Ropemaking at the Charlestown Navy Yard

The Charlestown Navy Yard Ropewalk conducted every phase of the ropemaking process starting with the plant fibers. On the second floor of the Ropewalk, workers spun plant fibers into ribbon-like lengths called slivers. Machines twisted these slivers into yarn and then wound the yarn onto spools, or bobbins.

Workers brought these bobbins of yarn to the first floor and placed them on an upright rack at one end of the Ropewalk. Then, workers tied together yarns from multiple bobbins to a twisting device on a moveable cart. As this cart moved on a track down the length of the Ropewalk, it pulled the yarns from the bobbins and twisted the yarns into a single strand. Here number of yarns determined the thickness of the strand. A similar process twisted strands into a finished rope.

A rope's strength comes from the multiple and opposite twisting of its components: ropemakers twisted slivers clockwise to form yarns, then twisted yarns counter-clockwise to form strands. Finally, three strands were twisted together clockwise to form a typical rope. This twisting also prevented the rope from unravelling.

Click on the photogalleries below to see how workers at the Charlestown Navy Yard make rope.

Boston National Historical Park

Last updated: December 29, 2021