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REPORT OF THE CHIEF OF THE SILK SECTION,
Sir: I have the honor to hand you herewith my second annual report as Chief of the Silk Section. The staff, clerical and operative, has remained as last year, though the correspondence has largely increased, 9,878 letters having been received during the calendar year 1890, as against 5,448 reported for 1889. The scope of the work
. of the Section has not greatly changed, as will be seen from the report which follows. Yours respectfully,
Chief of the Silk Section. Hon. J. M. RUSK,
AUTOMATIC SILK REELS.
My report of a year ago told of our work in the direction of perfecting an automatic machine for the reeling of silk, and said that while I believed that substantial progress had been made, still no conclusive results had been reached. I also gave an account of the improvements in preparatory machinery made by Mr. Serrell, in France, and of his temporary abandonment of his experiments for the production of a machine for automatically reeling the silk, properly speaking. I can not learn that his course of action has been changed during the past year. The exhaustion of our funds led me, too, ti abandon my mechanical experiments last spring and they have not been renewed during the present fiscal year. The growing conviction that, with existing machinery, silk reeling could be made profitable, if such legislative assistance as has been asked of Congress were accorded, led me to recommend to the Assistant Secretary the temporary suspension of such experiments, and such suspension was authorized by him. It is felt that the establishment of silk reeling in the United States, which we feel sure would follow the legislation mentioned, would soon draw the attention of inventors to this matter, and it seems highly probable that the desired result will, if such circumstances exist, some day be attained and an automatic silk reel be perfected in time to supply any commercial demand that may arise for it.
PROPOSED LEGISLATION FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF SILK
CULTURE During the last session of Congress, while the Committee on Ways and Means was engaged in the taking of testimony concerning the many industries which the proposed tariff bill would affect, I was instructed by you, at the request of the chairman of the committee, to appear before it and explain the relations which the raising and reeling of silk bear to the more advanced branches of manufacture concerned in the production of this textile. In accordance with these instructions I presented myself at the Capitol on the 6th of January and submitted the facts that I had in my possession. At the request of the committee I again appeared before it early in March to reply to some objections to my suggestions that had been raised by the officers of the Silk Association of America. My remarks on these occasions were published in the report of the evidence taken by the committee (pages 601 and 134.)).
My suggestion was that the committee should recommend a duty of şi per pound on reeled silk imported into the United States. I then believed, as I do now, that such a duty would make it possible to conduct the industry of silk reeling, with profit, in the United States. The representatives of the manufacturers opposed this suggestion most strenuously, saying: First, that silk culture was climatically impossible in our country ; second, that neither the duty which I suggested nor any other which I could with any reason expect to have ingrafted in the bill, would make it possible to reel silk with a profit in the United States; and third, that if the duty upon reeled silk which I proposed were levied, it would ruin the interests vested in the manufacture of silk in this country and, in a very short time, close all the mills.
The first assuinption I refuted from the published books of the Silk Association itself, and I endeavored to persuade the committee, and I think with success, that I was in quite as good a position to judge of the result of any given protection as a body of gentlemen who made no pretensions to being experts in the industry of silk reeling, and who were confessedly opposed to its establishment in our country. Their third objection, however, that it would ruin the manufacturers, was one which had more effect upon the committee and, while it seems to me that it was as little founded on fact as the other two, I was unable to counteract the impression which it evidently made.
I therefore suggested that, in place of a customs duty, the committee should recommend the granting of a bounty of $i per pound upon reeled silk produced in the United States from cocoons of American production, and an additional bounty of 7 cents per pound for fresh cocoons of domestic growth. The suggestion was adopted and incorporated in the tariff bill and with it was passed by the House. The Senate Committee on Finance, however, reported adversely upon the section and recommended that it be stricken out, which was done, nor was it restored in conference.
During the past session a bill for the development and encouragement of silk culture in the United States was introduced both in the House (H. R. 137, by Mr. Morrow) and in the Senate (S. 1426, by Senator Mitchell) at the instance of Mr. Joseph Neumann, of California. This bill creates a division of silk culture in this Department and defines the duties of the Secretary of Agriculture in connection therewith. Most important of these duties are the payment of bounties on reeled silk and cocoons produced in the United States and the establishment of sericultural experiment stations for the education of the people in the industries of silk raising and silk reeling and for similar purposes. Another bill (H. R. 8675) was introduced later in the session by Mr. McKenna for the encouragement of silk culture in the State of California. It proposed nothing that would not be included in an intelligent execution of the Neumann bill.
I am heartily in favor of the enactment of some measure which will embody the main features mentioned above. This measure was, you will recollect, referred to you for your opinion by the agricultural committees of the two Houses of Congress, and on your suggesting that it was perhaps inexpedient to report upon it pending action upon the revenue legislation which I have already mentioned, it was, I understand, temporarily laid aside. I now most respect
I fully and urgently recommend that the committees of the House and Senate be requested to take the matter into further consideration, and after suitable amendment to recommend favorable action upon the bill.
The passage of some measure which shall give a permanent and sure encouragement to silk reelers and growers is, in my estimation, a sine qua non to the establishment of silk growing in the United States. After carefully considering the matter I am of the opinion that better results can be obtained by the payment of a bounty for a period of, say ten years, than by the imposition of any duty, however large, upon the manufactured material. The disposition shown by Congress to grant bounties, as evidenced in the case of the sugar industry, will, i hope, lead that body to a favorable consideration of this suggestion now that the question, as applied to the silk industry, is freed from the entanglement of being embodied in a general tariff bill.
Feeling as I do the importance of such legislation to the future of silk culture, and the probability that a failure upon the part of Congress to enact it would be very detrimental to the interests of silk raisers, I deem it proper to present, in as few words as possible, a summary of those reasons which have led me to the belief that under suitable conditions this industry might be made profitable in our country. It has many times been stated in our reports that the inadvisability of attempting silk culture on a large scale had been established for years by the disastrous results of experiments of this nature in France and Italy. The average quantity of eggs placed in incubation in those countries is now about two ounces for each family. Under such circumstances the European farmer is not called upon to employ extra labor, nor are the services of the men of the family required except during the last few days of the rearing. It will be understood that the confining of this work to the women and children necessitates the planting of the mulberry trees in a convenient place near the house, their periodical pruning in such a shape that their leaves can be gathered economically and quickly, and a further condition, perhaps axiomatic, that the persons in charge of the wouk shall possess such experience as will enable them to perform their labors without serious mistakes or useless friction. It would be an imputation which I should be far from placing upon the women of our farming classes to suggest that they are not as able as their sisters in Europe to become expert silk raisers in a short time.