The thirteen families who settled Germantown were Mennonites and Quakers, and Germantown is also notably the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America. Abraham op den Graeff came from Krefeld, Germany, noted for its role as the center of the German textile industry, and a city of weavers. He founded an early Germantown linen industry, modeled after that of Krefeld, and soon won the first Governor’s Award from William Penn for producing the finest linen woven in the colony. This established Germantown as the early center for textile manufacturing in Pennsylvania, and it would grow into its reputation as a place for reliably good quality material and goods throughout the colonial and early republic periods. While Germantown was known for it’s linen industry in the early days of the colonies, it was their production of woolen yarns that would catapult them into the national spotlight in years to come.
Germantown textile manufacturing was developed as a cottage industry, and it would remain so up until the beginning of the Civil War. At this time, industrialization spread, and other neighborhoods in Philadelphia like Kensington and Manayunk started to produce larger quantities of goods, but Germantown saw a smaller expansion with producers continuing to work out of their homes. Industry in Germantown gradually moved from cottage style manufacturing to smaller mills, but Germantown maintained significantly higher wages than its heavily industrialized counterparts and was able to resist the labor strife inherent to industrialization into the end of the 19th century. It was in this period that producers like Joseph Fling’s Germantown Yarn Mill (below) and J. Randall’s Franklin Yarn Mill grew.