Monday, October 10, 2011

A Bit of History

Today's walk/run: nada. Rest day.

Getting back to Frank Fell... let's get into some history regarding those little spinning wheels. To do that, we need to look at spinning wheel production in Wisconsin.

Back around 1862, the price of raw wool - and subsequently dry goods - went up quite a bit thanks to the Civil War. Unfortunately, farmers didn't see a corresponding spike in what they got for their labors. Long story short, to save money, manufacturers saw an increase in demand for spinning wheels and looms, and were happy to oblige. One such company was the Mayville Furniture Company in Mayville, Wisconsin. Mayville was one of the few communities where wheels were made almost continuously from the Civil War up through the early 1900s.

A gentleman by the name of Frank Fell went to work for the Mayville Furniture Company in 1884. In 1904, the company stopped manufacturing items, and went to retail only. Frank purchased some of their equipment, and along with some tools he had inherited from his father, started making wheels under the label "Mayville Spinning Wheel" in 1905. He continued making them up through 1935, when he passed away. His son Sidney assembled some of the wheels that had been left unfinished, and apparently continued making them on and off until he passed away in the 1950s.

I've not yet discovered any definitive characteristics that would distinguish a wheel made by the furniture company, to one that was made by Frank, or by his son Sidney. There is one wheel pictured on Flickr that has a very nicely preserved label on the underside of the table that indicates it was made by Frank. There are minor differences in the thickness of the front legs, as well as the "donut" turning near the top of the uprights between these two wheels. (The blue table may be at more of slant than the other, also.) But - nothing to tell who made which wheel. That just means more research to do!

Much of this content comes from the excellent research provided in the historical document found here.


  1. Frank Fell was my great grandfather.

  2. Hi Lisa - thanks for the comment! There are a large number of fans of the wheel your great-grandfather helped develop. I love mine. If you've never visited Ravelry, there's an antique spinning wheel group on that site that has a lot of information and discussion about the wheels. If you have a chance to drop by and say 'hi', please do.