Milliken & Company
Seth Mellen Milliken (1836-1920), the founder of what would become in the late 20th century, the largest family-owned textile business in the world, was the son of a physician in New Hampshire. Young Seth set out to begin a new career, one based on merchandising, when he became a miller, a schoolteacher and a storekeeper. In 1861, at the age of 25, he moved about 30 miles from his home in Minot to Portland, ME and invested in a retail business with his brother-in-law, Dan True. In 1865, after the Civil War, he formed a partnership with William Deering to open a general store doing business as Deering and Milliken. Later, they became textile sales agents for the Farnsworth Mill of Lisbon Center, ME. When a fire destroyed the building occupied by Deering and Milliken and all their sales inventory except for potatoes, Milliken loaded the potatoes on board a ship and headed for Boston. In Boston, he found a saturated potato market and sailed on to New York where he sold potatoes with little trouble. Having no business to return to in Maine and finding a flourishing market in New York, the partners established their business in New York. 1,2
Shortly after arriving in New York, Deering had an idea to develop harvesting equipment and wished to leave for the mid west. He left for Chicago and set up the Deering Harvesting Machinery Company. Milliken so admired his friend that he kept the Deering name in his mercantile business for years. During the following years, Milliken bought accounts receivable of cash-short textile companies and continued to represent textile companies out of the New York office. Deering Harvesting later became International Harvester and is now Navistar. 1,5
In 1884, Captain John Montgomery of Spartanburg, SC organized Pacolet Manufacturing Company. Like many aspiring Southern entrepreneurs, Montgomery went to New York seeking backers to invest in the growing Southern textile industry. He met with Seth Milliken who put up $10,000 of the $100,000 capitalization “as a starter.” This was the beginning of a long and interesting association between the two men. It was Milliken’s first investment in a Southern mill. Walter Montgomery, grandson of the founder, in The Men and the Mills. 2
Other Southern mills’ products were later added to Milliken’s sales book, including the production of Spartan, Pacolet, Drayton and Whitney Mills. Spartan added mills including New Holland, and Gainesville, GA. 1,2
In 1916, his second son Gerrish Hill Milliken (1877 – 1947) joined the family business. He was reportedly an excellent tennis player, had studied at Yale, and more importantly, was an excellent businessman. Mills that flourished during World War I often had a difficult time making the adjustment to peacetime business in the early 1920s. He acquired the Judson Mill, Greenville, SC, noted for years as a very fine combed-yarn spinning and weaving mill. Gerrish was also not afraid to try new things. While another textile pioneer, Spencer Love, was busy trying rayon in Burlington, NC, Milliken also added the new silk-like fiber to the mix at Judson and Abbeville. 1
For those who survived the post-war transition and subsequent growth in the 1920s, the 1930s were trying times for many mills as the Great Depression squeezed profits. Mills, who relied on bankers in New York for financing, often lost their mills when sales did not earn enough to service the debt. Gerrish Milliken’s main line for representation was woolen and worsteds, manufactured chiefly in New England. He continued to represent Southern mills as well and financed a few through the “factoring” business. Reportedly, the combination of Montgomery and Milliken controlled more textile mills in the South Carolina “Upcountry” than anyone else. When mills failed to repay debts, factors became the new owners. Pacolet Mills, Pacolet, SC, the first mill organized by John Montgomery and financed by Seth Milliken became partially owned by Deering Milliken in the 1930s and 1940s, as did Drayton, Lockhart and Gaffney Manufacturing. Pacolet was totally consolidated into the Milliken business in 1967. Drayton Mills, Spartanburg, SC, organized by Montgomery and others in 1902, was sold to Deering Milliken in 1937. The Montgomery family kept Spartan, Beaumont and Startex. Other mills joined the business: Red Springs Woolen Mill, Red Springs, NC; Hatch Woolen Mill, Columbus, NC; Darlington Manufacturing Co., Darlington, SC; Hartsville, SC; Ottaray Mill, Union, SC; Excelsior Union, Union, SC; McCormick Woolen Mill, McCormick, SC; and Johnston, Johnston, SC; Abbeville, Abbeville, SC; Rutherfordton Woolen, Rutherfordton, NC. 1, 2
During World War II, textile mills that sold through Deering Milliken produced a wide range of yarns and fabrics. One important need for the war effort was tire cord. The War Production Board issued a Certificate of Necessity in 1944 for Deering Milliken to manufacture nylon tire cord. Accordingly, a totally new facility was designed and built for one purpose – to manufacture tire cord as efficiently as possible. The Excelsior Tire Cord Plant (later renamed the DeFore Plant in honor of Ernest DeFore, long time manager of the plant) was built on the Seneca River across from Clemson College, Clemson, SC. It was a one-story building arranged to facilitate the flow of raw material through all stages of manufacture and delivery to the shipping dock. It was the first textile mill built without windows and with complete air cleaning and cooling systems. The mill set a pattern that would be copied over and over throughout the industry. (1) After the war ended in 1945, a wave of consolidation followed as companies readjusted from wartime products to a consumer economy.
