As the Nazi divebombers and tanks crushed Poland, an avalanche of orders descended on U. S. mills.
Approximately a billion yards were sold in a week; the 39-inch, 80-square, 4.00 print cloth went
from 6.25 cents on September 1, to 7.125 cents in less than two weeks. The British textile
machinery exhibition was postponed, a disappointment to mill executives who were heeding The
Reporter's advice that: "Cash in the bank, even the big cash balances of the largest and richest
business concerns, earn little or no interest. Investments generally, listed shares and bonds,
return scant earnings. Good mills are borrowing money at one per cent or even less, and one and a
half per cent on current borrowings is a high rate of discount. But money invested in machinery
yields 25 per cent, or 50 per cent or 100 per cent."
About the same time, Dr. William P. Jacobs, executive v. p. of the Cotton Manufacturers Assn. of South Carolina, told members of the North Carolina Association that cotton textiles "are facing greater wars than that in Europe."
"Growing in intensity and danger," he said, are:
- The war of obsolescence and depreciation; those twin forces that have never lost a war.
- The war of high costs which build inevitable losses and too frequent liquidation.
- The war of foreign imports upon our domestic industries.
- The war of synthetic fibers and competitive fabrics upon cotton.
"We make the mistake of thinking that consumer demand is static, that it cannot be increased. With that incorrect premise, we draw the wickedly incorrect conclusion that the textile industry should have some kind of a so-called production control; we think that over-productive capacity is a definite fact and, with that inefficient reasoning as our premise, we conclude that the cure is in—and only in—curtailment. We have a negative attitude rather than a positive program.”
The mind-set against which Dr. Jacobs was speaking was widespread, a feeling of semi-despair, that there was little opportunity left, no new frontiers. Economists contended that the United States had a "mature economy,” no prospect of growth, and must adjust to "the facts."
A widely accepted prediction said the country's population would peak at 136 million,then decline to 126 million by 1980.
In fact, the population reached 151 million in the 1950 census, and 226,545,805 in the 1980 count.
War Brings Surge
Although many have contended that the country was making a strong comeback from the Depression before war broke out, there is no doubt whatsoever that the war did bring a surge of economic activity. The index of industrial production (1935-39 = 100) standing at 105 in August, 1939 zoomed to 125 in December, and unemployment fell to 10%.
After Poland's fall, the Germans and Russians divided that poor country, causing great mental anguish to the hordes of Communist sympathizers in the United States who had faithfully followed the party line—that the fascists were the ultimate enemy: they now saw their hallowed prophets dining with the enemy. Many who had swallowed the Russian-German non-aggression pact now fell away, but many remained faithfully red. It is difficult in these days to recapture the intensity of the political feelings of those days when "bore from within" was the red strategy, and Communists and their fellow travelers connived to gain control of student groups, unions and any organization of consequence.
John Brooks, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, recalled: "a friend of mine was working in a government agency in California in 1939 until one day he was abruptly fired after having expressed anti-Communist sentiments to his fellow employees."
The Reds would rally again when Hitler invaded Russia, and their influence and their espionage would be significant well into the 1950's, but meanwhile there was the "phony war" of inaction in Europe, the German armies quietly facing the French and British until the ferocious onslaught in 1940 that brought the fall of France in a matter of weeks, with Britain standing alone.
Then, the drumbeat of history: The Battle of Britain, Lend-Lease, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guadalcanal, North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, the Bulge, German surrender, "Golden Gate in Forty-Eight," Saipan, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Peace.
War Production Machine
Before peace, came five long years of production that would test men and machinery to the limit in supplying our allies and our own millions of servicemen. Early in the war, the mills lost the services of many of their junior executives, textile school graduates who held ROTC commissions.
In early 1940, before the full effects of the war demand were felt, editor Howard Bennett was asking: "Who Runs This Textile Industry? Our present policy on hours of operation, an attempt by law to prevent any productive worker from engaging in employment more than 40 hours a week, is based on the incorrect assumption that it is for the benefit of American mankind that two men shall be employed where only work enough for one man is present, Stated in that cold-blooded but factual way, the fallacy of a too-short working week is apparent."
Abandoned Mills Opened
From The Reporter's offices in Boston, the efforts of civic promoters to convert abandoned cotton mills to useful production was in constant evidence:
"The other day, we saw in one of the newspapers that the Everett Mills' property in Lawrence, Massachusetts, abandoned by the old cotton manufacturing corporation 10 or 12 years ago, is now well occupied by 60 different concerns who employ 4,000 operatives as against the 1,500 operatives that were employed by the Everett Mills when it was in its prime.
