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The Faribault Woolen Mill Company

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Color image of the north façade of the Faribault Woolen Mill Company, 2011.

North façade of Faribault Woolen Mills, 2011. Photograph by Elizabeth A. Gales.

The Faribault Woolen Mill Company has statewide significance as one of the largest and oldest fully integrated woolen mills in Minnesota. The mill started as a small family-owned business in the nineteenth century and grew to become the largest and longest-surviving woolen mill in the state.

Before the Civil War, most woolen goods used in the United States were imported. After the war, domestic wool manufacturing increased as the country became more industrialized. The growth of wool production was aided by the Tariff Acts of 1867. The acts provided protection for domestic wool makers and made them more competitive. In Minnesota, the 1860s saw the beginning of many woolen manufacturing companies.

Carl Henry Klemer entered the woolen mill business in 1865. From the beginning he chose a conservative approach to his business by keeping the financing and operations in the family. As larger mills failed, the Klemers' continued to expand. In 1878 the company advertised as the "Faribault Woolen Mill" for the first time. Four years later Klemer moved the business to a stone building on the Straight River.

Over the next ten years, three fires devastated the mill. In 1892 it was totally lost, and the Klemers purchased property on the Cannon River. They immediately built a fireproof brick building and in 1894 replaced the wooden dam that powered the facility with one made of stone. Throughout the 1890s the mill served local clients and continued to grow.

The company made a transition in leadership in 1904 when founder Carl Klemer died. His oldest grandson, Frank Klemer, joined the business along with other members of the Klemer family. In 1905, the company adopted the name it had been known by since the 1880s. It officially incorporated as the Faribault Woolen Mill Company.

Growth during the early 1900s was slow, but the change in leadership brought new products and small additions to the facility. In 1917 the company was awarded a contract with the U.S. Army for 100,000 blankets. This contract was a great success and led to growth in business during the 1920s.

During the 1930s, the next generation of the Klemer family joined the company. Through the Great Depression years the company survived and even expanded. During World War II the mill manufactured army blankets. Afterward the younger generation of Klemers began managing the company. Marketing became a focus along with synthetic fiber experimentation and importing wool.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century the facility grew gradually. Faribault Woolen Mills led the market with new products like washable wool and thermal weave blankets. In the early 1970s the company saw its greatest profit and made the largest addition to its facility.

In the 1990s the mill began to struggle. It was eventually purchased by North American Heritage Brands, but the Klemers still managed the company. North American Heritage Brands went bankrupt, and in 2009 the mill closed. In the autumn of 2011 cousins Chuck and Paul Mooty purchased the Faribault Woolen Mill and reopened the business.

The Faribault Woolen Mills building is a product of over one hundred years of expansion. The building is utilitarian, with rectangular massing and sections ranging in height from one to three stories. Wall materials, including brick, concrete block, corrugated metal, and exposed timber and steel framing are in keeping with the property's industrial character. A large surface parking lot extends from the east side of the building around to the south and west sides of the building. The mill is part of an industrial area, which includes a cannery, on the edge of the city's residential core. The exterior of the building is simple and undecorated.

The company invested most of its profits in the interior to improve efficiency in the manufacturing process, with the last reorganization of the machinery occurring in 1971.The most recent major addition dates to that same time. The interior of the building reflects the mill's purpose as well. With the exception of the executive offices, it is industrial in character. Older sections of the building are timber-framed with exposed brick walls.

Since 2011 the Mootys have reinvigorated the brand and marketing of Faribault Woolen Mill. The history of the mill is celebrated and incorporated into the company's product labeling. The company's main slogans are "the return of American excellence" and "loomed in the land of lakes."

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Faribault Woolen Mill Company, National Register of Historic Places Nomination File, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www.mnhs.org/shpo/nrhp/docs_pdfs/0024_faribaultwoolenmill.pdf
http://www.mnhs.org/shpo/nrhp/images/0024_faribaultwoolenmill/
Editor's Note: This nomination file was the main source used in the writing of this article.

Faribault Woolen Mill Co. Our Heritage.
http://www.faribaultmill.com/our-heritage

Related Images

Color image of the north façade of the Faribault Woolen Mill Company, 2011.
Color image of the north façade of the Faribault Woolen Mill Company, 2011.
Black and white image of the Office of Faribault Woolen Mills, founder Carl H. Klemer standing to right of bicycle, 1897.
Black and white image of the Office of Faribault Woolen Mills, founder Carl H. Klemer standing to right of bicycle, 1897.
Color image if Faribault Woolen Mill Company textile sample book, c.1935.
Color image if Faribault Woolen Mill Company textile sample book, c.1935.
Color image of Faribo brand wool blanket in its original box, woven by Faribault Woolen Mills, 1970.
Color image of Faribo brand wool blanket in its original box, woven by Faribault Woolen Mills, 1970.
Color image of pure wool blanket manufactured by Faribault Woolen Mill Company, 1992.
Color image of pure wool blanket manufactured by Faribault Woolen Mill Company, 1992.
Color image of north and west façades of Faribault Woolen Mill with Cannon River in the foreground, 2011.
Color image of north and west façades of Faribault Woolen Mill with Cannon River in the foreground, 2011.
Color image of north and east façades, of Faribault Woolen Mill Company, 2011.
Color image of north and east façades, of Faribault Woolen Mill Company, 2011.
Color image of spinning frame and roving areas of the Faribault Woolen Mills Company, 2011.
Color image of spinning frame and roving areas of the Faribault Woolen Mills Company, 2011.
Color image of burling and surface texture area of the Faribault Woolen Mills Company, 2011.
Color image of burling and surface texture area of the Faribault Woolen Mills Company, 2011.

Turning Point

In 1892 fire destroys the Klemer family mill on the Straight River. In October the family builds a fireproof brick facility on the Cannon River.

Chronology

1865

Carl H. Klemer founds the C. H. Klemer Company, a wool carding business in Faribault.

1878

Having installed the first spinning machine and looms at the mill a few years before, the product line expands and the company begins advertising as "Faribault Woolen Mill."

1882

The company moves into a new stone building on the Straight River, taking advantage of waterpower for production.

1892

After three fires at their Straight River property, the Klemers purchase land on the Cannon River and begin erecting a fireproof brick mill.

1905

The Company incorporates as the "Faribault Woolen Mill Company."

1917

After nearly two decades of slow sales and expansion, the company secures a contract with the U.S. Army for 100,000 blankets. With the success of the Army contract, a younger generation of Klemers takes over ownership.

1938

The dams that used to power the facility are given to the city of Faribault for use as a public park.

1941–1945

The Company produces blankets during World War II. For the first time in its history the company uses a man-made fiber in its products due to the restrictions of rationing.

1960

Fifteen years of expansion due to economic success culminate in completion of the last of eight additions, additions which have doubled the mill's square footage.

1970

Faribault Woolen Mills begins its most profitable period. A 37,500-square-foot addition is constructed in 1971 to handle the additional business.

1988

The Klemers purchase the Three Weavers Mill Company in Houston, Texas.

1998

After a drop in sales during the 1990s the company is purchased and becomes a subsidiary of North American Heritage Brands.

2009

North American Heritage Brands goes bankrupt. Faribault Woolen Mills shuts down.

2011

Cousins Chuck and Paul Mooty purchase the Mill and reopen it.

2012

On May 23, the Faribault Woolen Mill Company is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.