Textiles: America’s first industry

Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Museum preserves its history

By Ron Copsey

Above: Mike Smith serves as executive director of the American Textile History Museum, the nation’s preeminent institution for the preservation, collection and research of textile artifacts. Below: Textile education programs are an important part of the museum, which draws 35,000-40,000 visitors a year.

LOWELL, MA — The American textile industry began in New England in the 18th century, igniting America’s entry into the Industrial Revolution, which began earlier in England.

Samuel Slater, who emigrated from England, opened the first successful commercial textile spinning plant in Pawtucket, RI, in 1790.

Soon, textile plants were being built by entrepreneurs on America’s rivers to capture the abundant water power needed to drive the early textile machinery that completely changed the pace and volume of textile production.

In that era, textiles was fast making the transition from being a cottage or homemaker endeavor to becoming America’s first industry by applying the concepts of mass production to machines and people in a factory environment. Many of the early American mills were built along the Merrimack River, an area that became known as the Merrimack River Valley, stretching from northeastern Massachusetts into New Hampshire.

Situated in the heart of this “cradle of the American textile industry” is The American Textile History Museum (ATHM) here. Founded by Caroline Stevens Rogers in 1960 in nearby North Andover, MA, as the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, it eventually outgrew this facility and moved to larger quarters here in 1997.

Rogers’ father was Dale Stevens, a wool buyer and a collector of spinning wheels. Caroline Stevens Rogers herself was an accomplished hand spinner. Her son and her grandson both serve on the museum’s board of trustees.

Bruce Sinclair was the museum’s founding director. He was followed by Thomas W. Leavitt, who served in that position from 1963-1990. Paul Rivard, the present curator of technology, was the museum director beginning in the early 1990s. Mike Smith became executive director in January 2000.

Now the largest and most comprehensive textile museum in the United States, the ATHM has a nationally important collection of books and documents, tools and textile machines, fabric samples and period apparel. It has become the preeminent institution in the nation for the preservation, collection and research of textile artifacts.

Role of textiles

The museum offers the American public an opportunity to learn more about the role of textiles in shaping America’s social, economic, industrial and cultural history.

The ATHM averages between 35,000 and 40,000 visitors a year. Smith said that his goal is to double the number of visitors in the next year-and-a-half to two years. People living and working in the New England states comprise the museum’s primary audience, although visitors have come from throughout the United States and many foreign countries.

Many of the visitors include residents of former mill towns and descendants of textile employees, students, weavers, quilters and others with an interest in textile arts. The museum also has a national audience of fabric designers and other textile professionals, textile scholars, social, economic and industrial historians.

The magic of spinning and weaving comes to life in nearly 100 exhibits, ranging from the interior of an 18th century Pennsylvania weaver’s log cabin to a working 1870s woolen mill. Visitors can explore the sights and sounds of America’s premier manufacturing industry from colonial times to the present.

The museum is in a five-story building that contains about 155,000 square feet of space, making it the largest indoor history museum in New England. Although from the outside it looks much like a traditional four-story brick textile mill of the 19th century, the building, which dates back to 1860, was the home of a textile machinery producer, Kitson Machine Company.

The museum’s textile collection is the largest of its kind in the world, encompassing more than 500 historically significant machines, more than 400 spinning wheels, 5 million fabric samples in 3,500 sample books and thousands of garments. The machinery reflects textile technology from the earliest days in America to the 1960s.

Fabric samples, mostly wool but some cotton, reflect the period from 1850 to 1930. Clothing pieces reflect American fashions from the 18th century to the present.

Textiles in America, the Museum’s permanent exhibit, has more than 100 displays that educate the visitor on the evolution of textile fabric production in America. The Osborne Library has one of the most extensive collections of textile books, catalogs, pamphlets, photographs, prints, manuscripts and paintings documenting the history of textile production in the United States.

Another important department within the museum is the Textile Conservation Center (TCC). It is a state-of-the-art laboratory for the care and preservation of textiles, providing services to other museums, institutions, corporations and private clients worldwide. TCC treats more than 200 textile artifacts annually.

Its work includes surveys, on-site examinations, repairs, cleaning, stabilization and installation. With a staff of seven, this department ensures that the public will continue to have access to and enjoy a wide range of historic clothing and other textile items in perpetuity.

