H. F. Binch: Not Just Lace
by Teri Rogers
H.F. Binch was established by brothers Herbert and Francis Binch of England in 1885 on Lower Warren Street in Glens Falls. With an original staff of about forty, the company manufactured fine laces, nets, scarves, and veilings. Over the next hundred years, “Binch’s,” as it was known, would demonstrate its versatility as it strived to maintain economic viability in the challenging US textile and apparel industry of the 20th century.
Like its East End neighbor, the McMullen-Leavens company, on the corner of Lawrence and Cooper Streets, Binch’s was, historically, one of the city’s largest employers. McMullen-Leavens was literally Glens Falls’ largest employer in 1939, with 750. Binch’s was not far behind, employing hundreds – 500 by 1963, to be exact.
The ancient art of lace dyeing and manufacturing took on a modern dimension at H.F. Binch. Manufacturing began with the delivery of huge spools of thread, positioned on posts in the knitting room. Threads, 98-across, would be wound into delicate strands on a 80 – 90-inch wide warping beam, which would then be lifted onto the Raschel knitting machine.
Fabrics would all be dyed before use. 7,000 yards were dyed at one time, wound around huge steel rollers dipped into massive vats containing piping hot liquefied “color baths.” With the innovative Raschel machines, sophisticated chains created by the design department were linked, setting off hundreds of small needles (24 to an inch) that would meticulously weave each individual lace pattern. A bundle of lace 150 yards long could be made in a 24-hour period.
Exquisite handmade laces could now be duplicated, and mass-produced, with this technology. By the 1950’s, Binch’s was manufacturing thousands of yards of lace products, using over 2,000 designs. Its lace was used in the making of gowns, dresses, lingerie, undergarments, blouses, clothing, tablecloths, linens, and the like.
In addition to traditional laces, however, H.F. Binch manufactured ancillary products that, in some cases, extended beyond the textile and apparel industries. It made zipper tape, fabric for shoes, rubber power netting, stretch fabric for bathing suits, ribbon, and mesh for use in catheters for cardiac surgery. During World War II, it re-tooled some of its machinery to produce camouflage netting for parachutes for the war effort. In the early 1960’s, the company made news for its production of an astronaut’s space suit that was designed to protect against accelerated shock, a major initiative done as a collaboration between the Glens Falls mill and NASA.
By the 1970’s, and having survived mergers and consolidations over many decades, H.F. Binch became Native Textiles, a division of Indian Head, Inc. Lace manufacture, however, remained its premier product line. By the 1980’s the company was producing 275,000 pounds of fabric per week using computerized dyeing and color-matching equipment, and reaping the benefits of advancements to its Raschel knitting machines. The machines ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Its products were sold by Playtex, Maidenform, Olga, Vanity Fair, and, locally, at J&J Lingerie on Sagamore Street in Glens Falls.
Like McMullen-Leavens, H.F. Binch and Native Textiles maintained a sales office on Fifth Avenue, in New York City’s fashion district. In the case of both companies, the world-class designs for which they were famous around the world for a century were produced expertly by the local labor force here at the Glens Falls plants in the East End. The stories of the men and women who worked at Binch’s, along with McMullen-Leavens and the many, many apparel factories that made up the economic landscape of Warren County during the last century, are tales for another day. However, their contributions are still in full view when we take the time to savor the magnificent industrial architecture of the mills and factories that still stand regally today as a testament to the stature that “Hometown USA” had during the 20th century as a place where some of the world’s finest fashions, laces, fabrics, apparel, garment supplies, and textile innovations were made.
Sources: (from the files of the Chapman Museum)
“H.F. Binch Co. Laces Known Throughout the US, Other Countries,” by Helen Humphrey, The Post Star, Sept. 30, 1958
“Manufacture of Raschel Laces and Trims at Binch,” The Post Star, Oct. 18, 1963
“Industry on Parade at Armory,” The Post Star, Oct. 24, 1963
“Modern Twist to Ancient Art,” by Shelly Riley, The Post Star, May 2, 1976
“Native Textiles: Major Lace Maker Employs 425,” The Chronicle, Apr.5 – 18, 1984.