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American Phoenix

American Phoenix

The Remarkable Story of William Skinner, A Man Who Turned Disaster Into Destiny

The incredible story of millionaire manufacturer William Skinner, a leading founder of the American silk industry, who lost everything in a devastating flood only to stage “one of the greatest comebacks in the annals of American industry” (Boston Sunday Post).

In 1845, a young, penniless William Skinner sailed in steerage class on a boat that took him from the slums of London to the United States. Skilled in the rare art of dyeing, he acquired work in a fledgling silk mill in Massachusetts, parlaying that one job into a lucrative new career and pioneering the way for American-made silk. Soon he had turned a barren stretch of countryside into a bustling factory village, “Skinnerville,” filled with men, women, and children producing the country’s most glamorous thread in his very own mill.

Then in 1874, disaster struck. A nearby dam burst, unleashing an inland tidal wave that tore down the Mill River Valley. Within fifteen minutes, Skinner’s factory, his village, and his life’s work were completely swept away in the worst industrial disaster the nation had yet known.

What followed was even more extraordinary, for out of this ruin came an empire. With grit, determination, and uncanny resolve, Skinner rebuilt his business into one of the leading silk manufacturing companies in the world. Now Sarah S. Kilborne—Skinner’s great-great-granddaughter—incorporates both the nation’s and her family’s past into a page-turning story of ambition, triumph, unthinkable loss, and heroism. With evocative details and a compelling, timeless message, American Phoenix is the inspiring account of the success of one man against the odds, and of the spirit that shaped a nation.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 448 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451671803 | 
  • September 2014
List Price $26.99
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American Phoenix by Sarah S. Kilborne

A narrative history of the American silk industry and one man, William Skinner, who revolutionized it even after his factory was destroyed by a flood.

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About the Author

Sarah S. Kilborne
Photograph by Giovanni di Mola

Sarah S. Kilborne

Sarah S. Kilborne is a writer, historian, musician, and editor. She holds a degree in philosophy from Yale University and has been a research fellow at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of two acclaimed books for children, Peach & Blue and Leaving Vietnam: The True Story of Tuan Ngo. She lives along the Hudson River in upstate New York.

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