Nathan Appleton

  • American

Nathan Appleton is significance in American commercial and industrial history is threefold. In 1815, acting as agent for the Boston Manufacturing Company, he "founded," according to his biographer Frances W Gregory, ''the first textile sales agency, through which the products of the mills were successfully marketed." Not only did this innovation insure the success of the Boston Manufacturing Company, but it established the precedent of using a separate selling house to market finished products. This method of marketing has been generally followed in the textile industry ever since.

Secondly, Appleton, according to Gregory, was "the financial and mercantile mind behind the development of the Boston Manufacturing Company." This firm, says business historians Glenn Porter and Harold C Livesay, "was the first truly modern factory in the United States for it integrated and mechanized production from raw material to finished product under a single management and within a single factory."

Finally, Appleton is representative of the shift from commerce to industry in New England after 1815. As one of the region's most successful exporters and importers, he came to realize during the War of 1812 that textile manufacturing offered a greater potential for profit and gradually shifted the bulk of his wealth into that line of endeavor. Dubbed "the Great Manufacturer" by family and associates, he played a major role in establishing Lowell and Lawrence, Mass., and Manchester, NH, as industrial cities and was involved in the founding of 14 different manufacturing firms. By the 1850's, Appleton was the largest single shareholder in the American textile industry, and a major spokesman for the industry on the National level as well. - NRHP, May 1977

Notable Position Organization From To
Founder Proprietors of Locks and Canals 1821
Founder Lawrence Manufacturing Company 1831
Director Essex Company 1845


Themes with Nathan Appleton


Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Developer Boott Cotton Mills Museum Lowell, MA
1808/00/00 Nathan Appleton settles in at 54 Beacon Street. He will live here until 1821. Home Headquarters House Boston
1813/00/00 Financier Boston Manufacturing Company Waltham, MA
1821/00/00 Merrimac Manufacturing Company mill town Developer Lowell National Historical Park Lowell, MA
1821/00/00 Twin brick townhouses on Beacon St are built for business two partners. No 39 is built for Nathan Appleton and No 40 is for Daniel Pinckney Parker. Home Nathan Appleton Residence Boston
1821/00/00 Nathan Appleton, Patrick T Jackson and other investors incorporate as the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on Merrimack River to buy the land and water rights at Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River in the sparsely settled area of East Chelmsford. Work
1831/00/00 Nathan Appleton, Patrick Tracy Jackson, Amos Lawrence and Abbott Lawrence establish the Lawrence Manufacturing Company Owner
1833/02/01 Maria Theresa Appleton, wife of Nathan Appleton, dies in Boston of tuberculosis. Widow Nathan Appleton Residence Boston
1843/08/30 Father of the bride, Nathan Appleton, gives a house as wedding gift to his daughter Fanny and his son-in-law, Henry. Father of the bride Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site Cambridge, MA Marriage of Fanny Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
1861/07/14 Nathan Appleton dies at home in Boston, 40 Beacon St. Died Nathan Appleton Residence Boston


Nathan Appleton was born October 6, 1779, on a farm near New Ipswich, NH, to Isaac and Mary Adams Appleton. After attending the local grammar school, young Nathan entered New Ipswich Academy in 1792 to prepare for college. Two years later, he was admitted to Dartmouth, but at this juncture, he decided to opt for a business rather than an academic career. His older brother Samuel, who owned mercantile establishments in New Ipswich and Boston, needed a bookkeeper, and he hired Nathan to fill the post. For the next 6 years, Nathan received a thorough education in business methods as the firm expanded and prospered and his own responsibilities increased.

In 1800, Samuel made Nathan his partner, and the firm of S and N Appleton Co came into being. "With its creation," says Gregory, "the brothers entered a mature stage of mercantile expansion, engaging in both domestic and foreign trade and in wholesale and retail business." During the 9 years the partnership lasted, Nathan made a substantial fortune handling imports and dealing in such commodities as pot and pearl ashes, cotton, rice, coffee, sugar, beef, and opium. In 1309, however, for reasons which remain unclear, Samuel and Nathan dissolved their partnership.

In 1810 Nathan formed three new partnerships. He, his brother Eben, and Daniel P Parker established the mercantile firm of Parker, Appleton and Co and Nathan Appleton and Co in Boston and Eben Appleton and Co in Liverpool England. For the most part, however, Nathan conducted most of his business from Nathan Appleton and Co and served the other two firms largely in an advisory capacity. Despite adverse conditions caused by the Napoleonic wars, trade restrictions imposed by the United States Government, and the War of 1812, these firms prospered, and Appleton's personal wealth increased.

In the meantime, Appleton had begun what would prove to be a gradual shift from merchant to manufacturer. In 1810 while traveling in Scotland, he encountered Francis Cabot Lowell, who convinced him of the potential of a large-scale New England textile industry. When Lowell founded the Boston Manufacturing Company in 1813, Appleton invested 5,000 pounds in the new enterprise. In fact, Appleton, says Gregory, was "the financial and mercantile mind behind the development" of this firm which, according to historian Louise Hall Tharp, had "the first textile mills to be built with all the processes from raw cotton to finished cloth combined under one roof."

Shortly after the Boston Manufacturing Company began its production of cotton cloth in 1815, the firm encountered difficulty in selling its output. At this juncture, Appleton took charge and used Benjamin C Ward and Co, a wholesale merchandising firm he had recently founded, to sell the mill's products. In taking this action, Appleton, according to Gregory, "founded the first textile sales agency through which the products of the mills were successfully marketed." In addition to marketing, the selling house, as it evolved under Appleton's direction, assumed managerial and financial functions for the mills. In many instances, the sales agency supplied raw materials, advanced funds for payrolls, dividends and other operating expenses, handled bookkeeping chores, and provided storage and loading facilities. Although the agencies eventually abandoned these auxiliary functions, they remained the principal outlets for selling mill output. Thus, Appleton established a marketing precedent that has been followed in the textile industry ever since.

By 1820 the Boston Manufacturing Company flourished to such an extent that Appleton was tempted to invest in other textile ventures. In 1822 he played a major role in establishing the Merrimack Manufacturing Company in East Chelmsford, Mass, later renamed Lowell at Appleton's suggestion. In 1837 he and his associates acquired control of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, NH, and helped make that city a textile manufacturing center. Finally, in the mid-1840's Appleton served as Abbott Lawrence's principal advisor in the development of Lawrence, Mass. During these years, Appleton helped found 14 different textile manufacturing firms and invested in numerous others. By the l850's, he was the largest single shareholder in the American textile industry.

Appleton also served as a National spokesman for the textile industry. Elected to Congress in 1830 and 1842, he emerged as a major spokesman for the protective tariff. He argued, says biographer Arthur Burr Darling, ''that protective tariffs were for the interest of the whole nation; they would increase the consumption of Southern cotton by Northern mills, replacing the foreign with a domestic market; they would encourage competition among American mills, and thus reduce the cost of cotton goods to domestic consumers." In a series of magazine, newspaper, and encyclopedia articles and pamphlets, he not only advocated textile manufacturing but wrote a history of early developments at the Boston Manufacturing Company, Lowell, Manchester, and Lawrence as well, Appleton died at his home in Boston on July 14, 1861, at the age of 8l. - NRHP, May 1977

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