The evolution of the United States from colonies to a nation was created by the uncommon creativity, vision, and drive of many unassuming citizens who recognized an opportunity. One such person was Francis T. Spencer of Arundel. Son of a lumberman and school teacher, Spencer was the inventor of the Vellux blanket made by Pepperell Manufacturing. Though the textile industry was in its waning years, the production of the Vellux blanket gave the communities of Biddeford and Saco 40 more years of prosperity.
“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” In our daily hectic lives we unfortunately do not take the time to notice the extraordinary events and people that shape our lives. Although there were many among us who did extraordinary things to make our existence better, none can be more important locally than Francis T. Spencer. Known to his friends and associates as Fran, Francis or Frank, very few called him Spencer. The first name basis gave an insight into the respect people had for Fran. Unfortunately, his impact on our community will probably be lost with the Baby Boomer generation. Fran will be a footnote rather than an icon concerning his contribution to the sustainability to a wounded community during the 1960s to 2000. Like so many of his contemporaries Fran had skills and talents that he shared with us to make our lives better for many years. July 15 will be the 101 anniversary of Fran’s birth. Although he has been gone for several years his life’s work still has value to our community. We thank Fran for that!
Fran grew up on a family farm and saw mill in Arundel where the present day Dutch Elm Golf Course is located. His mother, Genevieve, was a member of the local Waterhouse family and a school teacher. His father, Luther, was a lumberman from Lincoln, Maine. Fran and his three siblings lived and worked there until their graduation from Biddeford High School when they started their individual careers. His older brother, Lincoln, became a Maine Superior Court Justice and his sister, Rebecca and twin brother, Frederick, became respected members of their local communities.
The following comes from an interview with Fran by Roy Fairfield and Sallie Huot in 1999.
After graduation in 1931 from Biddeford High Fran worked at Pepperell Manufacturing Company. He began as a trainee and worked in every department in the mill. This opened the curiosity door for Fran. Coming from a farming background he was intrigued by all of the machinery and how it worked. He worked his way through the system and eventually became superintendant or manager of the blanket division.
Fran’s early efforts were to create products that were unique and give Pepperell a better position in the marketplace. Although several were successful, or too successful, competitors copied the new products and Pepperell was again a “me too” in the marketplace. Frustrated by these events, he embarked on a new, risky path to develop a totally new type of blanket that would eventually become the Vellux Blanket.
The “rest of the story” demonstrates how the person, Fran Spencer, made this happen when the textile industry was in its decline. Very few could have done this successfully.