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.

 

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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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