Greenwood Mills, Inc. History
Greenwood, South Carolina 29648
Telephone: (803) 229-2571
Fax: (803) 839-7500
Sales: $525 million
SICs: 2211 Broad Woven Fabric Mills, Cotton
Greenwood Mills, Inc. is one of the oldest, most successful textile businesses in the United States. Part of the company's success, and what distinguishes Greenwood Mills from many other companies within the United States, is that the firm's management has cultivated a work force of uncommon stability. Hundreds of employees come from the third and even fourth generation of families associated with the firm. Indeed, in 1980 Greenwood Mills proudly reported that nearly 20 percent of all its employees had worked for the company more than 25 years.
The company was founded as the Greenwood Cotton Mill in 1889 by William Lowndes Durst. The mill was located in Greenwood, South Carolina, and Durst, a wealthy farmer and merchant, became the firm's president. Within a year of its establishment Greenwood Cotton Mill employed 75 people, processed approximately five bales of cotton per day, and produced such items as sheetings and cotton print cloth. When Durst died in 1902, he was replaced by his brother W.L. Durst, president of the Bank of Greenwood. He managed the company well until the financial panic that swept across America in 1907. The panic resulted in Greenwood Mills' near bankruptcy. A youthful cashier in Durst's bank by the name of James C. Self, who had impressed the Greenwood Mills board of directors, was suddenly elected president, presumably to preside over the liquidation of the company.
When Self assumed his position as president, Greenwood Mills was financially strapped, unable to purchase cotton to run its operations or pay its employees. Faced with outdated equipment and with the company deeply in debt, Self decided to visit the Draper Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts, to purchase new equipment for a comprehensive modernization and revitalization of the company. He first met with Eben Draper, brother of chief executive George Draper. Impressed with the young man's commitment and sincerity, Eben Draper promised to refit Greenwood with entirely new equipment. When George Draper returned from an extended trip, however, he immediately reversed his brother's decision. Self returned to Boston and confronted George Draper with the words, "... in the South, sir, we do what we promise." Taken aback, George Draper approved the sale of equipment, and Greenwood Mills was on its way to success.
In 1913 Self hired J.B. Harris as the company's general superintendent. Harris soon became Self's most valued employee, and helped the company with every aspect of its operations. By 1916 the company's financial stability had reached a point where it was able to purchase new Draper looms, build a nearby church for its workers, begin a night shift, and count over 250 employees on its payroll. Still an employee of the Bank of Greenwood, at this time Self decided to leave the bank and devote all his time to the development of Greenwood Mills.
During the early 1920s, as a financial crisis within the American economy began to push the price of cotton lower and lower, Self started to purchase as much cotton as the coffers of the company would allow. When the price of cotton fell all the way to 11 cents per bushel, the company's warehouses were packed with cotton. Suddenly, as the country's financial crisis stabilized and cotton rose to 30 cents per bushel, Self was vindicated in his purchases. With brisk sales bringing increasing revenues, Self acquired the Ninety Six Cotton Mill and later purchased the Grendel Mill Number 2 in Greenwood, which he renamed Mathews. These acquisitions brought more business to the company, and soon Greenwood Mills was regarded as one of the most financially sound businesses in the southern part of the United States.
Greenwood Cotton Mills weathered the Great Depression of the 1930s by relying upon its previously built-up financial base. By 1935 the company was operating three shifts per day, and Self was able to purchase all of Greenwood's stock, thereby becoming its sole owner. Two years later, the Mathews plant was expanded. Within a short time it developed into the leading producer of fabrics made from spun rayon. All these developments combined to prepare the company for the demands of World War II.
Although the company had been highly successful before the Second World War, the war added to Greenwood's prominence within the textile industry. Contracted by the U.S. Army to produce special poplin cloth for the armed services, the Mathews mill was the sole operation in the entire country that successfully met the Army's strict specifications. During the course of World War II, the Mathews mill and the Ninety-Six mill produced over 100 million yards of cloth for the armed services, more than any other company within the American textile industry. By the end of the war, Greenwood Cotton Mills had received four awards from the Army for the high quality of its cloth.
After the war, the company changed its name to Greenwood Mills and initiated a comprehensive restructuring and modernization program. Mathews mill and Ninety Six mill were incorporated into the restructuring effort, and a new plant named in honor of J.B. Harris was built close to the Mathews facility. This expansion was achieved without incurring any debt. At the same time, Self arranged for the construction of a living community for employees of the Harris plant. Comprised of well-built brick homes, a school, and a shopping center, the Harris Community was the last mill village planned and constructed by management for company employees in the United States.
Self also created a not-for-profit foundation which funded many charitable projects during the 1950s, including the construction of the Self Memorial Hospital in 1951. In 1952 Self was honored as "Man of the South" for his business accomplishments and his community involvement. In 1953 he supervised the last plant built under his leadership of the company, the Durst facility. The Durst plant was unusual since it was the only cotton print mill cloth facility built in the United States for over 30 years, and many experts within the industry believed such a mill to be out-of-date and financially risky. But Self's confidence was justified--the mill developed into one of the largest producers of 100-percent cotton print cloth fabric during the 1950s.
In 1955 James C. Self died and was succeeded as president by his son, Jim Self, who immediately embarked upon an aggressive expansion strategy. Beginning in 1960, Greenwood Mills added eight plants in less than eight years. The most important of these included the Sloan plant, located at the Ninety Six facility, which was one of the first mills to make one fabric. In 1962 the company built the Adams plant, also located at the Ninety Six facility. Two years later the Chalmers plant was added to the company's growing list of textile mills. The Chalmers plant soon grew into a leading producer of cotton corduroy.