Roger Milliken (1915- 2010) succeeded his father Gerrish H. as president upon his death in 1947. Two other grandsons of the founder of the Deering Milliken business, Gerrish H., Jr., and Minot K. Milliken took over various aspects of the family business, but it was Roger who took over the job of running the mills, expanding operations and undertaking research that would take the company to the forefront of textile innovation and implementation. A research team (Deering Milliken Research Trust) was organized in Clemson, SC, in 1945, was moved to Stamford and Greenwich, CT and in 1949 moved to an upper floor at Excelsior Finishing Plant, Pendleton, SC, a part of the new three-plant worsted group of Milliken. Attorney Dr. Norman Armitage served as president at Pendleton and later headed all the technical legal activities of the company. It was there that the first research development of worldwide significance was developed—a strongly patented edge- crimping texturing process for nylon continuous filament yarn developed along with British Nylon Spinners, Ltd. Manufacturing rights were licensed to many American and foreign companies and Milliken’s name began to be recognized as an innovative and technology driven company. Trade named “Agilon,” it was highly profitable and for years was the leading yarn for producing one-sized stretch women’s hosiery due to its non- torque properties. Russell Newton, recently having joined the company from Dan River Mills, where he was president, became president of DMRT in January, 1953. Dr. Armitage became Vice President.
Hosiery and Underwear Review
Ad regarding merger of interests with British yarn Spinners
Cover May 1956
Mr. Roger Milliken also built new mills with the most modern machinery and electronic controls available. His second new mill was the Gerrish Milliken Mill, Pendleton, SC, named in honor of his father. The mill was built following the same one story design pioneered at the Excelsior Tire Cord Plant. New synthetic fibers, nylon and later Orlon acrylic fiber were the heart of the business. In addition, the Milliken family operated a cattle farm on the premises. Drivers along US 76 between Anderson and Pendleton often were greeted with a pastoral scene of contented cows with a modern textile mill in the background. 1
In 1954, Mr. Roger Milliken moved to Spartanburg – a move that stamped his mark on the move to the south that had been underway throughout the century. Visits to the mill became much more time-efficient. He also was a visionary who recognized that the industry could not simply improve itself into success. Bulk production of standard goods at lower cost cannot compete with off shore lower wages. That had already been proven when new mills opened in the South in the 1890s. New Southern mills and inexperienced labor soundly beat the New England manufacturers with their older equipment and experienced hands. New mills, new processes and new products had to be developed. 2
The Kingsley Mill, Thomson, GA was built to cut and package fabric for retail sale. The plant was named for Francis Kingsley, a Deering Milliken executive who planned and operated the Milliken Breakfast Show, an annual advertising show. The Show brought customers who were invited to New York each October where a dazzling display modeled on Broadway shows featured new fabrics. The show premiered in 1956 and ran for 23 years.1
Research Moves to Spartanburg
In 1958 a research park was begun at the intersection of I-85 and I-585 –an extension of N. Pine Street in Spartanburg. Several buildings including a research and purchasing headquarters; Deering Milliken Research Trust became Deering Milliken Research Corporation. Later, a Management Information Center, a chemical pilot plant and a Model Manufacturing Center (called the Prototype Plant) were built. Slowly, Spartanburg became the corporate headquarters for the company. Customers were invited to stay in a guest house on the property that had sleeping accommodations for twenty-nine persons and dining for 100. Employees often met customers for breakfast followed by a business meeting elsewhere on the complex. A helicopter-landing pad was added to allow easy access to nearby Greenville-Spartanburg Jetport or local flights to nearby mills. The airport was built midway between Greenville and Spartanburg with Deering Milliken and Daniels Construction leading the cooperating partners and counties. 1, 2
It was in Spartanburg that the second research development of worldwide significance was developed – trade named “Belfast.” Dmitry M. Gagarine invented and developed this process. This process for ‘wet cross linking’ of cotton was used by both Milliken and licensees for producing cotton fabrics with wet memory for flat drying; was extensively used for garments with ‘drip dry’ properties. As home tumble dryers became more popular, and as DuPont began promoting polyester blends, the process lost favor.
