Fuller E. Callaway

LaGrange, GA
Fuller E. Callaway (1870 – 1928)

Fuller Earle Callaway was one of the leading cotton manufacturers of the South in his day; his family left a legacy that led to the founding of Callaway Gardens in 1952, a park for all to enjoy. He was innately a great humanist and delightful teller of good, non­sarcastic stories. He was a good businessman and excellent salesman.

Fuller E. Callaway was born in LaGrange, GA in July 1870, the son of Abner Reeves and Sarah Jane Howard Callaway. His father, Abner, and grandfather were both Baptist ministers. Very early in life, he showed an aptitude for business. After earning 5 cents for providing water to workers, he reportedly walked eight miles into town to buy new boots. When he found out they were not available at that price, he bought three spools of thread and immediately sold them to three women back home, thereby pocketing a ten cent profit. When he was thirteen, he made $36.45 in a cotton­raising venture and put every cent in the bank. Later, when he needed twenty cents for a school copybook, he wrote a check for the exact amount so he would not be tempted to spend more of his nest egg.

At the age of eighteen he established a five and ten cent store using borrowed capital and following the model of F.W. Woolworth who had done quite well with such a store in New York City. Soon, Callaway expanded and Callaway Department Store became the leading department store in LaGrange and then with more stores, served the region.

In 1895, at age 25, he invested in LaGrange’s first modern textile mill, Dixie Mills. Textile manufacturing was all the rage in the New South. Callaway said,

“It was like the measles in the South in those days. Every town wanted to build a cotton mill. We got it in LaGrange. We did not have much of anything, but we got up a cotton mill; and auctioned off the directorships. Anybody that would take $5,000 worth of stock, we would make a director; and if a widow with a son had $2,000, we would make the son a bookkeeper. We organized our little mill, and got our home people there to work in it, and we worked it along rather human lines. Everybody was proud of it and carried everything he had in it. A good many of the laborers took stock in it. We had a great many poor white people with the highest type of morality and religion. They could not produce cotton at five cents a pound against the negro; and these men began to move to town as cotton mill operatives. Their position in the country had been so poor, on account of the low price of their product, that it elevated them even to bring them to town to work in a cotton mill, which in itself was a poorly­paid occupation.”

In 1901, he took over the management of the Milstead Manufacturing Company, Conyers, GA. The unsuccessful became successful under Callaway’s managerial eye. Eventually, his other activities included: Unity Cotton Mills, Elm City Cotton Mills, Unity Spinning Mills, Hillside Cotton Mills, Valley Waste Cotton Mills, all in LaGrange; Milstead Manufacturing Co., Conyers, GA; Manchester Cotton Mills, Manchester, GA; Callaway Department Stores, the LaGrange National Bank, the LaGrange Savings Bank, Security Warehouse Co., Electric Ginnery, LaGrange Insurance Agency, the Callaway Development Co. and the Manchester Development Co. The owners of these mills knew they had to spend money to remain competitive as shown below:

Figure:  From Posselt’s Journal 1909.  Courtesy of Peter Metzke

Figure:  Fuller E. Callaway, Courtesy New Georgia Encyclopedia

His sons, Cason J. Callaway and Fuller E. Callaway, Jr. succeeded to many of the active managerial duties formerly filled by their father who died in 1928.


Sources:

  1. Jacobs, William Plumer. 1935. The Pioneer. Clinton, S.C. :Jacobs & Co. Press.
  2. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h­2915 Callaway Family. Accessed April 16, 2008.