M. Lowenstein Companies
“Peak of Perfection” 1955
Lowenstein Logo 1983
The M. Lowenstein & Sons, a New York selling house at 8 Lispenard Street, began in 1889 in New York City as a small textile importing business. Morris Lowenstein and his sons Abram and Leon expanded the firm by providing cloth directly to small garment manufacturing firms and selling fabrics with slight flaws. Their slogan became “the right fabric, at the right price, at the right time.” The business grew and by the time young Leon was eighteen, the business moved to new quarters. They moved to larger quarters, which they quickly outgrew, so they rented the empty store next door. Leon’s father handed him a sledgehammer and told him to knock out the wall between the offices so they could enjoy the expansion. (1, 2)
Morris Lowenstein, Father and Founder, The Lowenstein Story (1)
Abram Lowenstein, son, (1)
Leon Lowenstein, son, Chairman 1936-1947(1)
Leon became a full partner after he turned twenty-one and had finished two years at City College. He worked hard and looked to save a penny whenever he could. Once, upon arriving in a new city on a sales call, he checked into a nice hotel. At the end of a rather discouraging day he had not found one new order. Finally, at the end of the day, he found a customer who would pay 6 ¾ cents per yard for his seven cent fabric. Leon took the order, and then checked into a cheaper hotel to offset the ¼ cent he had lost in closing the deal. The company passed the million dollar sales mark in 1909. Business continued to improve through the next few years. By 1983, some 65 years later, the company had twenty-five divisions as well as a number of affiliates and joint ventures. (1, 2)
The company was incorporated in 1918 with a net worth of $2.75 million. Abram became president from 1918-1936. Leon decided to join the army and went through officer’s training. The war ended before he could face combat that would have taken him to fight his native land. “It was just as well,” he said, “our family of emigrants had found fortune and friends in the United States, and it was his adopted country.”(1, 2)
During the 1920s, the firm decided to control product quality by vertical integration and building its own finishing plant in the south. In 1929, the Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Plant was built. Leon persuaded Archie O. Joslin, a lawyer by training and a textile finisher by avocation, then working at Imperial Printing and Finishing Co. in Providence to move south and join the new plant. The Rock Hill, SC location had water, electricity, efficient labor and the Southern Railway. They built a plant with 500 employees and soon expanded to 800 employees. Leon became Chairman 1936-1947. Rock Hill grew to become one of the largest finishing plants in the country with more than two million square feet. (1, 2)
In 1946, Leon Lowenstein expanded into the manufacturing of greige cloth by purchasing several well- established textile mills in the Southeast: Merrimack Manufacturing Mills in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Orr Mills in Anderson, South Carolina. Entwistle Manufacturing Co. in Rockingham, North Carolina was acquired and re-named Aleo Manufacturing (named for Abram and LEOn, sons of the founder). He added four merchandising subsidiaries; Classic Mills, Plisse Corp. of America, Lenworth Corp., and Wearever Fabrics Corp. to Aleo and operated these as a division. Joslin was president 1947-1953. During the 1950s, Lowenstein acquired further greige goods plants: Spofford Mills in Wilmington, North Carolina, Chiquola Mills in Honea Path, South Carolina and Covington Mills in Covington, Georgia. The firm installed Donald B. Tansill as President (1954-1964) and
Aleo, Rockingham, NC (9)
Wamsutta Knitting Mills, Morganton, NC (9)
Archie O. Joslin, President 1947-1953, (1), Left, and Donald B. Tansill, President 1954-1964, (1), Right.
broadened its product line through the purchase of Wamsutta Mills in New Bedford, Massachusetts with itsgarment, industrial fabrics, towels, and sheet lines and the Pacific Mills in Columbia and Lyman, South Carolina with their sheeting, industrial fabrics, and towel lines. The Wamsutta New Bedford mill was liquidated except for the well-known name. Equipment was moved south. Wamsutta I and II mills were constructed in Anderson, South Carolina. Both plants ran nearly half a million spindles and nearly 1,000 looms. Along with the Pacific mills came the venerable Olympia and Granby Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. In March 1955 the firm moved to 1430 Broadway from 37-45 Leonard Street. The House of Lowenstein had a grand new home on the Great White Way known to all as Broadway. (1, 2, 6)
In 1960, Lowenstein built the first fiberglass plant in Anderson with help of R. F. Clark and J. P. Schwebel.
