Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Members Linger at Last Carpet Mill—a tour of the Pennsylvania Woven Carpet Mills in 1990.
Irv Kosmin, The Wright Stuff, Newsletter of the Oliver Evans Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology, (January 1991), p.10.

About 25 OE members toured this mill, sole survivor in Philadelphia of the more than 200 Kensington rug and carpet mills that employed as many as 7,000 people in the half century following the Civil War.

The company was founded in 1846, over 140 years ago, by Peter Doerr as the Philadelphia Carpet Company. At first narrow hand looms were rented to weavers who, supplied with wool by the company, wove at home or in small shops.

Doerr's first mill was built in 1870 at Fifth Street and Columbia Avenue, it was equipped to manufacture ingrain carpet on 27-inch and 36-inch steam power looms. By 1918 the company had expanded and moved to its present location where both narrow and broadloom velvets were produced. In 1937 major expansion added Building 3, with Wilton looms installed that had the capability to produce 12-foot wide carpet.

During World War II cotton duck and tarpaulins were woven for the armed forces but the mill resumed its velvet and Wilton production after the war. It grew to be one of the most respected in the industry, known for such classic carpets as the "Colonial Velvet," made for more than thirty years.

The Doerr family sol the company in 1976, it continue operation as Pennsylvania Wilton Carpets. in June 1987, Frank J. Pisano purchase the mill an renamed it. Buildings were refurbished and new equipment was installed to restore the company to its original place of prominence in the woven industry. Today, the Philadelphia mill according to the company brochure, is the largest weaver of custom Wilton carpet in the United States.

Wilton carpets are known for strength and durability as they contain up to 93 tufts per inch compared to 64 tufts for velvet. Numerous designs, many incorporating emblems and other motifs, are woven in widths ranging from 27 inches to 12 feet. Wilton carpets are woven on Jacquard looms (Joseph Marie Jacquard, the son of a weaver, perfected the automatic pattern loom which bears his name, in France about 1804). This type of loom raises a yarn of specified color(s) to the carpet surface, forming the design, all other yarns are submerged into the body of the carpet.

The tour began in the showroom of the plant where we saw samples of various designs on display including the Nittany Lion, symbol of Penn State University. OE members were divided into two groups, one led by Marianne Embiscuso, Sales Administrator, and the other by Bill Schol, Mill Superintendent. We were able to look into the design department where Salvatore De Grazio commands as Director of Style and Design. We saw some of his work for clients with specific custom carpeting needs.

Then we shifted to the card cutting section where heavy card stock 2-5/8 inches by 19-5/8 inches is machine punched with a pattern of holes that determines the carpet design. From there we went on to the lacing machine where the cards are stitched together in long strips.

The beaming department was next where the rollers or cylinders are loaded for the weaving operation. The warp is wound on the rollers—the yarn placed lengthwise—then the roller is put on the loom.

We moved on to observe several Jacquard looms in operation. The loom operator prepared for a run of 12-foot Wilton carpet by climbing to the top of the loom (about 15 feet) and attaching the aforementioned strip of punched cards. Beforehand, the creel at the rear of the loom had been prepared by feeding the spools of yarn (also lengthwise) into the loom. The woof and weft are interwoven with the warp by means of the shuttle, creating the carpet. Cutting the pile to the desired thickness is also part of the weaving procedure.

We then went into the burling area where women inspected the carpet for any imperfections which were repaired by hand sewing. The next operation was application of a latex backing, after which the carpet was sent through a drying oven. The last operation consisted of rolling the carpet out for final inspection, then it can be prepared for shipment or storage.

The mill's Wilton carpets are woven of 100% wool, or of wool and nylon, or acrylic and nylon blends. The company has made carpets for such diverse users as the United States Government (the original United States Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol) and nationally known hotels, casinos, restaurants, and department stores all over the country. They now produce carpet for major aircraft companies and airlines as well as for companies under private labels. Velvet carpet continues to be woven using four looms producing 12-foot widths; there were four additional velvet looms being readied for future use.

The tour completed, we returned to the showroom where coffee and cake were served. More questions and conversation concluded our unique and interesting visit. On behalf of the touring members and the rest of the OE Chapter, this writer would like to thank Ms. Embiscuso and Mr. Schol as well as the management and staff of Pennsylvania Woven Carpet Mills, Inc. for their excellent presentation and hospitality.

[Note: This tour was part of the SIA conference and is written up in American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Fall 1990.)