"We don't believe it. It's poppycock!"
Mills, North and South, were moving to two and three shift operation as new orders indicated the prospect of shortages if normal hours were followed. Of the 423 Massachusetts mills, 152 were running three shifts, and more were about to join them, but: “The one-time great old industrial state of Massachusetts often runs amuck, and right this minute continues to maintain the record for business perverseness. A few weeks ago in the State House in Massachusetts, a considerable gathering of textile mill owners urged Commissioner James T. Moriarty of the State Department of Labor and Industries to refrain from invoking regulations that would require them to eliminate operating on a third shift. They maintained it would mean the death of the Massachusetts textile industry at a time when it was enjoying the greatest spurt in a decade."
Tension with Japan was increasing in 1940, and there was much speculation in raw silk. The Japanese were raising prices, and indicating they could choke off supplies to U. S. mills whenever they chose to do so.
Nylon For Silk
But, to counteract this, The Reporter noted, 36 full-fashioned hosiery manufacturers had been licensed to use the new nylon, and Census Bureau figures just released indicated that silk was on the way out, the comparative figures on consumption of all fibers, in millions of pounds, being:
In 1900, only 155,000 pairs of silk stockings had been manufactured for a population of 75 million. Sales of nylon hose in 1949 totaled 543 million pairs.
"The president of the Susquehanna Silk Co. was talking about the practical demise of the silk weaving industry in the country, the business taken away by the developing rayon-weaving industry. And, amongst other things, he said that the original establishment of the silk-weaving business in this country at Paterson, N. J., was due to the fact that England was once a great silk weaver. They had a protective tariff that kept the French silk fabrics from flooding the British markets, and then England and France made a reciprocal trade treaty and the French silks came into England and drove the English manufacturers out of business. By that pact, the English silk weavers had no jobs and they came to this country looking for work. It happened that they located in Paterson, and, thereby, the American silk weaving industry was established.
"There is one explicit description of just exactly how our own reciprocal trade treaties will play havoc with our own business."
Woolens Move South
The silk industry was not the only one being displaced: much of the woolen industry was locating in the South.
Said the Reporter: “Three or four weeks ago, in behalf of the preparedness program now interesting Washington, four woolen and worsted manufacturers were invited to come to the capital to talk with the government officials at the Quartermaster Dept. These four great woolen and worsted manufacturers were: Moses Pendleton, president of the American Woolen Company; F. W. Hobbs' president of the Arlington Mills; Col. Charles F. H. Johnson, president of the Botany Worsted Mills: and Thurmond Chatham, president and driving force in the Chatham Manufacturing Co. of North Carolina—a very able, thoroughly established, large successful Southern woolen manufacturer. If anybody believes that woolen manufacturing is not becoming a great Southern industry, as opposed to the old Eastern location, let him consider Thurmond
Chatham; the Hutchesons of Peerless Woolen Mills, Rossville, Ga.; the plants of Uxbridge Worsted and Stillwater Worsted in the South and many others."
In the late summer of 1940, while Britain braced for an expected invasion, the Reporter commented "four successive weeks and not a bale shipped to Europe."
"Government buying was of minor importance in its effect on the operations and sales of the largest producer of woolen and worsted fabrics in the first six months of this year, but this company was awarded a little over $11 million of government contracts during the month of June, which will be reflected in the figures of the next six months. It is interesting that this June business is equal to nearly 40% of the total sales reported for the first half year.”
In an examination of trends, The Reporter found that the automobile industry used 400 million pounds/840,000 bales of cotton in 1940, 11% of the country's production. Depending on make and model, use per car ranged from 51.4 pounds to 80.9 pounds.
Mechanization of cotton farms was underway, but only Texas and Oklahoma had more than 20 tractors per 100 farms, and they had 22 per 100.
Air express was being widely used by the mills, with textiles accounting for 11% of all materials shipped by air express—fabrics, garments, machine parts, woolen samples and the like.
Style was dominant in the many new constructions being woven, “textiles are becoming more complicated. In former times, the wear you got out of the fabric was more important than the style. No more.”
Defense preparations were an increasingly important factor in textile mill operations. By the winter of 1940-41, there was already a shortage of civilian blankets. In the preceding August, the 24,730,894 cotton spindles in place had been running at 90.4% of capacity.
The Reporter expressed thorough approval of the Army's textile procurement compared to the performance of World War 1, commenting favorably on specifications, officers with technical training, efficient buying methods and severe inspections.