Pacolet Industries, Inc.
In 1967, mills associated with the Montgomery family venture were consolidated into Pacolet Industries, Inc. The mills included: Drayton Mills, Drayton (Spartanburg County), SC; Gaffney Manufacturing, Gaffney, SC; Hartsville Cotton Mill, Hartsville, GA; Monarch Mills, Union, SC; and Pacolet Manufacturing, Pacolet, Spartanburg County, SC. (6)
When it was decided to build a new finishing plant for fast growing polyester fiber and cotton blends and to remove commission finishing from other companies, an expedited plan was set in motion. In May, 1963, Textile World reported that Pacolet Industries, Inc. would build the new mill near Blacksburg, SC. The Magnolia Finishing Plant, Blacksburg, SC, had to be constructed and in operation in six and a half months. A site was selected on the Broad River north of Spartanburg adjacent to I-85. It cost the princely sum of $15million but was an absolute necessity in order to control the development of new processes. Because of the firm and rigorous management of George Cocoros and Mr. Milliken, the plant was completed on time and opened in 1963. 1, 4 See Magnolia Finishing. Six new ranges were purchased for the mill from Butterworth Manufacturing Co. (7) . Eight acres of space were converted to production plant in 6 months 19 days from ground-breaking to production. (8) The initial capacity was stated at 2.5 million yards per week . The Foxboro Co. provided 15 control consoles to control the continuous preparation, dyeing and finishing ranges. (9) Kleinewefers furnished a chainless mercerizer – the first in the US that would run over 4000 yards per hour and give a 50 second caustic reaction time. (11) A Rodney Hunt 4-stage rope bleaching range would compliment the open-width range installed. (12)
Beginning in 1965, the company opened offices, chemical manufacture and mills in Europe for the international market including Roisel and outside Privas, France; Ghent, Belgium; and Stroud (Specialty Fabrics) and Wigan, England (Carpet 1987). A plant in Laurens, SC opened and was named for Dr. Ed Gilliland, head of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a long-time adviser for new technology. The company reorganized into three operating divisions, Menswear, Womenswear and Industrial, headed by Hal Risher, Bill Humphrey, and Ralph Gillespie. 1
Textron, Inc. sold its Amerotron Co. division to Milliken . Amerotron was a good fit. The company had expertise in man-made filament fabrics, spun and blended fabrics and finished woolens and wool blends. The mills were not all that modern but Barnwell Mills had recently purchased 56 Crompton & Knowles C-9 looms. Mills included were: Barnwell, SC; Belton, NC; Honea Path, SC; Red Springs, NC; Robbins, NC. (10).
Research that had begun in Clemson, Connecticut and Pendleton was now centrally located in Spartanburg under the capable direction of Russell Newton (formerly president of Dan River Mills and earlier of Bibb Manufacturing), and later Jerry Cogan, a young chemical engineer from MIT with DuPont experience. Mr. Milliken elected to staff the facility, named Deering Milliken Research Corporation (DMRC) with experienced research directors such as Dr. Gilman Hooper, with experience at American Viscose, who was brought in to decide whether the company should produce their own synthetic fibers (The answer was “No” but Hooper was asked to stay on to supervise dyeing and finishing research). Dr, John O’Neill (MIT and DuPont experience) was asked to staff an engineering research group with young PhD chemists and mechanical and chemical engineers in the middle 1960s. Mr. Jerry Cogan became president of Deering Milliken Research Corporation in 1965. Rusty Willimon, Norvin Clontz, Ashley Allen and Tom Malone were a few of the top corporate managers who began their Milliken careers in research and later became leaders with implementations in carpet, chemicals, greige goods and dyeing and finishing. Chemical invention was under the direction of men like Dmitry M. Gagarine, Hans H. Kuhn, Wolfgang Otto, and Michael Locke. Durable Press, and Visa Soil Release were developed and implemented by Francis W. (Frank ) Marco. New technology brought wide success to the company. 1
In the mid-1960s, Milliken looked to expand the company’s offerings in domestic fabrics and found that Fuller Callaway wanted to sell. Roger negotiated with his old friend and bought seven mills known as Callaway, Incorporated in 1968. Most of these plants were located in and around LaGrange, GA, a long drive from Spartanburg. In order to save time, many Milliken engineers and managers drove to the Stevens Aviation terminal at the Greenville Spartanburg Jetport and caught the company plane, an aged DC-3 for the flight. The plane made several round trips a week, so projects could be managed from Spartanburg and supervised from time to time in LaGrange. Some of the plants, such as Calumet were quite old. A warehouse on the property, used as a field hospital in the War Between the States, was still used as a storage area in the late 1960s. Tree trunks rather than finished beams held up the roof. Calumet provided flocked crushed velvet fabrics used for furniture upholstery. Purchase of Callaway put Milliken into the tufting business in a big way with carpets and upholstery. Callaway technicians developed and brought to Milliken a novel tufting concept, which utilized compressed air to move yarn through a hollow needle to a precise pile height, and called their machine the Honesty machine. 