The Comb Industry

In Newbury, the Noyeses were busy crafting a trade. Enoch Noyes, or “Old Fact,” as the natives called him, was a self-taught mechanical genius. It is often said, “a man’s home is his castle,” but for this man, it was a breeding ground for inventiveness. He owned the largest library around, first to import fruit trees, bred varieties of fish and issued the first comb industry in America (1759). 

All the labor was done by hand, and he straightened the horns used for combs by steaming them over his kitchen fire, pressing them in a cleft leg, opening it with wedges and allowing it to spring together. 

A 1925 article, “Sesquicentennial of Comb Industry,” noted 32 comb shops in town between 1830 and 1840 with several Noyes offspring constantly inventing and improving the production. The foremost was grandson David Noyes, who invented a machine for twining, or cutting the teeth. He was the most important man in comb-making in America. By 1844 S. C. Noyes & Co. ruled the industry with the first steam-engine used in the town. 
Horatio Noyes notes that Enoch’s eccentric nature matched his talents: “a great joker and capital storyteller, often running to the parish barefooted and bareheaded.” On hot summer days he was spotted sporting only his light britches running the fields “just to go a nooning.” 
One thing is for sure: These fellows were a “marvel of Yankee ingenuity,” constantly combing new territory for inventions and never squandered time. 


Comb-Makers Davis F., William, and William H. Noyes. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center 

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