COWLES'S PATENT MOTH, MILDEW, AND WATERPROOFING TREATMENT AND THE U.S. ARMY, 1869–1876
Ann Cordy Deegan
At the close of the American Civil War the U.S. Army Quartermaster's Department had evolved an efficient method of enlistment men's uniform construction and procurement that resulted not only in an adequate supply but a surplus. The war's end in 1865 caused stockpiling, increasing the chances of pest damage to garments.1 New efforts were made to protect these stored items against moth and mildew attack—some bizarre and ineffective, others trial-tested for long periods. Additionally, in-the-field use of tents and garments brought attention to the need for improved waterproofing techniques. This paper presents the George A. Cowles and Company process, used extensively by the U.S. Army from 1869 until 1876 for moth, mildew and waterproofing (henceforth called Cowles's process). The research is based on historical data and not on laboratory testing of extant items or simulation of the process on modern fabric.
There are several reasons for conservators to be aware of this post-Civil War treatment. Knowledge of the ingredients can provide data on the possibility of toxicity to those who handle the fabric, false positives that might appear in laboratory tests, and compounds that may exacerbate routine storage and handling problems. Garments and other items that have been treated should be identifiable so that conservators can be cautious in treating these pieces to avoid removal or alteration of historical materials. This requires knowledge of dates of treatment and how to identify treated items. The efficacy of the moth, mildew and waterproofing can give us data as to the possible conservation value these treatments may have today. This would include both positive and negative side effects.