No one knows the exact age of the carding machine. However, we know that the Birkeland belt-driven carding machine was built in England by Edmund Leach & Sons at their "Castle Works" facility in Rochdale, England.
Edmund Leach was a mechanic and ironworker who started his company early during the Industrial Revolution. In 1826 he invested everything he had to build a large order of power-looms, which were replacing traditional handlooms and were increasingly in demand. Edmund completed the order just as the Power-loom riots broke out, only to have everything he built destroyed. Though this bankrupted him, his creditors admired his work and had sympathy; Edmund worked hard for many years, paying back his creditors and building a successful family business which survived until April of 1881. Knowing when Edmund Leach & Sons closed, we can safely say the Birkeland Carding Machine is at least years old.
The carding machine was purchased new (it never ran in England) by Peter Jebsen, and then shipped to his wool factory in Norway. Peter Jebsen helped kick-start rapid industrialization in Norway by building his first wool factory in 1848. He was in the Manchester area of England in early 1848, and may have purchased his first carding machines at that time; however, over the next 20 years his brother also made a number of return trips to England to purchase machinery, so it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly the carding machine was purchased. Knowing the Birkeland Carding Machine was purchased new, we can safely say it is at most years old.
The carding machine was originally run by a water mill, then converted to steam, and now runs on electricity. In 1939 the Jebsen wool factory was acquiring new equipment, and was scrapping carding machines.
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Journey from Norway
Olaf and Michael Birkeland's father was the head carder at the Jebsen wool factory. They saw their opportunity and got their money together to start their own business. Their father even helped them with a "Christmas" gift that allowed them to secure the machinery.
The brothers purchased two carding machines and two pickers (a machine that chews up the wool after it is washed, so it is easier to go through the carder). The carding machines were each about two tonnes of metal and the pickers weighed about half a tonne each. The individual pieces were shipped in wood crates packed in sawdust. Fortunately, they were shipped just before the outbreak of World War II. What might have happened, if they had been shipped just a few weeks later?
Arrival in Canada
When the shipment arrived at the port of Vancouver, Canada Customs sent a letter addressed to Olaf requesting that duty be paid on the equipment. Times were hard and it was just before World War II. The families had gathered all their money together to start the business. Olaf was so mad at Customs that he wrote them back and informed them they could throw the machines in the ocean - there was no way he was going to pay duty on scrap metal! Did he ever get in trouble with his brother, but imagine what Olaf's wife had to say!
After a long month for the Birkeland brothers (and likely a lonely one on the couch for Olaf), there arrived another letter from Canada Customs. "Please pick up your shipment - we cannot store this anymore!" Olaf won!
Response to the War Effort
Birkeland Brothers Wool Batts was established. The next hurdle was putting the machines together. The wood crates were mixed up and not labelled properly, thus it was an interesting and difficult puzzle. The only machine still in working condition is our current carder.
When World War II began, Birkeland Brothers started supplying carded wool batts for the production of blankets for Canadian Soldiers. These batts left the store and went to a plant that felted the batts into wool blankets. The Canadian Navy received the thicker batts, while the thinner batts went to the Armed Forces.
After the end of WWII, a Red Cross representative came and asked for a donation as Birkeland Brothers made money on the war. Olaf opened the ledger and showed that his contribution to the war was not to make money, but to help win the war: Birkeland Brothers made no profit during the war. We continue to remain closed on Remembrance Day.
As Good As New
The Birkeland belt-driven carding machine is possibly the oldest of it's kind in Canada. After water and steam, it now runs on electricity. It still runs as much as five times a week to make our wool batts. Once a month when the machine is cleaned, each roller (weighing 150 lbs each) must be carefully removed by hand.
For those who ask for the Carding Machine's name, she still has not told us...