Cheney Brothers (1838 – 1955) textile and silk manufactures

Cheney Brothers Mills, South Manchester, 1920, aerial view
Cheney Brothers Mills, South Manchester, 1920, aerial view

The Cheney Brothers were American textile manufacturers. They were located in Manchester and Hartford, Connecticut. 


Cheney Brothers’ achievement in becoming one of the leading silk manufacturers in the USA was based on the family’s business expertise and broad knowledge of technical processes.

A prosperous farmer in Manchester, Connecticut, had eight sons, four of whom became involved in the speculative planting of imported Chinese mulberry trees and the silkworms that fed on them.  

Brothers Ralph (1806-97), Ward (1813-76), Rugh (1815-82), and Frank Cheney (1817-1904) bought an additional property in Burlington, New Jersey.

Georgia and Ohio, where they planted the trees, failed due to the depression of 1837, the high cost of labour, and the mulberry tree blight of 1844.  

Silk sample manufactured by Cheney Brothers - Cooper Hewitt
Silk sample manufactured by Cheney Brothers – Cooper Hewitt

Since the brothers owned the Mount Nebo Silk Mills in Manchester, Connecticut, they produced silk thread commercially by importing Oriental raw silk. They were the only silk mill in the USA to continue production into the later 19th century. 

In 1844, Ward Cheney learned the art of silk dyeing. In 1847, Frank Cheney patented silk sewing thread. Able to use the silk waste, the brothers produced silk ribbons, handkerchiefs and eventually other goods in addition to the thread. 

Another brother Charles Cheney (1803-74), set up a mill in nearby Hartford, Connecticut, where there was a large workforce available. In cl854, the name was changed to the Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company and, in 1873, shortened to Cheney Brothers. Ward Cheney was its first president, succeeded 1876-8 Rush Cheney and 1882-93 Frank Cheney.   

Piece of printed silk Cheney Brothers (American, 1838–1955)
Piece of printed silk Cheney Brothers (American, 1838–1955)

In 1861 and 1864, when heavy silk-import tariffs were levied, the domestic market was strengthened. By 1880, the firm led in the production of plush, velvet, printed, and jacquard silks. 

Candace Wheeler and her Associated Artists designed silk goods that were sophisticated and attractive. 

The firm’s 1875 Cheney Block (its office building complex, Hartford) was designed by architect H.H. Richardson. 


Into the 20th century, the firm was still a leader in silk production. Still, excessive production and competition from producers of synthetic fabrics led to a decline in the firm’s activities in the 1920s. It went bankrupt in the Depression, but the demand for parachutes and other military products for World War II extended its activities into the 1940s. 1955 saw the end of silk production in the USA when Cheney Brothers were sold to J.P. Stevens. 


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

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