New Technology, Unions And World War I Leave Mark On Textiles
American industry was changing fast. C. F. Kettering invented the self-starter in 1911; broken wrists and dislocated shoulders from the kick-back of a starter crank diminished; the sale of autos soared; and more women learned to drive.
Henry Ford was the industrial idol of the day:
- He introduced the moving assembly line in 1913- 14, bringing the job to the worker. The age of the industrial engineer was dawning,
- and, in January, 1914, he more than doubled the basic rate of take-home pay for his workers, to the unheard of figure of FIVE DOLLARS A DAY for an eight-hour day, when the going rate was around $2.50 for a 10-hour day.
The Trek To Detroit
The news of Ford's new pay policy was spread on front pages throughout the country and thousands of men set out for Detroit to cash in on the bonanza. For most, their trip was futile. There were hundreds of applicants for every available job. The Ford personnel people could pick, and they chose only the best qualified. Thousands of hopefuls were stranded in a strange city in a bitter winter.
On the other side of the world, the globe's most populous country was entering a period of revolutionary change which has not yet ended. Sun Yat Sen led a revolution in 1911 that displaced the Manchu dynasty which had long ruled China. But the people he led were not yet ready to enter the modern world as Japan had done only decades earlier, and covetous Japan was already planning the move to expand the mainland holdings acquired as a result of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905. Japan would ultimately enter World War I on the side of the Allies, and then demand a slice of China as reward.
In Europe, the arms race was accelerating as the decade began. Germany and Britain were building dreadnaught battleships, and the British had already organized the Royal Flying Corps, so swift were developments in aviation since the Wright Brothers flight.
There were wars in the Balkans, then the assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, mobilization by Austria, Germany and Russia, then the long-planned German advance into neutral Belgium on the way to outflank the French armies.
The French held onto the Marne, the battles settled into trench warfare on lines running from Switzerland to the North Sea, and the war began its meatgrinder consumption of soldiers. civilians, uniforms, boots, steel, gun-cotton—- all the products of field and factory. The world settled in for a four-year nightmare that also brought jobs and profits in the United States, whose textile industry was suddenly faced with orders from belligerents, mostly the British and French, since the British fleet had bottled up the German navy by blockading the ports. A few blockade runners got through.
High Tech 1911 Style
The American industry was well prepared, except for dyestuffs. Early in 1911 The American Wool and Cotton Reporter had reflected upon the progress made in the 25 years since the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia had exhibited the new Corliss steam engine and other machinery developments. The Reporter listed:
- Improved opening and conveying systems.
- Moisteners, humidifiers and other appliances for creating a more efficient atmosphere in the mill.
- The general adoption of the ring spinning frame.
- The general adoption of revolving flat cards.
- The wide introduction of the cotton comber.
- Automatic looms.
- loom attachments like the take-up and the stop-motion.
- The more general substitution of the slasher for the dressing frame and hand sizing.
- Increased discoveries and extension of the use of artificial dyestuffs. giving an exactness in the dyehouse which was once practically unknown.
- Automatic dyeing machines.
- Automatic sprinklers and improved methods for prevention of fire.
- Improved mill construction.
- Electric lights.
- The adoption of the telephone for departments throughout the mill, which is still very incomplete.
- Hydro-electric power.
- More exactness and intelligence in the selection and use of fuel and the application of power.
Most of these developments were to be seen later that year in the New England Industrial and Educational Exposition, held in October in Boston.
The Reporter was filled in those days with news, ads and editorials concerned with improvements available to the mills, and with ads and editorials supporting export trade. A few examples:
- Regular articles on "Mill Construction and Power," and emphasis on the pros and cons of reinforced concrete.
- New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. ads promoting direct lines "to those who phone the same person, office or factory 25-50-75-100 miles away every day" with savings of 60% in telephone calls.
- Draper ads reporting orders for 6,673 Northrop looms in 11 weeks, 5/6ths of them to replace old looms, 2/3rds sold in the North, 1/3rd in the South.
- Ads by W. Wolf & Sons with offices in Boston, Bombay and Shanghai offering India and China cotton, ramie noils and silk noils. (Ramie, an Oriental vegetable fiber similar to linen, disappeared from the American scene for decades, but regained some prominence in the 1980's when used as a quota-evading blend for sportswear).
- Ads for "Oxowool”, offered by the Eastbrook Company of Gardner, Mass., "looks like wool, feels like wool, wears like wool, but is cheaper than wool."
- Editorial admonitions on the importance of keeping main drive shafts properly aligned lest power be lost; one loose hanger a fraction out of line can cause significant power loss; checking hangers is more important than keeping shafts polished.
