Date of this Version
In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000
The Museum began in 1960 as the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum with the original collections focused on machinery--both hand-powered and industrial, while the textiles themselves were of minor importance. The few textiles originally collected focused only on wool. Gradually over the years the policy broadened to include other natural fibers and eventually fiber content restrictions were eliminated. However, the focus of the Museum remained machinery and how it related to industrial archeology and labor history.
This caused much confusion to the public since the Museum's name, Merrimack Valley Textile Museum (later changed to the Museum of American Textile History and then American Textile History Museum), always contained the word textile, implying to the public that when they came to the Museum there would be textiles on display. There were some temporary exhibits that showcased textiles but the permanent exhibit centered on machinery and only a shawl and a few sample sheets were included. A complaint of visitors was that the Museum was supposed to be a textile museum but there were no textiles!
By the 1980s the textile collection had grown considerably as well as all the other collections resulting in a storage shortage. This combined with an increased desire to expand public programming resulted in the Museum's board deciding to relocate the Museum.