This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
It is surprising how little people, in general, know what shoddy is, and the prejudice against the use of shoddy in woolen goods is simply a result of this ignorance. The term of shoddy is erroneously applied to all fibers that have been carded from a fabric, no matter what grade or quality. This is the first mistake. All of the various wool fibers obtained from cloth is called "mungo." These again, are subdivided into "new" and "old" mungo. Old mungo is used only in the very poorest class of woolen goods - into satinets and cheap "beavers." If the clothing manufacturer wants a pound of goods for forty cents or less, labor and all expense included, he must know that he cannot obtain cloth in which even new mungo has been used, and if there is a demand for that class of goods the supply will be forthcoming. New mungos made from fine all-wool cassimeres and from blue, black and brown new worsted clippings is a choice fiber, and will equal fall Texas and California wool in length and strength, as the fabric has been but little pulled and not worn. The term shoddy, however, applies to all fibers obtained from fabrics which have not been fulled at all, viz., flannels and knitted goods. The lady, when she discards her opera hood or fascinator, does not dream that she will wear that same article again transformed in a fine cloak. Her fascinator was crocheted from pure fine Berlin zephyr yarn. She has not injured it any. It has been subject to very little wear, and when it is picked back into the yarn from which it was made, and that yarn opened up by cards into a wool fiber, it will take a very fine wool to compete with it. It is ridiculous to assume that all this material should be burnt up and new wool used in its stead, especially when new wool cannot compete with this class of stock unless of very choice grade. The same applies to ladies' dresses. Many a gentleman wears on his back a part of the dress his wife discarded - that dress being made from the best Australian combing wool; worked up again, it retains its character - is, of course shorter and cannot be combed again, but the fibers being used with new wool into fulled goods will make as serviceable a garment as could be desired. To classify such stock in the same catagory with old mungo and call it all shoddy will appear very ludicrous. The fact is, that these better qualities of shoddies are used as wool in the highest class of goods, and the consumer obtains full value - just the same as if he wishes to buy a suit all fitted for $6, he will get it - but there will be neither shoddy nor wool in it, except the wool contained in old cloth (mungo) and some cotton to help spin it. Some shoddy is better than wool, and some wool is better than shoddy.
More than one claim has been put forward for the credit of founding this important manufacture, but there seems little doubt that Benjamin Law, of Batley, England, first wove a piece of cloth from shoddy in 1813. Previous to this time woolen rags had little commercial value, being used only to be torn up into "flock " for stuffing saddles or furniture, or employed in agriculture for manure. Shoddy consists of rags and shreds of stockings, flannels and other good worsted fabrics. Mungo consists of the clippings of fulled goods and tailors' waste, torn and reduced to fragments of the original fiber. These rags are first thoroughly oiled, and then passed through a machine significantly called the " devil," which literally rends the rags into minute particles that look more like dust than fibers. This is done by the rapid rotation of a large cylinder armed with powerful iron spikes, with equally strong toothed-rollers revolving in an opposite direction. Mungo cannot be used without a due proportion of natural-length wool, usually one-fourth of pure wool being employed in spinning. Both shoddy and mungo find their way into a very large proportion of woolen goods, such as linings, rugs, wraps and heavy overcoating, druggets, blankets and satinets. "Shoddy " was formerly a term of opprobrium in connection with woolen manufactures - the bad name being obtained during the war - but it is now recognized as a material of great utility for many purposes where body and warmth are more essential than toughness or elasticity. When not employed fraudulently its use wrongs nobody. By mixing mungo with wool or cotton in fair proportions, manufacturers are enabled to supply comfortable and serviceable material for clothing at a low price; and so long as the world contains poor people, so long will it be desirable that such materials shall be manufactured.
There is not much room for doubt respecting the influence upon the price of wool by the use of these fibers. That the employment of these sub-stances operates to put down the price of wool can hardly be questioned by any one who will examine the subject. The use of both wool and shoddy represents the supply of a demand which could not be supplied (in the absence of the former) without a larger consumption of wool, and thus the lessened demand for wool acts to keep down the price. The withdrawal of shoddy from industry would certainly advance the price of wool - notably the price of cheap wool. It is also claimed by a certain class of political economists that the shoddy industry was developed and its existence made possible by restrictions placed on the importation of pure raw wool. If it were not for our high duties (they claim) on imported cheap wool, our manufacturers could purchase the raw material from South America and Australia and make a strictly all-wool fabric at the same price at which they can produce the substituted article, thus giving the consumer a strictly pure wool material at the same cost. [See Wool, Woolen, Worsted]