The editor felt less pleased with the overall defense effort: "Here is this great country of ours, all in a lather, spending billions of dollars in an effort to prepare, in the highest military sense, for any eventuality. And, we are surely making slow enough work of it, so slowly are we proceeding; so ineptly is the whole thing being handled that a very large proportion of the people of the country are worried to death.
"It is news to no one that if the affairs of any business concern were handled as are government affairs, including the preparedness' program, such a business would break down entirely and cease to exist. The whole thing would be remarkably interesting if it wasn't so terrible."
Editor Bennett was always looking ahead, anticipating problems and opportunities. The necessity for modernizing mills was always on his mind. A typical piece, at a time when textile machinery plants were pushed to supply parts, and were heavily engaged making machine guns and the like: "One of our best friends has just gone busted in the woolen business. This is a very able man; a competent manufacturer, a good fabricator,- a trained executive, and a good merchant, but he busted just the same.
"The primary difficulty was that he tried to prove that a superior ability could overcome the handicap of an old, old mill and obsolete equipment, and the old plant foundered him."
Technology Beats Foes
The U. S. economy thundered ahead during the war years, a mighty out-pouring of mine and mill, shipyard, and factory and aircraft plant, and a burst of technology that over-whelmed the Germans and Japanese, technology reaching a climax when nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer watched the atomic fireball rising at Los Alamos 3uly 16, 1945 and quoted the Hindu text: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Then came Hiroshima, Nagasaki and V-J Day.
The index of industrial production (1935-39= 100) reached 235 by 1944, and national income increased two and a half times. Despite wage and price controls, the wholesale commodity index rose from 78.6 in 1940 to 105.8 in 1945.
Remembering the lessons of the World War I bonus-seekers and the 1920-21 recession, the wartime Congress had enacted a G.I. Bill of Rights to dampen the impact of the millions returning to civilian life.
Editor Bennett snorted: "the trouble with the people is not that they know too much, but that they know too much that is not so!” He was referring to the widespread belief that the G.I. Bill promised veterans a stake with which to start their own businesses. They were promised education and job training allowances while they looked for jobs.
Jobs were easier to find than some things the veterans wanted most: rumors of white shirts at a store would start lines circling a block within minutes; used cars nearly ready for the junkyard sold for many times the price allowed by the Office of Price Administration; the control price evaded by bets on whether a bird resting on a telephone wire would stay there or fly away. Auto names long gone were still around: Nash, Hudson, Willys, Packard, Studebaker.
Many veterans and many businessmen waited for the shoe to drop—for the "inevitable” appearance of a postwar crash, such as had followed WWI.
Most men and industries went full steam ahead to exploit the new technology and opportunities, to relieve the pent-up demands of the long war years.
"There have been recent announcements about new yarns and new fabrics, particularly glass and aluminum and stainless steel.
"One refers to a new cloth made from aluminum, announced by Aluminum Company of America. The fabric is claimed to be supple enough to be satisfactory for dress and other garments, also curtains and draperies. It is made by laminating thin sheets of aluminum foil together with a plastic between.
"We do not know what the possibilities are for this material, but perhaps it has some of those claimed for it."
Mills Stick To Basics
The mills and the customers stuck to new, but less exotic fabrics, such as rayon, and cotton specialty fabrics.
By 1947, cotton was losing its biggest single market, tire cord, to rayon. Starting with a consumption of about two million pounds of filament yarns in 1922, the rayon industry had grown steadily until 70 million pounds were consumed in 1948. The price had gone from about $3 a pound in 1922 to about 70 cents in 1948 while rayon staple had dropped from 60 cents a pound in 1927 to the 30-40 cent range in 1948. Tire cord had consumed 365 million pounds of cotton in 1946, but only 240 million pounds in 1948. Rayon had taken the lead.
The laboratories of chemical companies were busy working with the polymers that would come to production in the late Forties and Fifties.
Hungry For Machines
The mills were hungry for new machines. The Reporter said: “The textile industry has always been replete in enthusiastic research. We will give some instances. The textile industry of the United States leads the world in automatic looms. No other country in the world approaches us in that matter. The Draper Corporation— its successor, The Draper Company, or the original George Draper and Sons, invented and perfected the first automatic loom and, today, the textile industries of the whole wide world appreciate and acknowledge the wonderful, low cost properties of the Draper loom and admire the cotton textile industry of the United States because of the accomplishments of that equipment.”
