Biography of D. Carroll Churchill (1873-1969)
Born in 1873, Churchill Weavers founder D. Carroll Churchill was the son of an Oberlin College professor. True to his roots throughout his life, Carroll followed the Oberlin tradition of pursuing social causes, using the expertise he learned as an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to better social and economic conditions in impoverished areas. Carroll graduated at the top of his class at MIT in 1899.
In 1901, he traveled to India to teach mechanical trades. At this time, handweaving was India’s chief industry next to agriculture. Textile factories pushed an estimated three million handweavers to the edge of starvation. Carroll brought his engineering knowledge to bear on the problem. He developed a fly-shuttle hand loom that allowed weavers to produce cloth at least twice as fast as experts on traditional looms. In 1904, Carroll won a gold medal at the Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition of the India National Congress in Bombay for his loom adaptations. Carroll, however, refused to patent his inventions. He wanted his looms to be available for use without any payment or royalty of any kind.
Two years after his first wife died, on May 5, 1914, Carroll married Eleanor Franzen, another missionary who directed a boy’s school in Bombay. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Carroll returned to Oberlin, Ohio, with Eleanor. In Ohio, Carroll worked for Garford Manufacturing Company of Elyria, Ohio, where he developed retractable landing gear for airplanes. During this time, he and Eleanor had two daughters, bringing the number of Churchill children up to four as Carroll already had two sons from his first marriage.
Following the war, Francis Hutchins, a boyhood friend of Caroll’s who was then president of Berea College, asked him to develop an engineering department at the school. In 1920, Carroll and his family moved to Kentucky so that he could take the position. Frustrated with the results, Carroll resigned his post at Berea College after only two years. Carroll and Eleanor decided to stay in Berea. They saw that they had an opportunity to revive handweaving in Kentucky, as Carroll had in India. Using Carroll’s looms, they founded Churchill Weavers in 1922, shortly after Carroll left Berea College. Combining their skills and talents, Carroll and Eleanor built a burgeoning business.
At its height, Churchill Weavers employed as many as 150 people and grossed $500,000 in sales a year. In addition, the United States government repeatedly recognized Carroll’s expertise. During World War II, he developed a removable fabric wing cover at Wright Field for airplanes that flew in subarctic conditions. In 1960, B. F. Goodrich Co. selected Carroll to develop a special lining for NASA’s first space suits. Churchill Weavers produced these space suits that were woven out of rayon and glass. Mercury-mission astronauts used these space suits in 1962.
Carroll died in Berea on January 4, 1969, at the age of ninety-six. He is buried in the Churchill family plot in Oberlin, Ohio.Read all news