Lowell is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA. As of 2012, the city's estimated population was 108,522. It is the fourth largest city in the state. Lowell and Cambridge were the county seats of Middlesex County prior to the abolition of county government in 1997.
Founded in the 1820s as a planned manufacturing center for textiles, Lowell is located along the rapids of the Merrimack River, 25 miles northwest of Boston in what was once the farming community of East Chelmsford, Massachusetts. The so-called Boston Associates, including Nathan Appleton and Patrick Tracy Jackson of the Boston Manufacturing Company, named the new mill town after their visionary leader, Francis Cabot Lowell, who had died five years before its 1823 incorporation. As Lowell's population grew, it acquired more land from neighboring towns, and diversified into a full-fledged urban center. Many of the men who comprised the labor force for constructing the canals and factories had immigrated from Ireland, escaping the poverty and Potato Famines of the 1830s and 1840s. The mill workers, young single women called Mill Girls, generally came from the farm families of New England.
By the 1850s, Lowell had the largest industrial complex in the United States. The textile industry wove cotton produced in the South. In 1860, there were more cotton spindles in Lowell than in all eleven states combined that would form the Confederacy. The city continued to thrive as a major industrial center during the 19th century, attracting more migrant workers and immigrants to its mills. Next were the Catholic Germans, then a large influx of French Canadians during the 1870s and 1880s. Later waves of immigrants included Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanians, Swedes, and eastern European Jews. They came to work in Lowell and settled in ethnic neighborhoods, with the city's population reaching almost 50% foreign-born by 1900. By the time World War I broke out in Europe, the city had reached its economic and population peak of over 110,000 people.
The Mill Cities' manufacturing base declined as many companies began to relocate to the South in the 1920s. The city fell into deep hard times, and was called a "depressed industrial desert" by Harper's Magazine in 1931, as the Great Depression deepened. More than one-third of its population was "on relief", as only three of its major textile corporations remained active. Several years later, the mills were reactivated, making parachutes and other military necessities for the World War II effort. However, this economic boost was short-lived and the post-war years saw the last textile plants close.
Over the next few decades, the city was just a shadow of itself. In the 1970s, Lowell became part of the Massachusetts Miracle, being the headquarters of Wang Laboratories. At the same time, Lowell became home to thousands of new immigrants, many from Cambodia, following the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The city continued to rebound, but this time, focusing more on culture. The former mill district along the river was partially restored and became part of the Lowell National Historical Park, founded in the late 1970s.
Although Wang went bankrupt in 1992, the city continued its cultural focus by hosting the nation's largest free folk festival, the Lowell Folk Festival, as well as many other cultural events. This effort began to attract other companies and families back to the urban center. Additional historic manufacturing and commercial buildings were adapted as residential units and office space. By the 1990s, Lowell built a new ballpark and arena, which became home to two minor league sports teams, the Lowell Devils and Lowell Spinners. The city also began to have a larger student population. The University of Massachusetts Lowell and Middlesex Community College expanded their programs and enrollment.
In a nationally recognized youth-led campaign, Lowell aims to be the first municipality in the country to allow 17-year-olds to vote in its municipal elections. The 'Vote 17' campaign is supported by national researchers and aims to increase voter turnout, create lifelong civic habits and increase youth input in local matters. The effort is led by youth at the United Teen Equality Center in downtown Lowell.