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Mills Proliferate, Proifts Grow - Until 1908 Panic


As the 20th century came to life, the American Wool and Cotton Reporter published a "Greater America' number, citing accomplishments of the past and promising those of the future.

The year 1899 had been good for the textile mills: Many had increased their semi-annual dividends, and 1899 had been the most profitable ever for the wool trade of the U. S. Newsletters from London, Yorkshire, and Germany echoed the good feeling. To substantiate his optimism, Editor Bennett ran column upon column of reports on the industry's expansion:

  • Columbus (Ga.) Cotton Manufacturing Co. will be doubled in size,
  • Excelsior Knitting Mills of Union, S. C., is receiving new machinery,
  • Linden Mill of Davidson, N. C., declared a 4% dividend and will add 2,000 spindles,
  • Cora Mill of Kings Mountain, N. C., has completed organization.

Early Labor Unrest
There was a foreboding note, however: "The weavers of Fall River, Mass., tender their sympathy and support to the striking weavers of Lonsdale, R. I."

Around the globe, nations and industries were expanding at tremendous rate, but at the same time, tribal lands were becoming colonies or reservations, smaller nations were becoming protectorates, while anarchists and socialists competed for the minds of dissatisfied, impoverished workers.

President William McKinley was fatally shot by one of these anarchists in 1901, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office, to the horror of Ohio Senator Mark Hanna who exclaimed, "Now, look, that damned cowboy is President of the United
States. "

Roosevelt — athlete, rancher, soldier, author, explorer—was the most flamboyant U.S. president of the 20th century to date. He personified "Manifest Destiny," and was determined that the United States should take its proper place in the world, that place being first.

He painted the Navy's grey battleships white, and sent the Great White Fleet around the world in 1908 to show the flag. He engineered a "revolution" that separated the province of Panama from the Republic of Colombia, and he began construction of the Panama Canal, a project the French had abandoned earlier because of mosquitoes, malaria, and yellow fever.

Teddy Battles Bennett
And, he tangled with Frank Bennett, who, soon after founding The Reporter, had set up a branch office in Salt Lake City, had been elected president of the National Wool Growers Association and was also publishing The National Livestock Bulletin. The essence of the quarrel: cattle ranchers claimed sheep were overgrazing and ruining the public range in the West. President Roosevelt, a longtime cattleman, sided with the ranchers. Bennett, in colorfully worded editorials, declared the federal government had no business discriminating against sheep in favor of cattle. The President could not persuade Bennett to shut up, but he did have influence with the Post Office Dept., which denied second-class mailing privileges to The National Livestock Bulletin.

Nevertheless, those opening years of the 20th century were good years. You could buy a shirt for 23 cents; a suit for $10.65 and a felt that for S9 cents; eat corned beef at 8 cents a pound; and quaf bourbon at $3.20 for four quarts.

The country's population was growing at a rate of 26%, and would reach 92 million by 1910. Men could puff out their chests as Senator Chauncey Depew orated: "There is not a man here who does not feel 400% bigger intellectually. bigger hopefully, bigger patriotically-, bigger in the breast from the fact that he is a citizen of a country that has become a world power for peace, for civilization and for the expansion of its industries and the products of its labor."

In the fall of 1902, the anthracite coal miners went on strike, threatening a calamity in those days before oil, gas or electric heating. The price of what coal was available shot from $5 a ton to $20. Plants began to close. Roosevelt, outraged, threatened to work the mines with federal troops unless the two sides agreed to meet. When mine owners refused to sit down with a union chief notorious for socialist leanings, Roosevelt persuaded them to accept the union man under the spurious title of "eminent sociologist”.

Irrigation's Importance
The seeds of great change are often little noticed at first.

On June 17, 1902, the New Lands Act provided for the irrigation of the new lands in the West, leading in generations to come to developments in agriculture that changed the eating habits of the nation and transferred King Cotton's crown from the South to the West.

Almost ignored by the press at the time, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four powered flights at Kitty Hawk, N. C., on December 17, 1903, the longest was 59 seconds at 30 miles per hour. The air age had dawned, and with it a new market for textiles; for several decades to come, airframes would be covered by fabric.

Cotton growers and mill buyers were in sharp conflict early in 1905 as price of the fiber slumped to a new low, 6.35 cents. The Reporter noted: "Giving vent to the feeling of righteous indignation engendered by the slump in quotations for cotton, Southern farmers have been making bonfires of this staple of commerce."

