Rise & Fall of Textiles in Carolinas

The Tryon Estates Rotarians were privileged to have a presentation at their August 3rd meeting on the rise and fall of the textile industry in the Carolinas by retired senior textile executive Ben Fox.

The textile industry had a major influence in our area for over a hundred years.  The early Mills were built in the in the late eighteen hundreds after investors decided the South offered a ready source of cheap labor.  During the period from 1880 to 1910, 28 mills were built in Spartanburg county alone.  Most of the facilities were built on farmlands or cotton fields preferably close to rivers.  The assumption  that there was an abundance of cheap labor proved to be a fallacy and the entrepreneurs had to often recruit workers from outside the local area.

Tryon Estates Rotary Chair Jim Robards and Ben Fox

The early plants were very labor-intensive and the Mill owners found it necessary to build housing and other community facilities for the workers including schools, company stores and medical facilities. Many of the Mills essentially became stand-alone communities. The industry grew steadily overtime, easily surviving the challenges of the great depression and World War II. During the 1940s’ and 50’s the textile industry grew and expanded in area from Alabama across the Carolinas to Virginia. During the 1950’s and 60’s it became the textile capital of the world as the industry became more automated and less labor-intensive.  By 1961 it was responsible for 90% of the nations total textile production. The industry’s production shifted overseas significantly due to a variety of reasons during the 1980’s and 90’s. By the early part of this century it had essentially met its end in the Carolinas.

Submitted by Carolyn Dickenson