"The Crompton & Knowles W3 automatic magazine looms and the newest Sr (sic!) silk looms are similarly powerful and potent in the woolen and worsted and fancy rayon industries. No other textile country in the world approaches us on low cost, high quality, and high productive weaving. But, even after the Draper loom had become a fact, improvements and research on weaving did not cease. The Drapers themselves have maintained powerful interest and accomplishments in improving their looms and in weaving in general. The same thing for Crompton & Knowles. But, that isn't all of it. Other people have made efforts, as typified by the Stafford loom which was taken over by Draper, and the Hopedale loom with similar experience. And Crompton & Knowles took over the Crompton & Thayer Loom Works.
“And, still research and expenditure on weaving problems continue.”
Bennett compared the American situation with that of England: “Big men in the British textile industry assert that only 5% of the English cotton and rayon weaving is on automatic looms, as compared with 95% in this country, and that English weavers, because of custom, trade unionism and timid management, tend only four looms as compared to our, say, 60 looms.” (One weaver can tend as many as 100 1ooms today...Editor)
One notice in the Reporter of late 1945 can be seen now as that cloud on the horizon, no bigger than a man's hand, that foreshadows great change.
Said the Reporter: "The new, remarkable loom that is being talked about is a Swiss loom, shuttleless. We are told one or two large manufacturers, important loom purchasers, have asked Warner & Swasey of Cleveland, the great machine tool builders, to look into the loom.”
The Swiss loom builder was Sulzer. Warner & Swasey was to build a number of shuttleless weaving machines under license from Sulzer, but the real success of the Swiss machine came later with Sulzer-built machines.
1947 A Very Good Year
The year 1947 was a benchmark: Christian Dior's New Look for women meant millions of yards of fabric for the mills; the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by 23 countries; the Marshall Plan to provide billions of American dollars to rebuild Europe went into effect.
The next year was tumultuous: the Russians blockaded Berlin, and the U. S. countered with a dramatic airlift that said there would be no surrender in the Cold War. And there was the election, pitting Republican Thomas Dewey against a three-way split of the Democrats —Strom Thurmond leading the Dixiecrats, naïve Henry Wallace being led around by Reds thinly disguised as Progressives, and Give-'em- Hell Harry Truman, the incumbent who barely made it back to the White House to face grave problems in 1949—the final triumph of the Communists in China, and Russia s test of her own atomic bomb, obtained through wartime espionage.
There was some consolation for industrialists: The U. S. Supreme Court upheld North Carolina's right-to-work law and rejected union arguments that the ban on closed shops violated rights of union members. The North Carolina act made illegal any agreement under which union membership "is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment."
Burlington, Stevens, Milliken Expand
The era of the American Woolen Co. as the giant of the U. S. textile industry was waning in the postwar years as new giants arose: Burlington, continuing steady expansion under Spencer Love's guiding hand; J. P. Stevens & Company, Inc.; and Deering-Milliken.
The Stevens expansion took off in late summer of 1946 with the merger of J. P. Stevens & Company, Inc., selling agents in New York; Victor-Monaghan Co., Greenville, S. C. operating four mills; Dunean Mills, Greenville; Piedmont Manufacturing Co., Piedmont, S. C.; M. T. Stevens & Sons Co., operating nine woolen plants in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut; Republic Cotton Mills, Great Falls, S. C. with three plants; Aragon-Baldwin Mills, Whitmire, S.C., with two plants; Watts Mill, Laurens, S.C.; Wallace Manufacturing Co.. Jonesville, S. C. and Slater-Carter-Stevens, Inc. owning the entire capital stock of Slater Manufacturing Co. at Slater, S. C.; and Carter Fabrics Co. with plants at Greensboro, N. C. and in Virginia; Cleveland
Cloth Mills, Shelby, N.C., Ragan Spinning Co., Gastonia, N.C., Stanley Mills, Inc., Stanley, N.C., and R. Wolfenden & Sons in Attleboro, Mass. The new Stevens firm had 28 mills from which it grew.
And, woolen/worsted mills were springing up in the South in the postwar Forties.
• In Georgia at
Greensboro: Brook Mfg. Co.,
Dublin: DublinWoolenMill, a new Stevens plant,
Milledgeville: Milledgeville Mills, another Stevens project,
• In North Carolina at
Gastonia: Associated Spinners
Carboro: Carboro Woolen Mills, a unit of Pacific Mills,
Norwood: Collins & Aikman
Rockingham: Hannah Pickett Worsted Mills, a Stevens plant,
Stony Point: Killingly Worsted Mill,
Raleigh: Premier Worsted Mills,
Ramseur: Ramseur Worsted Mills, Inc.,
Lenoir: Spun Fibers, Inc.
Stanley: Stanley Mills, Inc., a Stevens plant,
Rutherfordton: Excelsior #3, a Milliken plant that switched to woolens postwar.
