Table of Contents
The New Bedford Cordage Company was founded in 1842 by Joseph Ricketson, Benjamin S. Rotch, and William J. Rotch, probably as an outgrowth of the Rotch family rope walk established at New Bedford in 1815. Incorporated by the state in 1846, the firm initially produced rope used on whaling and clipper ships. After the Civil War, New Bedford Cordage Company turned to the manufacture of binder twine for farmers, transmission rope for use in textile mills, and especially rope cables used in salt mines and water or oil wells. Records indicate that by the mid-1880s, the company's products were sold throughout the United States and in Hawaii, South America, South Africa, and Australia. The firm enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity between 1911-1929, supplying over 80% of all rope cables used in domestic oil drilling. The interruption of the hemp supply from the Philippines during World War II, changes in the drilling cable business, the development of synthetic fibers, and increased competition encouraged the company to manufacture different types of cordage and explore new sales avenues in the post-war years. From about 1950 until 1964, when the firm closed, New Bedford Cordage Company concentrated on manufacturing small sized nylon rope.
Administratively, the New Bedford Cordage Company remained a closed corporation controlled by the Rotches and members of other local families until about 1886, when the need for increased capital dictated a wider distribution of company stock. Between 1893-1905, the real estate, plant, and stock of the firm were successively sold to National Cordage Co. and United States Cordage Co., two trust organizations, and Travers Brothers Company, a cordage manufacturer and jobber. Manufacturing activities of the company remained at New Bedford throughout these changes in ownership, although the general offices of the firm were transferred to New York City in the early 1950s. In 1958, New Bedford Cordage Company became a subsidiary of Wall Rope Works, Inc. While the firm's main plant at New Bedford closed in March 1959 and key personnel were transferred to the Wall offices at Beverly, N.J., the company retained its autonomy, market business, and sales organization until 1964, when both Wall Rope Works, Inc., and New Bedford Cordage Company merged with Phillips Petroleum Co.
Materials in this collection reflect the administrative, manufacturing, and financial activities of New Bedford Cordage Company between 1842-1959. Of particular note are records of company directors and stockholders, 1848-1958, which include minutes of meetings, reports and amendments regarding stock, deeds and bills of sale for land or ships purchased by the firm, and correspondence, tax appraisals, and proposals relating to the company's physical plant. These records are complemented by business correspondence from the years 1847-1959. consisting of letters generated or received by the firm, chiefly relating to product orders and supplies. The collection also includes numerous account books, 1842-1856; a time and wage book for company employees, 1846-1864; production and sales records, 1839-1953, including a volume listing sales of both the Rotch family rope walk and New Bedford Cordage Company; and articles of organization of the Cordage Institute, a national trade organization of which the New Bedford firm was a member, dating from 1933-1946. Supplementing these records are a useful memoir of New Bedford Cordage Company, written by the firm's last president, Martin Walter Jr. in 1968; a number of product catalogs and advertisements; and several clippings from local newspapers concerning events in the company's history, ca. 1851-1958. An index to the outgoing correspondence, 1847-1896, is available at the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library.
Arrangement of Collection
Access to the Collection
Unrestricted. Consult librarian for an appointment.
New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 1 [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Related Manuscript Collections
Accession #2011.78: New Bedford Cordage Company account journal, 1854-1859
Accession #2015.29: New Bedford Cordage Company letter book, 1856-1858
Removed to Photograph Collection
- Sixteen photographs of New Bedford Cordage Company products, machinery, operations, and employees, circa 1880-1958.
Removed to Printed Collection
- Belfast Ropework Co., Ltd. Catalog, undated.
- Columbian Rope Co. The Monument, 1948 [history of firm].
- Cordage Institute, New York, N.Y. National Security and Imports, 1956.
- Cordage Institute, New York, N.Y. Story of the U.S. Cordage Industry, 1947.
- Dewing, Arthur S. History of the National Cordage Co., 1913.
- "Famous Neighbors of the Continental Screw Co.," 1941 [pamphlet].
- Haskell-Dawes Machine Co. Catalog, 1927.
- M. Donaghy & Sons Pty., Ltd. 100 Years of Ropemaking, 1952.
- New Bedford Cordage Co. Catalogue of Principal Products, undated.
- Wall Rope Works, Inc., New York, N.Y. [Historical study], 1944.
Most records in this collection were given to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society by the New Bedford Cordage Company on 6 May 1961. Additional minute books, legal documents, correspondence, catalogs, clippings, and photographs were donated to the Society between 1966 and 1968 by Martin Walter Jr. Several letters were also donated by Mrs. George Smith on 25 April 1984.
Processed by: Patricia J. Albright, ca. 1982
Encoded by: Mark Procknik, 14 December 2012
Funds for processing this collection were provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Please Consult Research Library for Detailed Description of Collection
Account books--New Bedford, Mass.--1839-1889
Bryant, Francis A., 1869-1960
Business records--Mass.--New Bedford
Cordage Institute, New York, N.Y.
National Cordage Company, New York, N.Y.
New Bedford, Mass.--Economic conditions
New Bedford, Mass.--Industries
Ricketson, Joseph, 1815-1876
Rope trade--Mass.--New Bedford
Rotch, Benjamin Smith, 1817-1882
Rotch, William James, 1819-1893
Travers Brothers Company, New York, N.Y.
Wages--Rope, twine, and net trade--Mass.--New Bedford
Wall Industries, Inc., New York, N.Y.
- Exhibit Enhancements
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- Herman Melville
- Captain Paul Cuffe
- Joshua Slocum