Textile Industry History –a web site draft dec 20

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Textile Industry History –a web site DRAFT Dec 20
It all started as I neared retirement from my teaching the chemistry and technology of textile dyeing and finishing at the College of Textiles, North Carolina State University. An invitation to an Open House at the Textile Heritage Museum in Glencoe came across my desk. I thought, “That sounds interesting, I wonder what’s going on over there in Glencoe?” Little did I know what was in store for me. I knew that North Carolina had a wonderful textile and apparel heritage, after all, I had taught textile subjects for 29 years and visited many facilities across the state, but I did not know how that position developed. That first visit was an eye-opener. We had quite story to tell. When I went online to see what was recorded I found little of the history was readily available. I wondered how I could help. A friend, Dr. Robert Baptista recently retired from Bayer, had recently created a web site to document the history of the Colorants Industry. He offered to help me get started. Within a few months, the directors of the Textile Heritage Museum, Kathy Barry and Jerrie Nall, invited me and my wife to join them and their spouses for a grand tour of historical textile sites in Alamance County. I had no idea was to unfold. We met one morning in Glencoe, piled into a large van driven by Tom Haag, and all eight of us proceeded down the Haw River road, passing Copland Fabrics at High Falls; a condominium complex at Saxapahaw; the Alamance County Historical Museum on NC 62 south, former home of Edwin Michael Holt; and wound up at Granite Falls, to visit Gail Knauff and the folks at the Haw River Historical Association Museum. There was so much history there in Alamance County, I could not wait to get started.
In the fall of 2007, I began with a home page to tell the opening story. From that page, I would direct readers to other stories around Alamance County, North Carolina, and the south. I would eventually add over 400 “pages” before losing steam. The easiest way to find a topic of interest is to use a search engine such as Google and place the name of the subject and “history” in the search box. For example if you want to know about the history of Cone Mills, simply enter those words and history in the search box.
The Industrial Revolution in textiles began in England when James Watt harnessed water and steam to power mills. Yarn spinning was automated, then weaving and finally, by 1771, the first “factory” was organized under one roof. Nothing like this, however was permitted in the American colonies. After the American Revolution, our Founding Fathers actually preferred that we supply raw materials and allow the industrial development to England. Alexander Hamilton, however, had the foresight to dream of an industrial site built around the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey on the Passaic River.


Samuel Slater is credited with building the first yarn-spinning mill in America in 1792. That mill is still in existence in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. James Cabot Lowell organized an entire town around the river and falls in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1814. In North Carolina, Michael Schenck and Absolom Warlick built a spinning mill on the Catawba River in Lincolnton in 1813. http://www.textilehistory.org/MichaelSchenck.html

Soon afterward, Henry Humphries built a mill in Greensboro. Soon other North Carolina farmers and plantation owners became fascinated with the idea of locally processing their cotton and wool into yarn and fabric because overland travel was so difficult. The Trollingers began the first successful venture in Alamance County at High Falls, site of today’s Copland Fabrics. However, the man credited with really getting the ball rolling was Edwin Michael Holt, who with his partner, William Carrington, built the Alamance Cotton Factory on Big Alamance Creek. Holt’s site today, is just west off NC 62 south of Burlington. Holt and his seven sons were motivated to expand beyond one factory.


Ben Trollinger built the Granite mill on the Haw River where the town of Haw River is located today. Transportation was difficult in the mid-1800s; much of what was shipped went up and down the rivers rather than cross-country. All of that changed when the North Carolina Railroad was organized and came to Alamance County in 1854. Trollinger was so eager to have the railroad come by his mill that he built the railroad bridge over the river. He also insisted that the railroad locate repair shops nearby and Company Shops was founded, which is the town of Burlington today. New mills sprang up everywhere in the county, but always along rivers because water was the only source of industrial power.

In 1857, the Holts began something totally new. Instead of spinning and, weaving and selling greige fabric, they opened a dye house and created a new product, Alamance Plaids. This venture was the first dye house south of the Potomac River. Other mills built during the next decades were: Falls Neuse, Swepsonville; Carolina; Altamahaw; Bellemont; Ossipee and Glencoe, the last (1880) water-powered mill built on the Haw River.


One by one, pages were written and added to the textile history web site. I encouraged people to help me find material and verify what I had developed. Contributors from many places fed me material, but none were as prolific as one friend from Melbourne, Australia, Peter Metzke. Peter’s love for the history of technology was boundless. Whenever I needed an added feature, he was able to supply a link. Another friend in Gaston County, shared his collection of textile mill postal cards that he collected from the turn of the 20th century. Bill Wornall allowed me to scan hundreds of cards to help illustrate the histories of the mills.
Steam engines developed by Watt in England were slow to come to textile mills in the United States. Corliss showed America the incredible power of his engines at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The Oneida Mill in Graham (1881) was the first steam-powered mill. By locating on a railroad, the mill could ship coal in from remote mines and ship cotton products anywhere in short order. By 1886, there were 13 more cotton mills in the county.
In the 1870s, Moses and Ceasar Cone brought their Baltimore grocery business down to North Carolina and began bartering cotton cloth for groceries. http://www.textilehistory.org/ConeMillsGreensboroNC.html

They later built their own denim business in Greensboro when supplies from their various contacts were not stable enough to supply customers. They named the first mill, Proximity, because of the strategic location close to cotton, and to railroads to the west and to northern markets in Baltimore and onward. A new flannel mill was technologically so advanced, they called it the Revolution Mill. White Oak Mill soon became the largest denim manufacturing site in the world. The Cones teamed up with Levi Strauss, an up and coming clothier in California. Denim cloth became a standard for working men in America.

Hosiery came to North Carolina and Alamance County when W.C. Curtis and Samuel M. Holt built the Daisy Mill in 1896. By 1909, there were eight hosiery mills listed in the city directory. World War I led a boom in the need for the military but the business quickly went bust after the war. Mills consolidated then began growth. John Shoffner bought the original Alamance Cotton Factory from the Holt family and started Standard Hosiery. Hosiery boomed through the late 1920s as skirts shortened and women showed more leg. By 1950, there were 54 hosiery mills and Burlington became the “Hosiery Center of the South”, all aided by the introduction of a new wonder fiber, nylon. Later, Bill Leath would develop a stretch nylon yarn and when women’s underwear and hosiery were combined, panty hose were invented.


In the early 1920s when industry was struggling after World War I, an enterprising man from Gastonia was invited to start a new business in Burlington. J. Spencer Love of Gastonia came along just as rayon was developed. His innovations with the new fiber resulted in a business that grew and grew and became Burlington Industries. In the 1960s, the company was the largest integrated textile company in the United States.


To be honest, Alamance County was not the only place where textiles contributed mightily to the US economy. Other centers of development and manufacturing included Greensboro with the Cone Mills and Mojud hosiery.


Gaston County, NC was similarly populated with innumerable textile concerns, as was the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area with Milliken and JP Stevens.


In LaGrange, GA, tufted carpeting grew by leaps and bounds as housing grew in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Shaw Industries became a world leader in carpeting.
The Industrial Revolution that began in Pawtucket, RI, spread throughout New England into the mid-Atlantic states during the 1800s. In the 1900s, the industry began moving south until all the major manufacturing was centered in the southeastern United States by the end of the 20th century. While much of the apparel fabric production and garment construction has moved out of the United States today, major textile industries still thrive in industrial textiles, medical textiles, non-wovens, and carpeting, to name only a few. The major center for textile education and research is located at North Carolina State University, a program that has never been stronger than it is today. Research conducted today will continue to grow the industry well into the 21st century with new products introduced each year.
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