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Milliken & Company

By Yancey S. Gilkerson

MillikenandCo.Seth M. Milliken was 20 years old when he opened a country store in Minot, Me. Five years later, he moved to Portland to go into business with his brother-in-law, and four years after that, when he was 29, he and William Deering started a general store under the name Deering Milliken. The firm soon became sales agent for Earnsworth Mill of Lisbon Center, Me.Fire destroyed the store. While it was being rebuilt in 1869, Milliken found himself saddled with a big inventory of potatoes, a surplus product in the potato state. He loaded a ship with the bags of potatoes and set out for Boston, to find prices there too low. On to New York, a good market and a decision to move to New York where, within a few years, he was selling the production of five woolen mills in addition to that of Farnsworth. The number of mills represented grew to 16 before 1900.William Deering, who had moved to New York with Milliken, soon resigned from the company, moved to Chicago, and began manufacturing a harvester; his company later became part of International Harvester.Milliken soon expanded from woolens into cotton, becoming selling agent in 1884 for Pacolet Manufacturing Company near Spartanburg, S.C. Other mills were added to the list of clients and Milliken assisted in financing others being organized in the South. He acquired an interest in more than 40 mills.Seth Milliken was succeeded by his son, Gerrish, who guided the firm during the World War I years when he also directed the textile industrys wartime effort. He was a leader in the introduction of rayon fabrics in the early years of that fiber.In the 1930s, many of the mills represented by Deering Milliken went broke, heavily in debt to their selling agent. The firm became majority stockholder in many of them.In 1944, the firm helped the Army meet a critical need for tire cord, constructing the firzst textile plant designed to process the new man-made fibersa one story, air-conditioned building without windows on the Seneca River across from Clemson College.In 1945, the Deering Milliken Research Trust was organized by DM, and the mills it represented starting work in a house near the tire cord plant with six employees and a spinning lab in the kitchen. The project was to grow into the giant complex off Interstate 85 at Spartanburg.Geerrish Milliken died in 1947, to be succeeded by his son, Roger Milliken, one of the most forceful personalities in the history of U.S. industry. He concentrated on manufacturing, moved to Spartanburg and began the consolidation of the Milliken Mills. These were approximately 35 separate companies, many with outside shareholders.By 1960, Roger Milliken had consolidated them into a single corporation, had built new plants and was on of the Big Three of textiles. In 1963, he bought Amerotron Co., the textile division of Textron, Inc., seven more mills for his group.In 1976, after 111 years of growth, Deering Milliken officially became Milliken and Co., producing textiles, chemicals and packaging. Sales figures are not released but have been estimated to be in the $2 billion range.The firm operates two plants in North Carolina, 29 in South Carolina, and 16 in Georgia, not counting support facilities such as Milliken Research Corp., the Management Information Center or the Customer Center.Milliken has been marketing oriented since the days of the Portland potato sale. For many years, t he Milliken Breakfast Show introduced fabrics to retail merchandisers in New York, giving way more recently to television and print advertising, both to consumers and the trade.Roger Milliken has a rare mystique. Business Week magazine said of him in a 1981 article: He wields an influence in textiles that is probably unparalleled by an individual in any other industry.He is said to pay infinite attention to detail, and to work as hard as any of the thousands of associates, as Milliken employees are called.His penchant for personally examining new machinery is notorious in the industry, and he is said to have stood for hours watching a multi-shed loom until he understood the mechanisms.The Milliken training program, which recruits top college talent, is regarded in the industry as one of the better business schools; since not all who enter can win their way to the Milliken top ranks, many are lured to other textile firms, to banking and other lines of business.The Greenville-Spartanburg Airport is a monument to his acting on observed need. He and the late Charles E. Daniel led the airport to completion in 1962, and he continues as airport commission chairman, overseeing a new expansion program.A principal interest of his continues to be the legislative fight against imports, and the Crafted With Pride in U.S.A. movement.