The Webster Education Center, another department within the museum, offers museum activities for adults and children, including hands-on workshops. lecture series, classes and community school outreach programs. This past summer the museum opened the 1,100 square foot Textile Learning Center, an ongoing program for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult.

Housed within the museum’s Changing Exhibition Gallery and arranged in three main areas, the current offerings include: a Spinning and Weaving Center, equipped with floor and table looms for fabric-making; games to play and exhibits on how textiles are made; an Exhibition Center with activities relating to each of the museum’s special changing exhibitions; and a Reading Center stocked with children’s books, puppets and special displays to help tell the story of textiles.


Week of Dec. 24, 2001

White House reinforces commitment to textiles

From staff reports

In the aftermath of the trade promotion authority vote in the House earlier this month, the White House has taken extra steps aimed at reinforcing its commitment to the beleaguered U.S. textile industry.

Last Monday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans toured Springs’ Industries’ finishing and fabrication plant in Lyman, SC, where he pledged to help create a “level playing field” with other countries.

Four days earlier, President Bush called a meeting with five GOP members of the textile caucus — legislators representing textile-producing districts — to assure them that he is committed to implementing the concessions made to them to secure their votes for the TPA legislation.

The bill, also known as “fast track,” could be voted on by the Senate early this year, although Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said it was “highly doubtful” that the full Senate would consider the bill this year. Instead, he suggested the measure, which gives the president the power to negotiate trade agreements with only a yea or nay vote from Congress, may not face a vote until the Senate approves a program that helps people laid off as a result of trade bills.

The legislation passed the House, 215-214, after several Republication representatives from textile-producing states changed their votes in the closing moments. They helped approve the measure when House leaders gave them written concessions aimed at benefiting the domestic textile industry.

Bush met with Reps. Sue Myrick (R-NC), Robin Hayes (R-NC), Michael Collins (R-GA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Edward Whitfield (R-KY).

Prior to that meeting, Bush met privately with Hayes, who was teary-eyed after changing his mind and casting one of the final votes on the measure. Evans, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Legislative Affairs Director Nick Calio were also in that meeting.

Hayes said that the president reiterated his commitment to the pro-textile provisions included as part of the TPA measure.

“Today, other members of the textile caucus and myself had a very productive meeting with President Bush,” said Hayes in a statement. “One of my top priorities in this meeting was to stress to President Bush how critical his commitment to the textile industry is. President Bush reiterated his commitment to the pro-textile provisions that were included with the trade promotion authority that passed out of the House last week.

“President Bush has been to the 8th District of North Carolina. He knows that people are hurting. He has committed to protecting the interests of U.S. textile manufacturers with any future trade negotiations.”

To secure the votes of the remaining holdouts, House leaders promised legislation that would require that apparel from the Caribbean Basin be made of fabric that is dyed and finished in the U.S.

Hayes said he told the president that he would fight any effort to roll back the concessions.

“Previously, textile workers had no voice in trade agreements,” said Hayes. “After a long negotiating process, Congressional leaders and the White House offered protections that represent significant gains for our domestic textile industry. It is not surprising that the chief proponents of the trade bills that have been so hurtful to our American textile industry are now working to reverse these gains.

Mill news:

Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Dan River to shutter two fabric facilities

From staff reports

DANVILLE, VA — Dan River, Inc. announced Dec. 12 that it is closing plants in Georgia and South Carolina, idling looms and relocating some production to other facilities as it streamlines its apparel fabrics manufacturing.

About 400 jobs will be lost as two facilities close, but about 200 will be added as production is shifted to its Sevierville, TN, plant and several Virginia locations, the company said.

The company is shutting facilities in Newnan, GA, where 274 people work, and in Greenville, SC, where 122 people are employed.

About 140 looms in the company’s Apparel Fabrics operation will be idled and 120 will be relocated from here to its Sevierville plant. The vacant space here created by these moves will be used by installing wide, modern air-jet sheeting looms, the company said.

Production from these newer looms will replace sheeting currently woven on projectile looms at the company’s Plant No. 1 in Greenville, which is being closed. Dan River will continue to operate its air-jet spinning and weaving Plant No. 2 in Greenville.

Production from the company’s cut-and-sew facility in Newnan will be relocated to sewing plants here and in Brookneal, VA. This move will eliminate the fixed costs associated with the Newnan facility and improve process flow within Home Fashions operations, according to Joseph L. Lanier Jr., chairman and chief executive officer.