• In South Carolina at
Moncks Corner: Berkshire Woolen Co.,
Conestee: Blackinton Mills,
Leesville: Edenfield Mills,
Union: Excelsior #4 and Excelsior Mills, Milliken plants that switched to woolens postwar, Johnston: Johnston Mill, another Milliken plant
McCormick: McCormick Spinning Mill, another Milliken plant,
Laurens: Palmetto Spinning Corp.
• In Virginia at
Brookneal: Brookneal Mills,
Drake's Branch: Drake's Mill,
Halifax: Halifax Worsted Mills, all three units of Pacific Mills,
Strasburg: Melvyn Spinning Corp.
In 1949, Editor Bennett was predicting that textile machinery plants would follow the mills South: "We read it recently in The Reporter, that Dan River Mills has received its first eight combers from the new shop of Saco-Lowell at Sanford, N. C. It isn't assuming too much, nor is it visionary, to foresee a day in the not-too-distant future when Saco-Lowell and other textile machinery people producing along similar lines, chiefly cotton mill equipment, will be definitely located in the South. That is where the future business is for cotton machinery builders.”
Machines For Man-Made Fibers
The machinery was to be built not only for cotton, but for the new fibers and particularly the blends.
The mills had been learning for a decade how to run rayon blends. Now talk at STA meetings dwelt on speeds and settings for spinning staple nylon and for the nylon/cotton blends with which they were experimenting.
The National Retail Dry Goods Association was pleading with producers for nylon fabrics for home sewing, complaining that all the output of the mills was going to garment makers.
From 1905 to 1939, total consumption of fibers had been increasing at about the same rate as population growth, year after year averaging 41 pounds per capita. During the war, consumption jumped to 55 pounds per capita, but was down to 48 pounds in 1947.
Cotton had accounted for 61% of fiber use pre-war, but this percentage had dropped to 58% in 1947 while rayon's share, 6% pre-war, was up to 13%. Cotton had lost important markets (bags, towels, handkerchiefs, window shades) to rayon and paper as the quality of synthetics went up and the price came down.
The National Cotton Council stepped up its promotional activities, opening a New York office in 1950 and beefing up the already established Maid of Cotton program. A winter cotton breeding station was started in a semi- tropical area of Mexico where U.S. breeders could send fall-harvested seed for immediate planting and get seed back in time for spring planting in the U.S., thus speeding development of improved cotton qualities. Cotton Council International was organized in 1955 to promote U.S. cotton in Western Europe and Japan.
Technology Makes Mills Capital Intensive
Change was everywhere: fork lift trucks and overhead conveyor systems were replacing hand trucks and brute strength—a little old lady could punch buttons and guide a warp beam into place: instruments adapted from wartime use were replacing "by guess and By God."
A survey by the engineering consulting firm Ralph E. Loper Co. revealed that the cost of creating a job in a new cotton mill (buildings, inventory, machinery, raw materials, working capital) had gone from $4,402 in 1936 to 4;16,150in 1949.
The Cotton Textile Institute and the American Cotton Manufacturers Association merged to become the American Cotton Manufacturers Institute, Inc. with Ellison S. McKissick, president of Alice Manufacturing Co., Easley, S. C., as first president.
The villages that mills had built in startup years to provide housing for their workers were now being sold, mostly to their occupants, whose children, educationally handicapped in prewar years, were now graduating from colleges.
The textile shows had been cancelled during the war. The first post-war Southern Textile Exposition had been planned for 1946, but machinery builders were reluctant to stop production for a show, or to exhibit in a show they did not control. Despite this, the STE resumed in 1948 with auxiliary equipment the prime features, sometimes shown on a brand new machine from a non-participating machinery builder.
First Machinery Show In Atlantic City
Early in 1949, the National Association of Textile Machinery Manufacturers, predecessor of today's American Textile Machinery Association, announced plans for a May 8- 12 show in 1950 in Atlantic City. All available space had been taken, the sponsors said. The show was a tremendous success, bringing the industry up to date on machine technology.
Not everyone was in the mood for progress. The Reporter told indignantly of a big worsted mill in New England where walls and floors had been cut for installation of an automatic materials handling system. But, the union objected, staged a sit-down strike, and management caved in, leaving the new equipment in the mill yard.
A great change in American habits—almost as dramatic as the advent of the automobile was about to make its bow: television. As late as 1948, there were fewer than 20 television stations broadcasting to only 172,000 sets. In 1949-50, sets were being installed at a rate of 250,000 sets a month, a total of five million sets by the end of 1950. Many Americans spent more time "glued to the tube" than they spent working.