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This is a rare glimpse at the early days of The Chicago Embroidery Company.  Founded as the first embroidery company in Chicago, the firm crafted and manufactured Swiss Embroidery products which were popular at the time for home decorations, clothing, and other accessories.   These photos capture what life was like in a Chicago factory around the years of 1900-1910.

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The Chicago Embroidery Company thanks the family of Rich Olson for the photos. This page is dedicated to the memory of his brother Ronald Olson, plant foreman and company employee for 40 years, who saved these photos from destruction.

 

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 cemblem_1The three factory buildings of The Chicago Embroidery Company at Ohio, Paulina and Osborne Streets.    

Located in a residential neighborhood, these structures were built to resemble the other buildings on the street.

Founder Johannes Bodenmann lived with his family on the second floor of the middle building before moving into the shorter building in front.

The bridge that crosses the street is for the elevated passenger train known to Chicagoans as the “L”.

Note the back of the Model T car in the lower right corner.

 


cemblem_2Design department.

Embroidery designs were drawn six times larger than the original sketch with every stitch drawn by hand so they could be “punched” or made into a pattern to run the machines.

Note the elevated train tracks outside the window. This room was on the third floor.

 

 

 

 

 


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This is a manually operated pantograph machine. The operator moves material on a frame and traces the enlarged stiches while the needles are moving in and out.

This process is called “punching,” where the design is transformed from a paper drawing to a pattern that will run the loom machine.

This is also where the science of embroidery meets the craft as various different punchers had subtle but unique signature styles of laying in the stitches.

 

 


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Loom department.

These are Sauer looms. The women are threading the needles, probably for a color change. The man facing the camera is likely working on the bobbins. The long white horizontal area is the material to be embroidered.

A “puncher” is sitting down working on making a pattern.

It looks like a foreman is keeping an eye on things behind him.

 

 

 


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Workers changing thread on a loom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Setting up a loom for a new run.

The man on the left is probably putting thread in the needles with a special hook.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This woman is setting up the thread for the next run.

The factory was built with extra large windows to use as much natural light as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This woman may be winding the bobbins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Finishing department.

Here the embroidered pieces had hems added or were cut and trimmed.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Finishing department.

The work is cut, folded, and prepared to ship out to the customer.

Note the gas lamp hanging from the ceiling. The building also had electric lights, so the gas lamps were likely from the first days the building was used.

 

 

 

 

 


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Lunch time!

Workers relax in the outdoor recreation area. The large structure in the middle is the elevated passenger train tracks that ran across the property.

The two large factory buildings were located to the left.

 

 

 

 

 


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This photo was not taken at the factory but appears to be at a showroom.

The embroidery products on the tables came from our factories.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Likely taken in the same show room as the above photo, the finished embroidery products are shown.

The man on the far right is likely our founder, Johannes Bodenmann.