Mill news:

Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Biddeford Blankets to expand

BIDDEFORD, ME — Biddeford Blankets said last week that it has completed the purchase of a new manufacturing facility, and Biddeford Textile Corporation announced plans to hire 40 to 50 employees this month and next month.

The news followed a recent announcement that Biddeford Textile Corporation will expand under the pending ownership of Biddeford Blankets.

“Our purchase of an upgraded manufacturing facility and our decision to grow our employee team, reflect our commitment to revitalizing our own operation as well as the blanket industry,” said Morten Brunvoll, CEO of Biddeford Blankets. “We are equally committed to weaving and assembling all our products in Biddeford, ME, and remaining a vital contributor to Biddeford’s business community.”

Upon confirmation of a bankruptcy plan, blanket manufacturing operations will move from the mill in downtown Biddeford, to the new Biddeford Industrial Park facility.

Mill news:

Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Russell anticipates strong growth

ATLANTA — Athletic apparel maker Russell Corporation announced Dec. 17 that it anticipates strong earnings growth in 2002 and 2003 as a result of its long-range restructuring plan.

The company estimated that earnings next year will increase to $1.40 to $1.60 per share.

“We are reaping the benefits of the three-year restructuring plan begun in 1998,” said Jack Ward, chairman and chief executive officer. “Our efforts have successfully transformed Russell into a market-driven, low-cost, globally focused company with strong market share growth.

Russell is implementing an additional “profit growth plan” that includes job cuts and will save the company more than $50 million annually by 2003, Ward added. The firm said it will cut 200 salaried positions, which are part of 800 job cuts it announced earlier this year.

The company also said it expects fourth-quarter earnings of 39 to 44 cents a share, down from its guidance of 40 cents to 50 cents.


Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Museum fund-raiser tops $100,000

(L-R) Pauline T. Duke, president of the American Textile History Museum Board of Trustees; Michael J. Smith, executive director of the museum; Nicola S. Tsongas, member of the museum Board of Advisors and the evening’s honoree; and Edward B. Stevens, chairman of the museum’s Board of Trustees. Photo by Kevin Harkins

LOWELL, MA — More than 280 guests last month attended a black-tie gala at the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) to honor community leader Nicola S. Tsongas.

The event, hosted by the museum’s trustees, raised more than $100,000 to benefit the museum.

Tsongas, a member of the museum’s Board of Advisors, is a Lowell resident and longtime leading supporter of education and the arts in the Merrimack Valley.

She currently is director of external affairs and college advancement at Middlesex Community College, where she serves as liaison between the college and state and federal governments, as well as the area’s cultural and business communities. She also serves on the Board of Directors of First Massachusetts Bank and Fallon Community Health Plan, and is a member of the steering committee of the Creative Economy Initiative, which is funded by the New England Council.

The gala planning committee included co-chairs Fred Faust and John Pearson Jr. of Lowell, Lorraine Bacos, Brenda Costello, Dr. Carole Cowan, Nancy Donahue, Mary Ellen Fitzpatrick, Robert L. Gable, A. Garcia, Dennis Kanin, Hiram Samel, Edward B. Stevens and Jonathan A. Stevens.

Gold Sponsors for the event included Ames Textile Corporation, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., Pearson & Pearson Attorneys/Butler Bank, Demoulas Foundation, Merida Meridan, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Stevens.

Silver Sponsors included Nancy and Richard Donahue, Enterprise Bank & Trust Company, Fallon Community Health Plan, First Massachusetts Bank, Foley Hoag, Robert I. Gable, Hale and Dorr Capital Management LLC/A. Garcia, PNC Advisors, The Rogers Family Foundation/Eagle-Tribune, George and Cathy Sakellaris, Watts Industries, and Dean and Eliza Webster.

Pickin' Cotton

Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Cotton wants farm bill for Christmas

By Odyll Santos

When cotton farmers make up their Christmas wish list, a new farm bill will be at the top. But there’s no certainty that farm legislation will be passed this year. It’s up to Uncle Sam.

As usual, money is part of the issue. Democrats in Washington want to help farmers this year, Republicans, next year. The difference: Billions of dollars in funds.

The cotton industry wants a bill passed in 2001, before the government surplus runs out. With the economic downturn wiping out billions in the surplus, farmers fear that ag programs won’t be adequately funded and farmers won’t receive help to survive a price free-fall.

“We’re in a real awkward situation in this country,” said a farmer near Lubbock, TX, who is actively working on industry issues. “We got to have something this year, or we’re going to lose a lot of people.”