The New England mill owners reacted with equal indignation to the bale burning, and at meetings in the spring, denounced the action as "conspiracy to defraud" and called for federal action.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the devastating fire that followed and the Californians' determination to rebuild their city, attracted the intense interest and admiration of the country, but drew heavily on the reserves of insurance companies. This, and other factors, resulted in a growing shortage of currency.

The Panic of 1907
By September, 1907, the Union Pacific railroad found takers for only $4 million of a $75 million bond issue. Banks began to fail. By October, there were runs on even the largest of New York banks. There was a despair not known now. PANIC set in. Without currency, family and commercial life could be sustained only by barter, scrip issued by stores and some factories, or the scant credit available. The towering financial figure of the day was J. Pierpont Morgan (the one who said: "If you have to ask what a yacht costs, you can't afford one!"). With the knowledge and approval of President Roosevelt, Morgan herded the great bankers of the day into his mansion and locked them up until a plan was evolved to restore confidence. Morgan was the hero of the day. Optimism flourished again.

The well being of the United States was more than matched by that of the British Empire, whose citizens and subjects mourned the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Her reign of 64 years had seen tremendous industrial expansion and increasing material prosperity. The population of the United Kingdom had grown from 16 million in 1831 to 37.5 million in 1901, and the inhabitants of the Empire were numbered in the hundreds of millions.

The industrial achievements of Britain were being challenged ever more vigorously by Germany. There, Kaiser Wilhelm sought to build a navy that could match Britain's on the high seas. Militarism was rampant in Germany; the General Staff was already planning the encircling maneuvers that were expected to bring France to her knees and achieve Teutonic supremacy on the continent.

In Africa, Britain, France and Germany skirmished among themselves and with the natives, whose lives they controlled. The Ottoman Empire, theoretically stretching from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf, was attempting futilely to deal with revolt in its possessions in the Balkans.

In the Far East, the Boxers rebelled against foreign domination of the Chinese land, massacring many European and American missionaries in the process. The Americans and Europeans, joined by Japan, sent a punitive expedition which quickly brought the Boxers under control and elicited new concessions from the Manchu regime.

Japan, covetous of land on the continent, made a surprise attack on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur, then humiliated the Czar's forces on land and sea in a 1904-05 war. The Japanese later annexed Korea and began planning the acquisition of Manchuria.

The Russian Empire, as aggressive as any on the globe, was generally considered to have provoked the Japanese by construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad and the occupation of Manchuria after the Boxers were punished. The defeat by the Japanese totally discredited the Russian government and pressure for reform increased, leading to a march on the palace of the Autocrat of All the Russias January 22, 1905 when troops fired on the procession. The "revolution" that followed was put down, but Lenin and his cohorts in Russia and abroad worked toward the real revolution that would follow in 1917.

Decade Of Great Inventions
Wars and politics make headlines: the more important developments, those that change the way people live, are often neglected.

Those early years of the 20th century are notable for the inventions they produced:

  • Jacques Edwin Brandenburger invented cellophane in 1900; a dramatic change in packaging was to follow.
  • Marconi used his wireless telegraphy to transmit messages across the Atlantic in 1901, another milestone in man’s ability to communicate with man.
  • Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity in 1905; physics was transformed.
  • Lee de Forest in 1907 invented the triode vacuum tube, essential to the development of radio.
  • Lee H. Baekeland invented Bakelite in 1909; plastics took little steps toward a giant future.
  • The first motion picture newsreels were shown in 1909; kings and presidents became living, moving figures not name, and distant sports came alive for fans.

The most far reaching development came at the end of October, 1908, when the first public advertisements for Henry Ford’s Model T appeared. Within a year, more than 10,000 cars had been sold, a 60% increase over Ford’s business for the previous year. The first Model T’s were not cheap: $825 at a time when the average yearly wage for a factory worker was $651, and teachers received an average $518 for their annual stint. The price cuts that were later to provide mobility for millions and change American life came with increased production, dropping to $345 in 1916.

But even by 1910, automobiles were few and new to the American scene. In New York, they were required to clang a gong at intervals and keep speed to a steaming 9 miles per hour.

Tires cost $40 then. The 1910 census listed 1,000 tractors, no trucks and only 50,000 autos.

