Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cotton Mills in North Carolina

The first cotton mill not only in the State but in the South, and also the first mill south of the Potomac operated by water power, was established by Michael Schenck near Lincolnton in 1813. The second mill, which today is the oldest plant in the state, was erected by Joel Battle in 1817 at the Falls of the Tar River on the edge of what is now the city of Rocky Mount. In 1830 Dinny Humphries built in Greensboro the first mill in the South to be operated by steam, and during the 1830s E.M. Holt established in Alamance County the first complete southern cotton mill, covering the entire line of processing from raw cotton to fabrics. During the 1840s, mills were organized at Concord, Salisbury, Mocksville, and Winston-Salem. However, by 1860 there were actually fewer spindles in operation in the state than there had been in 1840, although the South as a whole had made some progress.

On the eve of the war, North Carolina had 39 small cotton mills employing 1,764 wage earners. Of the seven woolen mills in the state, only two—those at Rock Island and Salem—were of any considerable size. The naval-stores industry, however, was of unusual importance. More than 1,000 small establishments accounted for 70 percent of the national output of crude turpentine, and nearly 500 were making the distilled product. Numerous small enterprises, gristmills, sawmills, cooperage firms, and others, supplied strictly local markets. By 1860 only a few more than 14,000 wage earners were employed in all manufacturing and mechanical occupations.

Four years of war shattered the old economy of the South. North Carolina was drained of its able-bodied white men, and production was in the hands of old men, women, children, and Negroes. Agriculture declined; the market for cotton was inaccessible. The vital imports upon which the State had formerly relied were excluded by the blockade. There was neither the time nor the capital to add to the rudimentary industrial structure already in existence.

At the close of the war, the fundamental and immediate economic problem was the adjustment of agriculture to the changed status of the Negro. The revival of industry was less rapid than that of agriculture, but between 1870 and 1880 there was a slow upward movement in manufacturing….

Beginning about 1880, an unprecedented interest in manufacturing began to develop. Local newspapers devoted increasing space to the subject, frequently issuing special industrial editions, and the State government was manifesting its interest. The drive for manufacturers took on something of the aspect of a crusade.

In 1935 the 311 mills in operation employed 93,964 workers….
From North Carolina: a guide to the Old North State, a Federal Writers' Project book which is online at http://books.google.com/books?id=dQDwh9Ep6jAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

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