American Phoenix by Sarah S. Kilborne
The Remarkable Story of William Skinner, A Man Who Turned Disaster Into Destiny

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The incredible story of nineteenth-century millionaire William Skinner, a leading founder of the American silk industry, who lost everything in a devastating flood—and his improbable, inspiring comeback to the pinnacle of the business world.

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. Endowed with rare knowledge in the art of dyeing and an uncanny business sense, he acquired work in a fledgling silk mill in Massachusetts, quickly rising to prominence in the nation’s new luxury industry. Soon he opened his own factory and began turning out one of the bestselling silk brands in the country. Skinner was lauded as a pioneer in the textile industry and a manufacturer who knew no such word as fail. His business grew to sustain a bustling community filled with men, women, and children, living and working in the mill village of “Skinner-ville,” producing the country’s most glamorous, fashionable thread.

Then, in 1874, disaster struck. Hundreds of millions of gallons of water burst through a nearby dam, destroying everything in its path, including Skinnerville. Within fifteen minutes, Skinner’s entire life’s work was swept away, and he found himself one of the central figures in the worst industrial disaster the nation had yet known.

In this gripping narrative history, Skinner’s great-great-granddaughter, Sarah S. Kilborne, tells an inspiring, unforgettable American story—of a town devastated by unimaginable catastrophe; an industry that had no reason to succeed except for the perseverance of a few intrepid entrepreneurs; and a man who had nothing—and everything—to lose as he struggled—and succeeded— to rebuild his life for a second time. American Phoenix offers a new twist on the American dream, reminding us that just when we thought the dream was over, it may have only just begun.

About Sarah S. Kilborne

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Melissa Sweet is the illustrator of many fine children's books. Reviewers have described her unique mixed-media illustrations as "exuberant," "outstanding," and "a creative delight." Melissa lives on the beautiful coast of Maine. In addition to writing and painting, she enjoys gardening, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. And even though Melissa is 357 dog years old, she still loves walking her two dogs, Rufus and Nelle. For more information about the author and her work, visit
Published October 16, 2012 by Free Press. 450 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction

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Kilborne keeps Skinner’s final decision tantalizingly out of reach, giving readers an accurate sense of the anxiety, confusion and overwhelming curiosity his fellow villagers must have felt while they waited to learn whether he would rebuild again, and where.

Aug 13 2012 | Read Full Review of American Phoenix: The Remarka...

Publishers Weekly

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Unlike other flood-zone manufacturers, Skinner abandoned the valley, fired his workers, disbursed relief funds inequitably (his brother got almost three times his due), and parlayed his reputation into a sweetheart deal with the Holyoke Water Tower Company, ultimately amassing even greater wealth.

Aug 20 2012 | Read Full Review of American Phoenix: The Remarka...

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