Fashions A La Auto Craze
Frank Bennett had editorialized in 1905, in an issue of the American Wool and Cotton Reporter designated the haberdashery number: "The question is coming up frequently now in regard to the possible effect which the sport of motoring will have on man's apparel —- leather garments for winter, linen dusters for summer.

"While he wears a leather cap when in his car, he cannot get along without a derby and probably a silk hat as well as some caps."

By 1920, the census would list 2,146,000 automobiles, 139,000 trucks and 246,000 tractors.

The auto age also would be a factor in changing women's fashions, but in the early 1900's, the ladies were a boon to textile manufacturers, swathed in layer upon layer of cloth: chemise, drawers, corset, corset cover, at least one petticoat (one lady recalls "seven petticoats on Sunday") under a two-piece dress whose skirt swept the ground. Comfort was not the object, nor was it for men who wore three piece suits of 16-ounce goods winter and summer. The city folk dressed well, a fact astounding to travel writers from abroad.

One of these commented: "Some elegant Wall Street bankers are marked by special clothes of English cut. But with that exception, no European would be able to pick out by eye who there represents the infinite variety of professions, trades, states, fortune, culture, education that may be encountered among the whole people."

Building Boom
Construction of mills to make the goods for these citizens and the millions of immigrants continued at a great pace. By the time of the 1910 census, the industry had grown to 33,998,648 spindles:

  • 28,178,802 cotton
  • 1,732,806 worsted
  • 2,156,849 woolen
  • 1,767,962 silk
  • 142,169 flax, hemp, jute, etc.

China Big Importer
A substantial percentage of production went to the China trade; in those days, mills exported to China, not yet having to compete with the mills that British and American interests were building in the International Settlement of Shanghai. The Reporter commented in July, 1905, that "the prosperity of the Southern cotton mills is due to the Chinese trade."

The Reporter noted that textile machinery shipments from Great Britain to the United States were up 50%, reflecting both the growth in U.S. mills and in mills manufacturing for export.

Immigrants & Unions
The growth of towns and cities in the North, many largely peopled by recent immigrants, underscored what the English economist David Ricardo had called "the iron law of wages": that all wages tend to fall to the level which the most unskilled or most desperate man will accept. This was long before minimum wage/maximum hours laws. In short, many owners tended to cut pay whenever they could get away with it. In the South, farms lay just outside mill villages and workers in that region were not as bound to the job as were Northern workers; indeed, many Southern workers were termed "nomads," farming a season, then working in the mill for cash money.

Many of the immigrants in the North came from countries where socialism was a burning issue, where memories of the Paris Commune were fresh, where socialists and union organizers were hunted by imperial police. In the freedom of the United States, they could listen to the organizers and social reformers who played on both their fears and hopes. Unions, however, were of little account in those days; total trade union membership in 1900 was 868,500, the American Federation of Labor's craft unions claiming 548,321 of those. But, the agitations could cause problems.

One group, without question led by revolutionaries, wanted "one big union" of all workers, regardless of craft or industry. This was the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, called by some the Wobblies, and by mill owners the "I Won't Works". They organized formally in 1905, and fomented the bitter strikes in Lawrence, Mass. and Patterson, N. J. in 1912- 13, of which more later.

The IWW aimed to overthrow the capitalist system and establish a socialist government in the U. S. They denounced collective bargaining and contracts, and used sabotage, slow downs and sudden strikes to harass factory owners. The IWW split into two factions in 1908, one led by the milder socialists, the other by anarchists.

Union Fright
Such activities were a factor in prompting many Northern textile interests to transfer operations to the South where there had been relatively little immigration and whose population was basically conservative.

The mills they built had been freed from the riverbank by the humidifier, by steam power, and by the emerging use of electric motors. Large level spaces were not readily available in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, so multi-story mills fitted to the topography of the "mill hill- were commonplace.

A. D. Asbury recalled that "daylight'' mills were built with wide and high windows, resulting in walls 75 to 80% glass, with the alleys between machines running perpendicular to the windows. Also, built to take advantage of sunlight were mills with sawtooth roofs, sky-lighted, great for daytime operation, but difficult to convert in later years when air-conditioning came along.

Yankee Ingenuity: Domestic Machinery
New England and the Philadelphia area had developed healthy manufacturers of textile machinery and accessories with many representatives in the South—in Atlanta, Charlotte, and in Greenville which by 1910 was claiming to be the "Textile Center of the South." The machinery workers held frequent exhibitions in Mechanics Hall in Boston. The Draper Model A loom with Northrop filling battery was a major attraction at these shows. Draper sold more than 234,000 of them between 1900 and 1914, 65% to Southern mills.

