Founded at the confluence of the Concord and Merrimack rivers, Lowell was the third incorporated city in Massachusetts and one of the nation's first planned cities. The industrial city arose from the invention of Francis Cabot Lowell's power loom, an amended version of a British machine. The power loom allowed the wholesale manufacture of cloth from ginned cotton, itself a recent innovation of Eli Whitney.
The Boston Associates, the partners and successors of Francis Lowell, turned his Waltham, Massachusetts, textile mill into a textile town. Buying control of a Merrimack river company, the Proprietors of Locks and Canals, they transformed what was farmland and canal works into a planned city. Under the guiding genius of hydraulic engineer James B. Francis, canals and dams were built, and the water rights to many of the Merrimack's sources in New Hampshire were purchased. Factories proliferated and factory workers - a new breed - were housed in company boardinghouses in the burgeoning city. Many of these new workers were New England farm women who lived in company housing, ate company food, worked 12-hour days six days a week, and survived a work day whose every waking hour was controlled by bells.
Lowell, Massachusetts - the concept - began as an American industrial utopia built upon practical design, building an industry and giving opportunity to women while earning the praise of such notables as Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickens. But increased competition resulted in deteriorating conditions, longer hours and less pay. The first strike erupted in 1836, ushering in a term of sporadic labor upheavals. The first city-wide strike occurred in 1903; the first successful mass strike, led by the Industrial Workers of the World (the "Wobblies") occurred nine years later.