- A report on a mill shut down for three weeks by a fly wheel accident involving a 12-foot diameter wheel which came apart, sending a 500-lb. piece hurtling hundreds of feet into the air to come crashing down through the roof of the three-story mill. Editor Bennett said: "there have been 67 accidents in the past year with 16 killed and 28 seriously injured. Old wheels are being operated without safety stops. There is no excuse for this!"
Editor Bennett castigated Southern cotton mills for their "general unwillingness" to reveal their financial condition. They provide “only a dim idea" for a potential investor in their stocks, he complained, while Massachusetts corporations were required to file annual statements.
The custom of jobbers or distributors putting their brand name on goods from a mill was distasteful to The Reporter, which declared mills should not hide their light under a bushel and State should establish their own brand names.
The Curtis Publishing Co. pushed this line of thought in full-page ads touting the availability of Ladies Home Journal, circulation 1,400,000 a month, and Saturday Evening Post, circulation of 1,000,000 a week, to boost brand names.
ATI's Early Readership
While American Wool and Cotton Reporter was the leading textile publication of the time, its appeal was primarily to owners, investors and managers of mills, and its base was in Boston, home of New England financiers whose fortunes had been made first in maritime trade. The Reporter ran page after page of financial statements, appealing to this type of reader.
There was ample room for another publication appealing to "the practical men," the superintendents and overseers, and it was to this audience that David Clark addressed his new magazine, Textile Bulletin, whose first issue appeared March 2, 1911. The lead article was on a new circular loom, Whalley's loom, operating at 30 picks per minute.
The Bulletin summarized the condition of Southern textile mills at that time as 768 mills operating 12,279,288 spindles and 256,035 looms, capitalized at $209,522,000 and distributed among the states.
The rest of the United States accounted for more than 17 million spindles. Most bleaching, dyeing and finishing plants were still in the North.
That first issue of The Bulletin also carried items reporting:
- "The Textile Exhibitors Association are this week holding an exhibit of textile machinery, mill supplies and general textiles in Mechanics Hall, Boston, Mass. The show is to be the largest ever, bigger than the last one held in 1909."
- The Walterboro (S. C.) Cotton Mills were advertising for help: card hands, $1 day; spinners, 12 1/2 cents per side; doffers, 5 to 80 cents a day; weavers, 27 cents per cut; fixers, $1.50 per day; drawing-in hands, 23 1/3 cents per beam. (At that time, bacon cost 25 cents a pound; 10 lbs. of potatoes, 17 cents; and five pounds of sugar, 30 cents.)
- The conclusion that, in considering the future of the motor truck, the electric had advantages over the gas because 80% of deliveries were in the city.
- Personal notes about marriages and job changes of weavers, fixers, overseers and superintendents.
- The arrest in Rossville, Ga., of a man attempting to secure laborers already employed.
This case was not unusual; there was a shortage of labor in the South. In the North, there were labor troubles, especially the bitter strike provoked by the IWW at Lawrence, Mass., January 12, 1912, when American Woolen Co. cut the work week from 56 to 54 hours and reduced pay accordingly. The IWW marched with placards proclaiming:
No God, No Master!
One for All and All for One!
Fourteen thousand workers followed these IWW leaders. Eventually, all the mills in Lawrence shut down, and 23,000 were on the street. The conservative Irish and French-Canadian workers fought back against the IWW, the placards for their demonstrators reading:
The Stars and Stripes Forever
The Red Flag
The 1912 strike ended after 63 days when American Woolen agreed to wage increases and pay for overtime. But, the seeds of future strife had been well planted, and there was bitter harvest ahead: 35,000 out in a United Textile Workers strike in 1918, a five-month strike in Lawrence in 1919, and more on the way.
Electricity In The Mill
The Bulletin was reporting faithfully on activities of the Southern Textile Association, whose interest in electric lights and motors was running high. At the July, 1911 meeting in Greenville, J. P. Judge of Baltimore spoke on "The Electrical Specialist in the Cotton Mill". At the December meeting in Atlanta, the General Electric Co. equipped the convention hall with Mazda lamps, and there was considerable lobby talk about Dunean Mills in Greenville, having made an extensive application of individual electric drives to spinning frames, and, for the first time, there were a few machinery exhibits at the meeting. Members were talking of asking the Exhibitors Association to bring to the South an exhibition like that held in Boston.
These STA leaders were determined to improve the efficiency of the mills. Many of the developments of recent years had either not been marketed to most Southern mills or had not been bought. In many mills, there was still little control of atmospheric conditions; when humidity was low and static electricity a problem, it was not uncommon to splash buckets of water around the cards. Many times during the winter, the stock was cold and dry, the fiber brittle and easily damaged. STA leaders estimated that only 35% of looms in place were automatic.
