wool production not only provided economic opportunities for the growing nation but also demonstrated the resourcefulness and resilience of early American wool producers. Today, the legacy of the American wool industry continues to thrive, showcasing the importance of this versatile and sustainable natural fiber. Click here to learn more about our storied past at the Frankenmuth Woolen Mill. We make the highest quality natural wool products for your family, including your pets!

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