Fiberglass weaving led to flame-proof drapery fabric and the base fabric for printed circuit boards. In 1981, Allied Corporation approached Lowenstein to try to buy this business. (5) Later, Clark-Schwebel would be one of the leading manufacturers of nylon air-bag fabric for the automotive business. (1, 7)
The corporation prospered during the 1960s and 1970s. A new 120,000 sq ft double knit complex was built in Swannanoa, NC in 1971 and a 78,000 sq ft bleachery for Rock Hill Printing. (10) Bust followed boom and the company retrenched during the 1980s by closing some mills, selling off certain product lines such as its urethane plant at Rock Hill, South Carolina and its children’s wear fabrics at Rockingham, North Carolina. Chairman and Chief executive officer (1964 – 1986), and nephew of Leon Lowenstein, Robert A. Bendheim went all out. The big turnaround came by bringing in strong management: Jules Lasnick, executive vice-president and head of the Apparel fabrics Group (from Milliken & Co. in 1978); C. Hunter Gallman, vice president of manufacturing (from J. P. Stevens); and William E. Frederick, vice president of the Home Products Group (from WestPoint Pepperell). By 1983, Textile World magazine named M Lowenstein their Model Mill. Nothing was spared to instill “Quality” in every phase of the operation. (3)
Left: Robert A. Bendheim, President and CEO 1964-1986, (3). Clockwise: Julius Lasnick, William E. Frederick, Bernard R. Rapoport, C. Hunter Gallman
The big turnaround, according to editor L. A. Christiansen writing for Textile World, were record earnings in 1981 that reached $17.4 million – up 257% over 1980. Even during a much more difficult economic climate in 1982, earning remained high ($15.5 million). Debt and cash on hand improved over $68 million from 1980 to 1982. No short term debt was incurred during that time. Inventories were reduced and the stock soared from 7 ½ a share in 1980 to almost 45 at press time for the magazine. How did it happen? Chairman Bendheim attributed the improvement to hands-on management. Good brand names also helped. Photos in the article featured Wamsutta/Pacific Women’s Wear spun blends and all-cotton fabrics and the Wamsutta luxury bed fashions. For children, there was a tie-in to Walt Disney characters with a photo of Mickey Mouse touting the three-piece twin set of sheets for the juvenile market. Clark-Schwebel fiber- glass reinforced fabrics were featured on a sailboat. How to maintain this success? Julius Lasnick executive vice president and President of the Apparel Fabrics division was quoted: “We must seek out improved products, higher-valued products. Carve out those selected areas where we can produce a product that delivers the return our board and stockholders are insisting we have.” That sums up a great business strategy. (3)
With such good products and strong financial position, several suitors came calling. In 1986, Springs Industries purchased M. Lowenstein and merged its operations with its own operations.
- The Lowenstein Story, M. Lowenstein & Co. 1955.
- Andrews, Mildred Gwin, The Men and the Mills – A History of the Southern Textile Industry. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987.
- Christiansen, L. A., “How M. Lowenstein Charted a Course for Higher Profits,” Textile World, June 1983.
- http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9407EEDB143BF93BA3575BC0A967948260 Clark Schwebel 1981
- http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,820362,00.html Lowenstein Wamsutta Mills 1954
- Adanur, Sabit. Wellington Sears Handbook of Industrial Textiles, p 504 1995.
- Robert A. Bendheim obituary, 2009. http://www.princeton.edu/bcf/about/bendheim-obit/
- The ESC Quarterly, Employment Security Commission, Raleigh, NC, Vol. 2-25 (1966-1969.
- Textile World, Aug and Dec 1971.