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IndustryNet Blog

Women's History Month feature: The oldest women-owned manufacturers in the U.S.

Posted by IndustryNet on Tuesday, March 12, 2019

100000355_oldest_women_owned_manufacturing_companiesWhile most people associate manufacturing with men, at various points in history, women-owned manufacturers have played key roles. In the United States, women have made crucial innovations in manufacturing or made up a significant portion of the workforce.

In this article, we look at the role women have played in manufacturing in honor of Women's History Month. Then, we will explore the oldest women-owned manufacturers in the United States.

Women in the history of manufacturing

One of the most noteworthy periods when women became a vital part of manufacturing was World War II. During this time, men went off to war and women took over their factory jobs.

This was the time when Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon of WWII, encouraged women to take manufacturing jobs. This period is viewed as a significant turning point for when women became more accepted in manufacturing.

Even before this period, women had already started making their mark. Margaret Knight, who earned the nickname "woman Edison" for her numerous inventions, worked in a New Hampshire textile mill and designed a textile loom safety device to prevent injuries.

In 1871, she got her first patent for a machine that cut then folded and glued bags made of paper. She eventually earned 27 patents.

Madame CJ Walker holds fame for starting a manufacturing company in 1908. The Madame CJ Walker Manufacturing Company produced products designed for African American hair. She also employed women in the thousands and taught them how to budget and gain financial independence.

More recently, Stephanie Kwolek was a famous figure in manufacturing. Throughout her life, she received 17 patents, including one for Kevlar, the material used in bullet-proof vests.

Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwloek 

Photo by Michael Branscom

Women in manufacturing today

Today, women-owners of manufacturing companies play a significant role in the U.S. manufacturing industry. There are 8,237 women-owned manufacturers in the United States, according to MNI, compiler and publisher of the industrial data that powers IndustryNet.

This is an increase of 1.23% from the previous year when there were 8,137. Of these, 7% report employment increases and 5% report decreases. Four percent (4%) report sales growth with 1% reporting sales declines.

The oldest women-owned manufacturers

Of the thousands of women-owned manufacturers in the U.S., many were established way before World War II. Here are nine of the oldest manufacturers currently owned by women:

1. Bartlettyarns Inc. in Harmony, ME: Established 1821.

This company custom processes wool and yarn. It also works with sweaters, hats, rovings, woven blankets and craft kits.

2. The Print Shop in Marion, AL: Established 1839

This company specializes in commercial printing, including signs and banners. This is a full-service print shop that is family-owned-and-operated and prides itself on paying attention to detail.

3. Matson Lumber Company in Brookville, PA: Established 1842

This company processes lumber in addition to producing hardwood logs. It is a sawmill and planing mill a well as a flooring mill.

4. Johnson Woolen Mills LLC in Johnson, VT: Established 1842

This company produces rugged woolen outwear and accessories for men, women and children. Products include day packs, bags, capes, pants, vests, coats and jackets.

5. Libertas Copper LLC in Leetsdale, PA: Established 1848

This company manufactures copper sheets as well as strip and bar products. It is a copper foundry.

woman welder.6. J & H Berge Inc. in South Plainfield, NJ: Established 1850

This business distributes laboratory supplies as well as related equipment. The company has been producing high-quality products with competitive pricing since its establishment.

7. Draper Knitting Co. Inc. in Canton, MA: Established 1856

This company manufactures textile knit fabrics for buffing pads, footwear liners, paint rollers, performance clothing, air filtration filters and gloves. This includes nonwoven stitch bonded fabrics, conventional circular knitting and high-pile silver knitting.

8. Lang Stone Co. in Columbus, OH: Established 1856

This company manufactures stone, including for fireplaces and countertops. It does so under a number of brands, including Eden, Cold Springs, Quantra, Optra, Vadara and Geolux.

9. Granville Mfg. Co. Inc. in Granville, VT: Established 1857

This company distributes wood products like spruce and pine lumber. It also distributes wooden bowls and siding. The focus is on wholesale lumber.


Women-owned manufacturers are thriving as more women enter the industry and do so with success. They underline the vital role that women play in the manufacturing industry.

Click here to learn more about MNI's database of women-owned manufacturers. 

Related: Fastest-growing women-owned manufacturers in the U.S. 


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