In 1965, for the first time, Greenwood Mills acquired a company outside the immediate location of Greenwood, South Carolina. The company purchased the Joanna Cotton Mills located in Joanna, South Carolina. Greenwood's management rearranged and reconstituted Joanna's facilities into four plants which focused on specific fabric areas, and a single yarn plant. In 1968 the company acquired Fabric Services, a Orangeburg, South Carolina, operation owned by Monsanto Company. This finishing and dyeing business provided Greenwood Mills with the ability to sell its own finished fabrics. Previously the company had contracted dyers and finishers on a free-lance basis to finish its products. Greenwood renamed its new purchase the Liner plant, in honor of a retiring vice president.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the public's demand for brighter colors necessitated more sophisticated technology to evaluate color in the dyeing process. A Greenwood Mills vice president in engineering, Lyle C. Wilcox, invented the spectrophotometer as a response to this challenge within the textile industry. The spectrophotometer was a computer scanning piece of equipment that assured the color scheme integrity of a piece of cloth. Holding the patent to this process, Greenwood licensed the new technology to such diverse customers as Communications Corporation and Ford Aerospace.
The company continued its expansion program throughout the 1970s. In 1972 the company opened a marketing office in London, England, in order to regularly assess the European textile industry. At approximately the same time, distribution agents were contracted in Canada, South America, Africa, Australia, and various other countries in the Pacific Rim. In 1973 Greenwood Mills purchased the Edisto plant in Orangeburg. Owned by M. Lowenstein and Sons, the plant was a major producer of both knitted and textured woven fabrics in the southern part of the United States. Four additional plants of Inman Mills, situated in Spartanburg, South Carolina, were also purchased during the mid-1970s. With its expansion strategy completed for the moment, the company took a break and announced a comprehensive consolidation and modernization program amounting to $65 million. This program involved all phases of Greenwood's operations, including the purchase of over 500 state-of-the-art air jet looms, a new corduroy finishing plant, and a modernized weaving facility.
In the late 1970s, Greenwood Mills returned to the past in order to make its present operation more efficient. Along with other cotton factories, Greenwood Mills developed a way to make the shipment of cotton more cost effective. New locks on the Arkansas River provided access all the way to the Mississippi, and company management decided that barging cotton from Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then transporting by truck to Greenwood, South Carolina, was a more reliable and less expensive shipping process than those that were currently in place. In October 1979, a barge loaded with 2,360 bales of cotton departed Pine Bluff and arrived in Chattanooga 25 days later. Valued at a cost of more than $750,000, the shipment of cotton by barge was the first of its kind in the South since the turn of the century.
Throughout the 1980s, Greenwood Mills continued to improve and upgrade its manufacturing plants. With over 20 facilities operating under the name of Greenwood Mills and revenues climbing, the firm was one of the most financially stable in the entire American textile industry. Along with its sound financial position, the company also maintained a solid relationship with its employees. Contracts agreed upon between Greenwood management and the textile workers union were generally achieved to everyone's satisfaction without lingering resentment or acrimony.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company began to experience what every textile manufacturer feared most--increased competition from foreign countries. Textile manufacturers and clothing companies located in the Pacific Rim and South America were able to pay low wages to employees and make minimal capital investments. They were thus increasingly able to undersell American and European companies. As the market share for Greenwood Mills, along with many other firms, started to erode, the company fought back by cutting its prices and reducing its overhead. These measures, however, were not enough to remain competitive.
As a result of the increasing competition from foreign textile companies, in 1993 management at Greenwood Mills decided to build a clothing facility overseas. The strategy was to take advantage of the lower cost in wages and the generally less expensive operating overhead available overseas. The company arranged a low cost loan of $77 million through the International Finance Corporation, and made plans to construct a denim plant in Pakistan. Before the deal could even be formalized, however, intense criticism from American textile manufacturers and clothing companies rained down on Greenwood Mills. Chief executive officers and presidents of such companies as Akrwright Mills, Cheraw Yarn Mills, and Parkdale Mills vigorously objected to Greenwood's plan by pointing out that it would divert jobs overseas and hurt the domestic textile industry. At the same time, the decision made by Greenwood management was supported by the U.S. Department of State. Government officials maintained that the project was more beneficial than harmful because it was in agreement with American foreign policy efforts to lessen the dependence of developing countries on U.S. aid by encouraging the construction of more indigenous-based industries. With the backing of the federal government, Greenwood Mills adhered to its original plan of constructing a new plant in Pakistan.
Greenwood Mills remained under the leadership of the Self family in the early 1990s. James C. Self's two sons, James C. Self Jr. and W. Matthew Self, assumed direct supervision of the company when the elder Self decided to step down. A tragic automobile accident in May 1995, however, resulted in the death of James C. Self Jr., and Matt Self was named president.
Principal Subsidiaries: Greenwood Cotton Company; Greenwood Development Company; Greenwood Mill, Inc.; Greenwood Warehouse Company; Lindale Manufacturing, Inc.; Greenwood Mills Marketing Company.
- Barrett, Joyce, "Greenwood Hit On Plan To Build Pakistan Plant," Women's Wear Daily, July 28, 1993, p. 13.
- "Greenwood CEO Killed On Highway," Women's Wear Daily, May 9, 1995, p. 2.
- "Greenwood Mills, Inc.," Textile World, February 1992, p. 10.
- "Greenwood Mills," HFD-The Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper, May 23, 1994, p. 34.
- "Greenwood Obtains Funds For Asian Deal," Daily News Record, June 30, 1993, p. 10.
- "Greenwood, Pakistan Firm In Denim Venture," Women's Wear Daily, June 30, 1993, p. 14.
- Pfaff, Kimberly, "Weaving Toward Success In 1993," HFD-The Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper, June 8, 1992, pp. 34--40.
- Self, James C., Greenwood Mills, Inc., Newcomen Society: New York, 1980.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996.