1917 film shows the cotton mill process in Adams

A screen grab shows two women operating sewing machines in the cloth room from the 1917 film, "The Manufacture of Fine Cotton Cloth, Berkshire Cotton Mfg. Co., Adams, Mass." The film is courtesy of the Adams Historical Society.

To view this on mobile,

click here.

This article has been clarified to reflect that the film may be among the earliest viewable film footage in Massachusetts.

It may be among the earliest viewable film footage taken in Massachusetts. The filming date: September 1917. The location: Adams. The title screen: "Manufacture of Fine Cotton Cloth, Berkshire Cotton Mfg. Co., Adams, Mass., 260,000 Spindles -- 6,500 Looms."

The footage -- a little more than 19 minutes -- covers the entire process of the cotton cloth making process from bales to the final fabric. The Adams Historical Society holds the film and has had it digitized.

Initial scenes show employees bustling to work in the snow. It's a remarkable image: Workers crowd the sidewalks, shoulder to shoulder, walking in one direction around the Hoosac Street area. In later scenes, a sweeping pan of the camera shows a mill room full of looms and the people operating them; it's astonishing to behold the number of workers and the tons of equipment. The film is silent, but one can only imagine how loud the room would have been.

The mill footage was most likely used for marketing or training and is a very early form of documentary, showing the milling process very clearly.

Theodore Plunkett, the son of industrialist W.B. Plunkett who founded the mill, paid the Comtest Cinema Company of New York to make the film. Theodore was enthusiastic about theater and cinema and also paid for a fiction piece called "Miss Adams of Adams" around the same time.

Eugene Michaelenko, the president of the Adams Historical Society, said the movie depicts the four Berkshire Cotton and Manufacturing Company mills. In 1929, the mills became Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates, and in 1955 became Berkshire Hathaway. The Adams mills finally closed May 7, 1958.

This particular piece of film was found as the mills were being shut down. John Babula kept the film in his garage until the Adams Historical Society got the footage in 1981 and had the film reproduced on safety film in 1984. The digital conversion was made by Rich Remsberg of North Adams in 2011.

Since footage like this was made on 35mm nitrate film, it was extremely flammable. In general, nitrate film is so hazardous that most early footage was destroyed because storing it was unsafe. As a result, little film footage from this era still exists.