Historical Development of the Textile and Hosiery Industries in Alamance County, North Carolina

The page begins a series of pages devoted to a talk given by Professor Emeritus Gary Mock on March 24, 2009 to the Haw River (NC) Historical Association. The broad topic was the historical development of the textile and hosiery industries in Alamance County, North Carolina.

 

The Beginning

The textile industry in the United States has a fascinating history. Colorful personalities have moved across the stage since the dawning of the industrial revolution. Historians credit textile manufacturing and people like Samuel Slater and Eli Whitney as the keys to making the young country into the industrial powerhouse of the 19th and 20th centuries.

I became fascinated with the history of technology when Herb Pratt, a retired DuPont textile chemical expert originally from Eden, NC, and now residing in New Castle, DE, asked me to write a history of the top inventions for the 75th anniversary of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (1921­1996). I accepted. Journal articles followed as I pursued the history of textile wet processing technology.

Who developed the jet dye machine? (Victor Fahringer of Burlington Industries).

Who developed the rotary screen­printing machine? (Bill Hoffman, for a senior thesis project at Philadelphia Textiles).

Who developed stretch nylon? (Bill Leath of Chadbourn Hosiery Mills, Inc., Charlotte)

In 2005, I retired from the College of Textiles at NC State and began working with Jerrie Nall and Kathy Barry, co-
founders of the Textile Heritage Museum in Glencoe. My interest in history swelled as I began uncovering the stories of Alamance County and the people who brought textiles to life there. E. M. Holt and his seven sons and three daughters opened textile mills including the Glencoe Cotton Mill across the county in the 1880s and 1890s and put Alamance County on the textile map. Alamance Plaids evolved out of the first dye house built (1857) south of the Potomac River. Other mills followed. The Gant family founded a business that thrives even today at Glen Raven. The Cone Brothers, Moses and Caesar, began marketing textile fabrics and bartered textiles and tobacco (Duke family) with the Belk stores. Eventually, the Cones built the largest denim business in the world. Spencer Love moved from Gastonia to Burlington, NC in 1923 and founded Burlington Industries, the largest textile corporation in the mid 20th century. How could I tell this fascinating story to a wide audience?

The Internet and web pages are powerful tools that allow researchers today the opportunity to publish information in the blink of an eye without finding a journal, waiting months or even years and paying large pagination charges to tell a story. When Dr. Robert Baptista began a Colorants Industry History website; I was hooked and knew this was the answer. Bob retired from Bayer Chemical and began documenting the stories of the dye manufacturers with the aid of a terrific web page builder available for a nominal monthly fee through Yahoo! SiteBuilder. Bob encouraged me to start a site devoted to telling the story of the textile industry. It was such a broad topic, I was truly overwhelmed and felt I could not tackle the research and documentation. I succumbed and started the site in early December 2007. During the winter of 2007­2008, I added several topics each week – the site grew. A few people found my site.

I learned about water powered mills in Alamance County, and then a casual remark with a retired physician friend, Dr. Fred Wiegand, led me into Coming to America and the contributions of German immigrants such as his father, a colorist from Greiz, Germany and his father’s boss, Julius Forstmann, who was so wealthy during the Great Depression, he was able to commission the 333­foot yacht Orion and sail around the world for seven months with his family while still running his woolen business in New Jersey via wireless.

The idea for Textile Titans arose. I added biographies of the Cones, the Gants, the Millikens and others. Don Bolden, Editor Emeritus of the Burlington Times­News contributed “Stretching Into History,” the story of Bill Leath and the development of panty hose, a story that started in Alamance County and spread around the world. Hosiery in Alamance County is another topic of interest. The opportunities are endless – limited only to the time available to develop the stories and to sit down and write.

At this writing in late March, 2009, the site attracts over 200 hits each day and has had over 45,000 visits. The most popular sites in order of popularity are those devoted to Cone Mills, Cannon Mills, Glen Raven, WestPoint Stevens, Burlington Industries, and Alamance County.

As you can see, there is quite a story to tell. This is the first chapter. Go to Industrial Revolution.