1,4 Valway Mill was the name of another Callaway location. The Kex Plant provided industrial and cleaning fabrics and walk off mats. Hillside provided carpets and rugs. Pine Mountain was a newer towel plant. Alma was located in the nearby town of Alma. One of the greatest and most important creative developments of Milliken Research—Millitron—was led by physicist Dr. Bill Stewart This computer-controlled multi-jet printing machine was instrumental in getting Milliken into the area rug business and later it revolutionized the broad loom carpet dyeing operations. Patterns could be changed with the flip of a switch and patterning was without limit. Buyers for hotel and convention halls flocked to this imaginative design opportunity for long runners in hallways and for integrated color designs in ballrooms and lobbies. (1)
Knits were growing by leaps and bounds in the late 1960s and Deering Milliken was no exception. Knitting machines were acquired from Italy and Japan and installed in old woolen mills as that aspect of textiles was fast fading away. Knitting machines went to Ottaray, Excelsior Union, and Laurens in South Carolina, and Golden Valley, NC. Hatch Mill became a knit mill with a package dye house. Sample knit fabrics needed to be finished but no space or expertise was readily available. Samples were driven to commission finishing friends like Sam Littlejohn in Concord, NC; to sample finishing space in the Excelsior mill in Union; and wherever space could be found. Plans were made to build a new finishing plant called Midway, located west of Union near I-26. The finishing plant and adjacent warehouse opened in 1971. (1, 4)
Milliken & Company – 1978
The name of William Deering was finally dropped from the company name in 1978. Milliken & Company was born. If a mill was acquired that could not make a profit or if equipment became obsolete, hard decisions were made to make a change and move on. The Lane Mills, New Orleans were part of an acquisition and were closed. The Darlington, SC mill built in 1883 was old and when the Textile Workers Union won an election in 1956, Mr. Milliken elected to close the mill. A long, nasty battle ensued. The union sued in October 1964. For eighteen years, the suit was in the courts and eventually settled in favor of the employees who were compensated for back pay. It was a heavy blow against companies who wished to close unprofitable operations. (1)
Innovation continued. Always looking for ways to improve and modernize the company, Milliken launched the “Pursuit of Excellence” program in 1981. The program emphasized self-directed teams of employees who met regularly to discuss ways to improve the process and the product. By consolidation, some 700 management positions were eliminated. In 1983, Thomas J. Malone, who joined the company with a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Ga Tech, was promoted to President and COO. Mr. Milliken became Chairman and CEO. Internationally known management guru and author Tom Peters dedicated his 1987 bestseller, “Thriving on Chaos,” to Roger Milliken.
Over the years, bits and pieces of the company were dispersed to branches of the family, who were not always in agreement with the way the company did business and especially with the re-investment of profits in textile operations. The Stroud branch, descended from a sister, sued the company in 1989 and sold a number of shares to executives of competitor, Delta Woodside Mills. The courts ruled in favor of Milliken. In 1992, those executives were required to sign confidentiality agreements before receiving company information. (5) Malone headed various aspects of the company including Executive Vice Chairman (2002) until he retired in 2006.
Planning for the inevitable. We don’t live forever but many in the family must think Mr. Milliken would be the first and grew impatient as mentioned above. Forbes magazine published an interesting article in 2000 that explains how Mr. Milliken has worked tirelessly to explain how the whole connected company is worth more than any sub-divided mess. The Charles Powell cartoon depiction is priceless.
Innovation Innovation is word that speaks volumes about Milliken. Textile Industries magazine awarded the company their 2001 Innovation Award. (15) Crafted with Pride was the name of a quality program initiated to celebrate manufacturing in the United States. Milliken fought long and hard to stem the tide of out-sourcing and closue of US manufacturing sites.