"Automatic chains" (crude tenter frames) were being introduced. Powered by steam, they processed goods at 40 yards per minute, considered quite an accomplishment.

Rubber and bronze covered rolls for finishing machinery were just coming into use. Most machines still were equipped with maple rolls.

Dyehouse technicians in those times were dealing more and more with new formulations, and especially with the coal tar derivatives widely promoted by German chemical firms. The first direct cotton dye, Congo Red, was developed in 1884. Para Red, the first important azoic dye, was first used in 1889. The first "developed" direct dye, Primuline, was patented in 1887. The first synthetic indigo was available in 1880, but dyers still preferred the real indigo, developed in prehistoric times. Of the fast vat colors, Indanthrene Blue was first used in 1902. The first carbazol vat dye was Hydron Blue, developed in 1909.

Although electric motors had been introduced in the mill in 1893, many conservative mill operators hesitated to trust the new power source, especially those mills in the North. The new power was catching on in the South, where public utilities were making electricity more available. The General Electric Company proudly advertised in 1905 that it had 90,000 horsepower in place or under contract in textile mills.

The usual practice of the times was to install very large motors on the floor of a spinning room or weave shed, or in the beltways, then to mount smaller motors on ceilings. Stuart W. Cramer, a notable mill engineer of the time, used a four-frame drive and a 550-volt system in the May Mill spinning room in 1908. As early as 1908, members of the Southern Textile Association were discussing the pros and cons of individual frame drives, and variable speed motors were being talked about soon thereafter. The pace of modernization was quickening.

Rayon: Cotton's Rival
As related earlier, viscose had been developed in the 1890's in England. In 1905, the English firm of Courtaulds bought the patent and built the first plant for development and production of the "artificial silk." In 1910, Courtaulds established a U. S. subsidiary, American Viscose Company, in a new modem plant at Marcus Hook, Pa. Cotton now had a rival whose importance would grow by the year.

About this time, David Clark, another noted forefather of America's Textiles International, was becoming active in national affairs. At a May 13, 1903 meeting, Clark, then secretary-treasurer of Ada Cotton Mills, successfully moved that the name of the Southern Cotton Spinners Association be changed to the American Cotton Manufacturers Association, forerunner of today's American Textile Manufacturers Institute, Inc.

In January, 1907, Clark, along with Alf A. Thompson, president of Caraleigh Mills of Raleigh, N. C., and D. Y. Cooper, president of Henderson Cotton Mills, appeared before the Labor Committee of the North Carolina legislature to advocate enactment of a child labor; law. The legislators gave them a respectful hearing, but decided child labor could not be regulated without a compulsory education law, which the state could not then finance. Both laws were later enacted.

In the "great panic" later that year, Clark solicited and received curtailment pledges representing 10 million spindles. For this help to an industry in distress, he was hounded by federal prosecutors for conspiracy in restraint of trade. His own mill failed in the panic.

Overseers' Union Headed Off
The next year, 1908, when Clark was editor of Textile Manufacturer, he and G'. S. Escott, editor of Mill News, helped in the organization of the Southern Textile Association which grew out of the Spray, N. C. Textile Overseers Association. There was good reason to suspect that one or more of the Spray leaders intended to turn the organization into an overseers union, but Clark headed off any such outcome by drafting language that the association of overseers AND superintendents would have as its purpose: "the education and development of the practical men in Southern mills." The STA always remained dear to David Clark's heart. He and his associates were well aware of the problems caused by labor unrest in New England and worked in positive leadership fashion to prevent such problems in the South. They were not wholly successful.

First Major Strike
In 1904, when Fall River, Mass., mills reduced the workweek, they also reduced pay. Workers refused the pay that was offered and walked out. Management locked the doors and for six months 85 mills were shut down. There were 30,000 unemployed, and, for a time, the railroad was unable to provide enough passenger cars to carry the jobless away.

Frank Bennett toured the mills after they re-opened and concluded that the only losers in the strike had been the workers and the storekeepers of Fall River, that the mills themselves had emerged better off financially than if they had kept running.

He also concluded: "A mill full of even tempered help will show 25% greater production and an even greater percentage of perfect goods than one with dissatisfied, nervous operatives laboring under the impression that they are suffering wrongs or being imposed upon by the overseer."