First Greenville Show
They wanted their decision makers— presidents, treasurers, major stockholders—to see for themselves the new machinery they wanted. So early in 1914 the STA formally invited the Exhibitors Association to hold an exposition in Atlanta in 1915. Then, Charlotte asked to be considered as the show site. A decision was pending when the Germans marched into Belgium in August, 1914. With the outbreak of the war, the exhibitors committee abandoned the idea of a show in the South.
But Greenville members of STA gathered some 50 civic and textile leaders on December 12, 1914 in the Chamber of Commerce rooms with T. B. Wallace, then superintendent of Dunean Mills, presiding. The group decided to put on a Southern show in 1915. Representatives of 13 machinery and supply firms agreed then and there to exhibit.
The Reporter called the first textile show in the South "a remarkable success" and said: "It is probably a fact that there would have been no Southern Textile Exposition had it not been for the Southern Textile Association. It was said when first talked of, that the machinery people would not go way down South to show their products. It was hinted that the one exhibition held every year or two years in the East was enough for the industry, but the show held in Greenville last week was one that compared favorably with the Mechanics building exhibition or the knit goods show in Philadelphia. It was a huge success."
WW I and Textiles
Mills had been affected by the war soon after its start, and for dyehouses, the effect was traumatic. An estimated 90% of the new popular synthetic dyestuffs had been imported, primarily from Germany. That source of supply was now cut off. Dyes that had sold for 75 cents a pound cost $125, if and when they could be found.
The Bulletin reported that 81 U. S. chemical establishments had undertaken to produce dyestuffs in a limited range of colors. The U. S. Department of Agriculture set its researchers and field agents to work on locating new sources of natural dyes. One of their reports proclaimed the virtues of osage orange which, before the invention of barbed wire, had been extensively planted in the treeless Plains as fence hedging. Today more than 1,000 different dyes are produced in the United States, approximately 95 per cent of all the dyes used here.
Autos Open Up New Markets
While the New England mills were turning out woolens and worsteds for uniforms and blankets, some mills in the South were finding a new market, in the automotive field, for tire fabric. The early tires had inner-tubes inside a casing made of cotton fabric into which rubber was pressed mechanically. Layers of the fabric were formed over a mould and the tire was vulcanized on its outer surface. This type tire with the rubber inner-tube under an air pressure of 50 to 75 pounds averaged less than 4,000 miles of wear, including numerous stops to patch punctures, and was popular until about 1920 when tire cord technology improved.
Meanwhile in Russia, there was revolution, the Czar overthrown, a socialist government in power, soon to be forced out by Lenin's Bolsheviks. The Russian revolution released German troops from the Eastern Front, free to join the Western Front divisions for a last great offensive in the spring of 1918, a drive barely turned back by the French, British and the newly arrived American forces. The tide turned. The Armistice came at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, the Allies victorious while the Kaiser fled to Holland, while the Germans retreated behind the Rhine, Corporal Hitler and his comrades bitter over supposed betrayal at home where communists attempted revolution and the red flag flew in Berlin. The captains and the kings departed from the duchies and kingdoms of the German Empire; the emperor of Austria-Hungary abdicated; Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia were new free nations.
The AEF headed for home, soon to be joined by more millions of immigrants, a tide that had ebbed during the war. The popular song went, -How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?" And, you couldn't keep them down on the farm. They were moving to cities, to a way of life changed by the automobile, the movies, the uncounted inventions nurtured by the war.
On the Southern mill front, STA President F. Gordon Cobb began sectional meetings, technical sessions to share information and promote efficiency. Named as the first section chairmen were: carding, Marshall Dilling of Gastonia, N. C.; spinning, J. B. Harris of Greenwood, S. C.; weaving, A. T. 9uantz of Rock Hill, S. C.; cloth room and finishing, Harry Stephenson of Greenville; and power, S. B. Rhea of Greenville.
The third Southern Textile Exposition had been scheduled for the fall of 1918, but war conditions had made this impossible. As soon as the Armistice was signed, "an unprecedented demand came from all parts of the country" for the greatest possible speed in arranging the next show. This was held May 5-10, 1919 for mills hungry for new machinery.
In the North, the unions were gaining strength, seeking shorter hours, restricted job assignments, and more pay. Despite all this, the mills were humming to fill the pent-up needs of the United States, of Europe and of Latin America. The export trade had never been better.
The war had slowed the pace of immigration, and population growth during the decade was a bare 15%, to 106 million at the 1920 census. The wartime Army had improved the diet and health habits of millions of men. By 1920, the life expectancy for them had risen from l910's 48 years to 53 years, though the 'flu [influenza), pneumonia and heart/kidney disease remained the principal causes of death. Folks still shuddered at the memory of the 1918 worldwide 'flu epidemic which killed many more than fell to shot and shell.