Dr. Tom Malone 1995
Courtesy Textile World
Crafted with Pride
2006 Dr. G. Ashley Allen former Chief Operating Officer and President of Milliken Chemical Co., became CEO when Dr. Malone stepped down as CEO. Allen joined the company in 1969 with chemistry degrees (BS Washington & Lee, PhD Cornell) and rose through the ranks.
2008 Dr. Joseph M. Salley was promoted to President and CEO upon the retirement of Dr. Ashley Allen. Salley formerly was Chief Operating Officer and president of the Performance Fabrics Division. A BS Chemistry graduate of The Citadel, he also has MS and PhD degrees in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
In August 2008, Southern Textile News reported that Milliken & Co. had acquired the fire retardant – barrier assets and the geotextiles business from Western Nonwovens, Inc., Carson, CA when that company went into Chapter 11. (13, 14)
In May 2009, the company announced that the global Automotive Body Cloth Division would be sold to management and operated as Autotex. The Sharon Plant is scheduled to close. Other plants will be affected. Purchased Calhoun, Ga.-based Constantine LLC, a designer and producer of broadloom carpet, modular carpet tiles, and hard surface and resilient flooring. Textile World Oct 2009 Acquired Aston, Pa.-based Rebus Inc., a 17-year old manufacturer of custom-blended color dispersions and additives for thermoset plastics and high-performance industrial coatings, according to press releases in Textile World and other sources.
Mr. Milliken died on December 30, 2010. He is survived by five children and nine grandchildren.
Left: Mr. Roger Milliken 1915-2010
Photo: Spartanburg Herald Journal
Milliken & Company announced it has completed the acquisition of SiVance, LLC, a privately-held provider of specialty silane, silicone and siloxane intermediates located in Gainesville, Florida. October 2011.
Divestiture of textile business continued in November, 2011 when Milliken Woolen Specialty Products, makers of felt for pool/snooker table coverings, and based in the UK was sold to WSP Textiles Ltd., a management team. A few days later, the airbag cut and sew business was sold to Swedish-American Autoliv Inc.
2012. In a story in the Wall Street Journal, John Bussey explained that Milliken arguably should have been crushed by foreign competition, just like Kodak. Innovation saved Milliken. WSJ January 13, 2012, page B1, B4.
Pigment and chemical dispersions maker Plasticolors Inc. has acquired several non-urethane pigment dispersion product lines from Milliken & Co. for an undisclosed price. The deal includes pigment dispersions based on nylon, epoxy, unsaturated polyester and similar materials. Production of those materials will be moved from the Milliken plant in Aston, Pa., to Plasticolors’ headquarters in Ashtabula, Ohio. January 19 Press release
Milliken & Co. announced that it has acquired certain fiber reinforced core-related assets of Webcore Technologies, LLC of Miamisburg, OH. WebCore Technologies is the creator of a patented core material known as TYCOR, which is used in a variety of applications in wind energy, transportation as well as other infrastructure markets. Press release: Feb 18, 2012
The Ethisphere Institute named Milliken & Co. as one of the 2012 World’s Most Ethical Companies for the sixth consecutive year according to GSA Business. March 19, 2012
Milliken Carpets essentially merged the Constantine Carpet operation into the La Grange carpet operations and are selling the buildings in Calhoun, GA.
Other stories to be developed
Milliken Chemical Company – Dewey Plant, Inman, SC; Milliken Electronics
Milliken & Company web site today.
- Andrews, Mildred Gwin. 1987. The Men and the Mills: A History of the Southern Textile Industry. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.
- Teter, Betsy Wakefield, editor. 2002. Textile Town Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Spartanburg, SC: Hub City Writers Project, ISBN 1-891885-28-6
- http://www.answers.com/topic/milliken-co?cat=biz-fin Milliken history. Accessed May 1, 2008.
- Charles B. Palmer, Personal communication, May 2008.
- E. Henry Pittman, Personal communication, May 2008.
- Textile World , January 1963, p12.
- Textile World, May 1963, p10.
- Textile World, June 1963, p10.
- Textile World, October 1963, p79.
- Textile World, May 1963, p12.
- American Dyestuff Reporter, September 1963, p16.
- American Dyestuff Reporter, July 1963 p22.
- Southern Textile News, September 1, 2008 pA6.
- John Butler, Personal communication, April 2009, Sept 2012.
- Jim Phillips, Milliken & Company receives 2001 Innovation Award from Textile Industries, Textile Industries, 2001