Friday, February 25, 2011

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update

Why Textile Mills Expanded

One important issue to address is why textile mills expanded. In previous posts, I have laid out how individual mills expanded, the materials used in expansions, and the construction techniques used in additions. In this post I will discuss the reasons that textile mills expanded, something that should have been in an early post but it is only after “seeing” (in paper or in person) a number of mills that I could make this assessment.


It may be obvious, but textile mills expanded to increase productive capability. New machines needed new floor space, but these types of additions are only part of the story explaining why textile mill added additions.

If a textile mill wanted to utilize cotton and manmade fibers together, in bulk, as a part of its finished product, it was cost efficient, not to buy a manmade fibers from other mills, but to construct a synthetic mill directly onto the main mill. This however required separate space because the cotton production process is very dirty and dusty, whereas manmade fibers create less dust, making it impractical to produce both cotton and rayon in the same plant without subdivided space. An example of a plant utilizing both manmade and natural fibers at the same mill, with each requiring their own production space is Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company’s plant in ATCO (now part of Cartersville) which was built in 1904, and made tire fabric.(See Aerial View of ATCO’s Mill Below) In 1952 the mill constructed an addition in order to utilize rayon. Rayon, a manmade fiber derived from the cellulose of wood pulp or cotton linters, was a very common fiber utilized in the decades following WWII. This 1952 addition does provides information on the various aspects of post WWII mill construction, because it was one story, windowless, and very wide because textile mills no longer had to be narrow in order for light to illuminate the production space. ATCO’s mill used cotton in addition to rayon in order to produce cordage. The rayon mill simply allowed Goodyear to utilize both rayon and cotton (although each within their own space) under one roof ,with both materials part of the final product.

Above: Aerial view of ATCO’s mill courtesy of Google Earth, with north being top of aerial view. The original mill is the narrow structure running north to south in the center of the view. The large rectangular structure at the bottom of the view is the early 1950s addition built to utilize rayon.

This idea of bringing multiple stages of the textile production within one mill was a common theme in the post war period. A factor pushing these developments was the wave of mergers and acquisitions sweeping the textile industry in the decades following WWII. The textile industry after WWII, consisted of a large number of small operations, operations that generally only conducted limited stages of the textile process. A mill might be able to spin and weave its product, but then relied on a finishing operation to complete the process before the product was sent to a customer, such as an apparel manufacture. This was inefficient, it limited the economies of scale, placing smaller mills at a disadvantage because they could not invest capital dollars in new equipment or development, and increased fees needed to utilize additional external operations. Larger companies could solve this problem by merging with companies who completed additional processes, a move known as a vertical merger. For instance a company owning mills that could only spin and weave, would acquire plants that could finish and dye. This affected individual mills in key ways. A mill having only one part of the textile process could seldom afford to invest in larger expansions. If a smaller mill was bought by a larger company, the larger company could then afford to spend the money to expand a plant, making it more self contained. Hawkinsville’s Cotton Mill is an excellent example of this occurrence. Hawkinsville’s Cotton Mill remained a smaller textile concern until purchased by Opelika Manufacturing Company, an Alabama based textile company, in 1951. Although Opelika would increased the spindles through adding additions, a significant addition added allowed the mill to bleach and finish goods. This large addition and others, were built directly into the original mill. Mills all over Georgia grew vastly in size because areas to accommodate finishing and dying were added, in many cases, directly into the main mill, and Hawkinsville’s mill is only one of many examples.

Mills also added a number of auxiliary buildings, meant to hold maintenance space, shops, tanks for chemicals, electrical equipment, or other non-production processes. These additions did not always require an engineering firm to construct, and could in many cases be built by mill staff. Variety is the key factor in these additions. Some of these additions were integrated into the overall interior space, in other words they opened into the main mill, while others were simply tacked on, with no entryway into the main mill provided. Most, if not the vast majority, of these mill additions are small subdivided spaces, built solely for one purpose. These auxiliary additions were by no means a post WWII occurrences. For instance, Atlantic Cotton Mills in Macon, GA,(See Sanborn Insurance Map Below) had a number of auxiliary buildings added onto its eastern end. It was common to cluster these (mostly single story)buildings in one area, so as not to block access to light.

Above: Macon 1924-February 1951 vol. 2, 1924-February 1951, Sheet 229. Sanborn Map. Accessed through Proquest, Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970. The Sanborn shows the collection of auxiliary structures added onto Atlantic Cotton mills by 1951. Most additions which included the boiler house, waste house, and machine shop, were present in 1924.

Although the uses may differ, with few exceptions these additions were built with steel frames, were windowless, had concrete floors, and were single storied when possible. The reasons for mill expansions provided above are only a few of the diverse and varied reasons textile mills decided to enlarge and grow following WWII.

Steven Eubanks is a graduate student at West Georgia University and recipient of the 2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship. The Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship provides financial assistance for projects that acquaint undergraduate and graduate students, and young professionals with preservation programs and practices.

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