a lesser extent, meat. Some colonies passed laws requiring young people to learn how to spin and weave.

Following the Revolutionary War, the United States began to develop a viable automated woolen manufacturing industry. With growing importation of Spanish Merino sheep in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the U.S. wool clip began to grow substantially. Woolen cloth manufacturing experienced its greatest growth during the period from 1830 to 1870, particularly during the Civil War years of the early 1860s.

Although many eastern states had large sheep populations in the 1800s, sheep production began shifting westward with improved rail transportation, feed production, and lower production costs in the West. As the industry moved west, wool production from the French Rambouillet, originally developed from Spanish Merino genetics, expanded rapidly. By 1870, about 80 percent of all U.S. sheep were of Merino origin (ASI, 2002).

The U.S. sheep and lamb inventories reached a high of 54 million head in 1884 and then declined slowly to a low of about 37 million head in 1923 (Figure 1-1). Inventories quickly turned around again in the 1920s, peaking at 54 million head in 1932 and then reaching an all-time high of 56 million head in 1942. That rapid growth spurred an equally rapid development of a marketing system (including feeding, slaughter, milling, and breaking facilities, and distribution and transport systems) to meet the rapidly growing demands for meat, wool, and other sheep and lamb products during that period. At the same time, the emphasis on sheep production began to shift toward meat rather than wool in response to the demand for protein to feed U.S. troops during World War II.

As the war drew to a close, U.S. sheep industry fortunes changed drastically as inventories plummeted over the next several years, bottoming out at 30 million head in 1950, a nearly 50 percent decline from the record high set in 1942. Wool production fell commensurate with the drop in overall sheep numbers (Figure 1-2). Following a little more than a decade of relative stability, inventories began to decline once again in the early 1960s, a trend from which the industry has yet to recover. Although specific benchmark events, such as World War II and loss of the National Wool Act, are often cited as the cause of the decline in the industry since the 1940s, in fact, many events and factors have combined to limit opportunities for growth in the industry. Some of the more often cited of these include the following:

  • Labor loss during World War II. World War II drew a great deal of labor out of American agriculture on a permanent basis. This shift affected all of agriculture, including the subsequent availability of labor for sheep and lamb production.

  • American GI experience with mutton during World War II. Lamb was relatively common on American dinner plates before World War II. The

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