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The Textile Capital

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Curious as to how and why Greenville became the "Textile Capital" in the early part of the century. It's always seemed a bit strange to me, as there are hardly any cotton fields around here...maybe some to the south toward the Midlands. Memphis, TN on the other hand sits smack in the middle of a huge cotton growing region. Wouldn't it have become the Textile Capital? How did Greenville capitalize in it's early days on this industry, when the main crop that supported this industry wasn't grown in the immediate area (to any extent). Was that the early signs of the "driven" people in Greenville?

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No cotton fields now but there where before the boll weavel struck, that is why we switched to Peaches.

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Several reasons, and I'm speaking as a descendant of folks who came down from the hills to work in the mills...

1. Greenville, especially the western side of town had the largest and most modern textile mills in its time.

2. Labor was plentiful and good quality for menial, low educated work. Mills as you may know, were built with villages, owned by mill owners, all around them. The people that came to work in the mills needed the work. Agriculture was failing economically. The South, especially the upper Piedmont, was highly depressed after reconstruction, not that it was ever that successful. The workers in the region had a very high work ethic due to their agricultural roots and a strong committment to what came to be known as the Protestant work ethic. Workers judged whether or not to work for certain mills based on a variety things, not least of which was the quality of the Mill-run school or the Mill sponsored churches. See some mill villages like the Dunean one in Greenville, where a community center still stands between the Dunean Methodist Church and the Dunean Baptist Church.

3. Greenville had several Northern investors meet with Southern capitalists and managers to create a series of mills, known as the Textile Crescent, around the western half of the city.

4. Greenville became home to the international Textile exhibition at state of the art (for the 1920's) Textile Hall just north of downtown. Much as Highpoint, NC is known as a furniture capital of sorts, the organizers of the Textile exhitibtion played up the idea that Greenville was a textile center.

5. The early 20th century was a time in American economic life when mass production of goods became a reality in ways that it had not before. Yet due to transportation concerns and other odd parts of that era's economic theory, lots of folks believed that certain industries should be centered in certain locations. That's why Detroit became an automotive center, or why Schnectady became an electrical engineering center, etc.

6. Greenville wasn't burned to the ground. Several other Southern cities had opportunities to rise to the textile occasion, as the region had to switch from sorta profitable cotton growing to the processing of it with factories. But places like Columbia were burned or severely damaged by the Federal Army during the War of Rebellion. Economic recovery in those areas was slowed.

7. Greenville had railroad access to Charlotte, Atlanta and the rest of the eastern seaboard, which became more important than having port access in the fading city (or in those days, town) of Charleston.

Lots of things came together: a willing workforce, new technology, economics, salesmanship, etc. But until the 1960's, Greenville saw itself as a textile town, first and forever. Downtown was a place for government, retail department stores, and services like banking, legal and accounting, designed to support the western mills.

Mauldin, Fountain Inn, Simpsonville, etc. were mid 20th century creations as some mills aged and new ones were built on the cheaper land in the southern half of the county. The "East side" was primarily small farms and remained so until the kids of textile workers finally had a chance to become 1st generation college graduates in the 50's through 70's and moved to the eastern half of the city into tract housing and away from Mom and Dad's mill house.

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I always thought Spartanburg was the textile capital....

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Thanks for the history whitehourseview! :thumbsup: I find number two very interesting...how workers judged whether or not to work for certain mills. That seems like the early signs that Greenville people cared a great deal and were driven for the best.

How was the cotton transported to Greenville....railroad?

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Thanks for the history whitehourseview! :thumbsup: I find number two very interesting...how workers judged whether or not to work for certain mills. That seems like the early signs that Greenville people cared a great deal and were driven for the best.

How was the cotton transported to Greenville....railroad?

Southern Railroad...again Greenville was nearly halfway between the two railroad hubs of Atlanta and Charlotte and lines going to the Southern end of the state. Geography helped a lot.

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I always thought Spartanburg was the textile capital....

Spartanburg had the most mills per capita or something to that effect. It has some sort of clout within the textile history buffs, I am just not 100% certain what it was right off the top of my head. Charlotte was the true king (err... queen) of the southern textile industry though.

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Lots of places did have more textile mills than Greenville.....(Charlotte, Kannapolis, etc).....all through the Piedmont. So how is it that the term "The Textile Capital of the World" became Greenville's nickname? Who started it? To this day if you Google "Textile Capital" you get most all the entries talking about Greenville.

I remember growing up in Birmingham "Pittsburgh of the South" and hearing the term in school geography / social studies classes "Textile Capital of the World" in reference to Greenville.

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The international Textile exhibition first at Textile Hall then later at, well, Textile Hall (later the Palmetto Expo Center) in Greenville along with some marketing muscle put Greenville on the map as the "Textile Capital" in much the same way that High Point is the Furniture Capital because of their furniture exhibitions.

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ATME-I was held in Greenville for many years before moving to Atlanta (?) this year. For whatever reason, Greenville was indeed known by all as THE "Textile Capital of the World." I look forward to our regional history museum opening up to show us many of the reasons for this designation. Until thien, I suggest checking out the South Carolina Room at the main library downtown. They are having a special "open house" on May 15 to encourage more people to use it for state and local history research.

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Southern Railroad...again Greenville was nearly halfway between the two railroad hubs of Atlanta and Charlotte and lines going to the Southern end of the state. Geography helped a lot.

It is claimed this is how Central, a town northeast of Clemson, received its name for being the accurate middle of the Atlanta-Charlotte line.

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