Cannon Mills

Kannapolis, NC



Modern logo 2008 from Fieldcrest web site


Logo 1918

James W. Cannon 1852­-1921 and Charles A. Cannon 1892-­1971 were a father and son team who wrote the history of towel production in North Carolina. James W. was born in Mecklenburg County North Carolina to a family of farmers and planters. He was educated in private school but withdrew in1866 at age 14 to begin work in a store in Charlotte. In 1868, he joined Cannon, Fetzer and Wadsworth, a mercantile company in Concord just a few miles north of Charlotte, where his brother was a partner. By age 21, James earned his way into a partnership and acted in various capacities including cotton buyer. He was elected a director of the Odell Manufacturing Co. in Concord in 1886. In 1887, he became interested in textile manufacturing and left his brother’s firm to build a mill for spinning coarse cotton yarn, Concord Manufacturing Co. This led to the formation of other mills: Cabarrus Cotton Mills founded at Concord, N.C., by J. W. Cannon and others; Patterson Manufacturing Co. founded at China Grove, Rowan Co., N.C., by J. Frank Patterson, J. W. Cannon, and others; Kesler Manufacturing Co. founded at Salisbury, N.C.


A postcard of the Salisbury Cotton Mill Courtesy of Bill Wornall Textile Postcard Collection





Kesler Manufacturing Co., Salisbury, NC, built 1895. Later became Cannon Mill # Closed August 2000.  Source: Rowan County Public Library




The expansion was due in part to the manufacture of something a little different. That product was termed “Cannon Cloth”, a coarse cloth suitable for wiping. Meanwhile, in 1892, a son, Charles Albert Cannon, was born.

In the mid­1890s, James W. Cannon decided to manufacture cotton towels. In 1898, his mill produced the first towel finished in the South. Other mills followed over the next ten years:

1898 Wiscassett Mills Company founded at Albemarle, Stanly County, N.C., by J. W. Cannon and D. F. Cannon.

1899 Windemere Knitting Mills established at Albemarle, Stanly County, N.C.

1899 Gibson Manufacturing Co. founded at Concord, N.C., by the Cannons and others.

1903 Bloomfield Manufacturing Co. founded in 1903 at Statesville, N.C.

1903 Windemere Knitting Mills became part of Wiscassett Mills Co.

1906 Franklin Cotton Mills established at Concord, N.C., by members of the Cannon family.

1907 Barringer Manufacturing Company founded.

About 1906, Cannon decided to build a mill and a town devoted exclusively to the manufacture of towels. He named it Kannapolis after the Greek root, namely, city or place of Cannon. Kannapolis developed into the largest unincorporated town in the world. Cannon built houses, schools, churches – everything needed for a town. When the mill opened in 1908, it could produce more towels than any group of mills. In addition to being a towel city, Cannon had done enough for his employees that Kannapolis was recognized as a model city.

The Cannon Mill manufactured a variety of cotton cloth into muslin and percale sheets and pillowcases, tire fabrics, and women’s hosiery. Additional mills were opened and acquired:

1909 Imperial Cotton Mills founded at Eatonton, Georgia, by J. W. Cannon.

1911 Buck Creek Cotton Mills founded at Siluria, Ala. 1913 York Cotton Mills, York, S.C., purchased.

1915 Norcott Mills Co. established at Concord, N.C., with the Cannons and the Southern Power Co. among the early stockholders.

ca. 1915 Social Circle Cotton Mill Co., Walton County, Georgia, acquired by the Cannons.

1921 J. W. Cannon died. Son Charles Albert Cannon became company president. At this time, there were 12 mills that employed 15,000 workers with a sales of $40,000 000 per year. In Kannapolis, more than 300,000 towels were produced each day.

Charles did not stop and rest on his father’s laurels. Further expansion was required to keep up with the growing prosperity of the Roaring Twenties. More mills and acquisitions:

1923 Hobarton Manufacturing Co. founded at Concord, N.C., by Charles A. Cannon and others.

1923 Swink Manufacturing Co., Rowan Co., N.C., incorporated.

Consolidation was needed in order to bring order to the far­flung empire.  In 1928, Cannon Mills was formed from consolidation of Cannon Manufacturing Co., Cabarrus Cotton Mills, Barringer Manufacturing Co., Franklin Cotton Mills, Gibson Manufacturing Co., Kesler Manufacturing Co., Patterson Manufacturing Co., Norcott Mills, and Hobarton Manufacturing Co.

In approximately 1928, Bloomfield Manufacturing Co., Statesville, N.C., was acquired by Cannon Mills. Swink Manufacturing Company was dissolved in 1931 and assets taken over by Cannon and Swink. 1935 Issaqueena Mill, Central, S.C., purchased and became Central Mills. 1935 Bloomfield Manufacturing Co. sold to J. W. Abernethy.



Life Magazine 1933









Life Magazine 1935









Life Magazine 1943






Ads courtesy TJS­Labs



Another view of the mill and sign. Courtesy of Bill Wornall Textile
Postcard Collection




A view of the Cannon Main office in Kannapolis with plant in the background. Note the large sign with the Cannon logo and “Largest Manufacturer of Towels in the World” ca. 1940.  Source: UNC Postcard Archives




“To Hell with Hitler Towel” 36 x24 inches.  Cannon emblem woven in body by Jacquard and name tag attached Courtesy Barbara Vater





Cannon Percale Sheets and How to care for them in War Time.  Life Magazine 1943. Courtesy TJS­Labs








ca. 1944­ – 1945 Plant at York, S.C., combined with Central Mills.

1947 Brown­Roberta Foundation established at Concord, N.C.

1949 Travora Textiles at Graham and Haw River, N.C., incorporated.

1956 Brown Manufacturing Co., Concord, N.C., acquired by Cannon Mills.

1956 Roberta Manufacturing Co., Cabarrus County, N.C., acquired.

1957 Central Mills closed.

1967 Travora Textiles at Graham and Haw River, N.C., liquidated.

ca. 1970 – ­1971Brown Manufacturing Co., Concord, N.C., closed.


The end of the golden era of Cannon control came in 1971 when Charles Albert Cannon died.


Charles A. Cannon 1895-­1971






Royal Family towels information sheet ca. 1960.  Courtesy Ann Dingee












1971 Don S. Holt became president.

1974 Harold P. Hornaday became president.

1976 Imperial Cotton Mills at Eatonton, Georgia closed.

1978 Roberta Manufacturing Co. liquidated.

1979 Otto G. Stolz became president.

1982 David H. Murdock, purchased Cannon Mills.

1983 Social Circle Cotton Mill Co., Walton County, Georgia, liquidated.

1985­-1986 Fieldcrest, Inc. purchased bath and bedding operations of Cannon Mills, and Fieldcrest­Cannon was established.








Aerial views of Kannapolis ­ City of Looms. Note the pond on the right above. Courtesy of Bill Wornall





Office in summer 2005 shortly before demolition to make way for the North Carolina Research Campus. Source: Wikipedia





  2. Ingham, John N.,1983, Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders, Greenwood Press.
  3. Biography of Charles Cannon.1892-1971
  5. Kesler Cotton Mill Salisbury, NC 1895 – 2003 became part of Cannon then Pillowtex
  6. Cannon Mills from Wikipedia
  7. Color Postcard of Cannon Plant – UNC