But passing farm legislation this year isn’t easy. Washington watchers noted that a five-year bill proposed by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA, doesn’t have enough votes in the Senate. Opponents could burden the bill with amendments, endangering its passage. If no bill passes, “we’re into the next budget cycle, and we have less money,” said a cotton insider familiar with the budget process. Even if a Senate bill passes, it still faces the conference committee, which will iron out differences between it and the 10-year, $73 billion House bill favored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-TX.

While Democrats have substantial support among farm groups, Republicans actually may have the upper hand. “The Republicans are in the driver’s seat. They can stall and get what they want next year,” the insider said. It looks risky, as Republicans may be blamed for failure to pass a farm bill this year, but Republicans can say they acted in a fiscally responsible manner.

Still, that’s small comfort to farmers sick of depressed prices. Among the provisions farmers want are counter-cyclical income supports, which would pay growers if prices for a commodity fell below a certain level. In the House bill, the target is 73.60 cents per pound. In the Senate version, it’s 68c. Current farm law provides counter-cyclical income support through marketing loan gains and loan deficiency payments (LDP). However, the only direct counter-cyclical payments are through LDPs, based on a 51.92c upland cotton loan rate. The House bills keeps the loan rate unchanged, while the Senate bill raises it to 55c.

Both the House and Senate bills also would continue market transition payments to farmers. The House version would pay cotton farmers 6.67c beginning 2002. The Senate bill has declining payments, 13c in 2002, 6.50c in 2003-04, and 3.25c in 2005-06.


Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Hamilton served NCC, industry

LAKE PROVIDENCE, LA — Jack S. Hamilton, a cotton producer and ginner and former president and treasurer of the Memphis-based National Cotton Council of America, died Sunday, December 16 in Jackson, MS, following a short illness.

Hamilton, 71, had raised cotton and other crops since 1955 and was recognized as an innovative farmer and ginner. He was serving as treasurer of Hollybrook Land Com-pany, secretary-treasurer of Hollybrook Gin Company and president of Hollybrook Warehouse Company. He was currently president of the Louisiana Independent Warehouse Association and the Louisiana Cotton Services Inc.

An advisor to the Council’s Board of Directors, Hamilton was the Council’s president in 1998. He had served as president of The Cotton Foundation from 1995-1997.

“Jack Hamilton was a forceful leader within the National Cotton Council,” said Gaylon Booker, the Council’s president and chief executive officer. “He not only was an innovator in the experimentation with and use of new farming and processing technology, he advocated improvements for cotton processing systems, including bale packaging, and for improvements in the cotton classing system.”

Hamilton served on many of the Council’s technical committees and as chair of the Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee. He was a former director of the Council’s export promotions arm, Cotton Council International (CCI), and led a CCI delegation to Japan and China to address bale packaging problems being experienced by those valuable customers of U.S. raw cotton.

Hamilton was chairman of Cotton Incorporated from 1988-1990. He also was an organizer and first president of the Louisiana Cotton Producers Association, and served as president of both the Louisiana Cotton Warehouse Association and the Southern Cotton Ginners Association.

A native of Mississippi, Hamilton graduated from Cleveland (MS) High School. He was a graduate of Louisiana State University and served with the Marine Corps in the Korean War as an infantry platoon commander.

He is survived by his wife, Arabelle; daughter, Lee Trichel of Shreveport, LA; son, Jack S. Hamilton Jr. of Tampa, FL; and four grandchildren.


Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Cotton Inc. presents Designer Awards

ere awarded the 2001 Cotton Incorporated Textile Designer Awards at a ceremony at the company’s office here.

In addition, as part of this year’s ceremony, Cotton Incorporated presented for the first time a Market Achievement Award to four of the industry’s top companies for a 100 percent cotton fabric innovation that has changed the fashion industry. Representatives from the companies took home honors for their vision and dedication in making these innovations possible.

For 20 years, Cotton Incorporated has honored textile designers who have displayed the ability to add aesthetic creativity and functional effectiveness to 100 percent cotton or cotton-rich apparel and home fabric products through its Textile Designer Awards.

Crystal prisms etched with the trademarked Seal of Cotton designed by Tiffany & Co. were presented to the winners in the four apparel and five home fashion categories, plus the four Market Achievement awards.

