Our Far-Flung Alumni: Stephen Mendenhall

January 12, 2012

Stephen Mendenhall was a Quaker from Greens Fork (just northwest of Richmond, Indiana) and one of the first students to attend Earlham.  He invented a Hand-Loom (patented in 1854) that significantly increased what a single person could weave in a day.

Steve Martin profiles Mendenhall and his invention today in the Richmond Palladium-Item.

Martin (or the Palladium editors) headline the article “Quakers Invention Led to War.”  I think that connects Mendenhall unfairly to the Civil War.  Yes, the Hand-Loom increased the demand for cotton (the article’s sub-title reads “Loom increased demand for cotton, helping spur arguments on slavery”), but it’s a long step from there to putting responsibility for the Civil War on a man who simply increased human effectiveness.

Aiding slavery was no part of his intention.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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