Background and History
Sheep were one of the first animals domesticated by humans. These sheep looked very different from modern animals. They had a long hair-like outer guard layer with a more downy insulation layer underneath resembling what we think of as wool. They shed this coat in the spring. Primitive people collected the fiber finding it to be of great use, learned to spin. Thus the wool industry was born.
The first sheep were brought to the North American continent in 1493 on the second voyage of Columbus
The American wool industry developed mainly on the Eastern coast beginning in Jamestown. English laws attempted to prevent wool exports from the colonies while encouraging the use of English made clothing. Many colonists responded by raising their own sheep.
New England was the first area to establish a spinning and weaving industry. Initially begun in homes, later in small factories, it continued to grow. Eventually the first water powered textile factories were established in Hartford Connecticut in 1788.
The industry was greatly boosted during the Civil War by a great demand for wool to make soldier's uniforms. Breeders use imported Merino sheep to improve native stock to help meet the demand
Wool is not 5% of the world's textile industry. Most of our domestic breeds produce 4-5 times more wool than sheep initially brought to the United States greatly due to the influence of the Merino. Our average clean fiber production is about 2 pounds less than the Australian average because of a greater importance placed on lamb production in this country.
There is no surplus of wool in the United States. All domestic wool produced finds use in a variety of products. However, because of defects, contamination, and other quality problems, it is of lower value than some imported wool. Mills rely on imported wool to maintain operation (about 76%). The mills require higher quality fiber to maximize production due to modern methods and equipment.
In the U.S. the Wool Labeling Act of 1939
Wool-only fabrics made of entirely new, virgin wool Reprocessed wool-wool recovered from unused articles and waste Reused wool-wool reclaimed from unused articles
Other Wool Producing Countries
Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Russia, Republic of South Africa, Uruguay, Great Britain, China, and India