“The winners demonstrate through innovative design and styling that cotton continues to be the dominant fiber worldwide,” said J. Berrye Worsham, president and chief executive officer.

This year’s top designers in the apparel category were Ge-Ray Fabrics Design Group, GE-Ray Fabrics Incorporated for Knits; Jeffrey Prager, Delta Woodside Industries, Inc. for Wovens; David Schary, Tracy Feldman and Lyndee Kellner, Carna Mills, Inc. for Prints; and Fabric by Burlington Casualwear and Martelli Finishing by IGP-BGD Laundry for Novelties.

In the home fashions area, the winners were Eileen Sarrasin, Shannon Yow and Frances Curtis, Doblin for Decorative Fabrics; Motif Designs for Prints; Kea Capel Meacham, Capel, Inc. for Technical Achievement; Vivie Von Walstrom, Venus Home Fashions for Bath Fashions, and Julie Freimuth, Keeco for Bed Fashions.

The four Market Achievement awards were presented to Galey & Lord, Delta Mills, Haggar Clothing Company and Tropical Sportswear Int’l.


Week of Dec. 24, 2001

Concessions reassuring

SEEMS TOO EASY for us to condemn U.S. House Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina and other GOP leaders from textile-manufacturing districts who reversed their votes and helped the White House squeak out a 215-214 win on the trade promotion authority (TPA) measure early this month. After all, his vote and those of other mind-changers, on the surface at least, smack more of partisanship than principle. So castigating those who seemed to turn their backs on the textile industry seems appropriate, right?

Sorry. Can’t do it.

Not after textiles became the hot-button issue of the entire bill. Not after certain Washington leaders, at long last, took a good, hard look at the plight of the textile industry and promised to better support the interests of this troubled manufacturing sector. Not after concessions aimed at improving the domestic textile industry’s standing in the world stage were made. And not after President Bush himself, along with key cabinet members, took extra steps to reassure those who may have second-guessed their votes.

Hayes, along with fellow textile caucus members Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Cass Ballenger (R-NC), voted with a heavy heart. Torn between supporting a Republican president, especially during wartime, and tending to the needs of their constituents, many of them laid-off textile employees, they made a decision they thought was best for both sides. And we think so, too.

WITHOUT THOSE concessions, sure, we would understand their “nay” votes. But with those promises come hope that, finally, something will be done on the Hill to protect U.S. textile interests. Now, perhaps, the industry will have a fighting chance. Even the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI), which had lobbied against TPA leading up to the vote, thinks so. In a statement after the vote, ATMI President Chuck Hayes said that if certain commitments are properly fulfilled, they “could provide benefits to the U.S. textile industry.”

Among promises, House leaders said they would work to ensure that legislation would require that apparel in the Caribbean Basin and Andean countries be made of fabric that is dyed and finished in the U.S. They also promised that the Bush administration would insist that new trade deals afford U.S. companies significant access to foreign markets in order to level the playing field for our firms.”

After the vote, Bush, in a statement, commended Hayes for his vote and assured the textile and apparel industry that it would remain “a cornerstone of U.S. manufacturing.” Bush also said that the interests of the domestic textile industry “are at the heart” of U.S. trade negotiations and that reciprocity will be sought with trading partners. Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans even toured a textile mill — belonging to Springs Industries — last week with a pledge to deliver a “level playing field” on which to compete internationally.

When you have the president of the United States, along with a cabinet member, making such statements and such an effort to look after this distressed industry, it’s a step in the right direction. Sure, words must translate into action, but they should serve as a glimmer of hope at this point. Until it proves otherwise, we should have confidence in this administration.

We would like to think that our Textile South edition of September 17, which examined the plight of the industry, played a small role in educating Congressmen and the Bush administration, who all were sent copies. Staffers in the office of Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), who voted for the TPA bill, even requested additional copies.

REMEMBER, this vote did not create a trade bill. If it passes the Senate, as it is expected to do, it would merely give the president the power to negotiate international trade agreements. Congress would still have the authority to nix or approve them.

However, that hasn’t stopped labor leaders from stirring up union members and getting them poised for a Republican kill. On Dec. 13, NC labor leaders held a press conference in Kannapolis, NC, which is part of Hayes’ district, to criticize Hayes and his cohorts who voted for the bill and pledged to work for their defeat in the next election.

We urge those union leaders and members to follow our lead and have patience — and confidence — that President Bush is a man of his word, as difficult as that may be for them.

Textile News Index