Stone Manufacturing Company History
Greenville, South Carolina 29608
Telephone: (803) 242-6300
Fax: (803) 370-5640
Sales: $250 million
SICs: 2329 Mens & Boys Clothing, Nec; 2322 Mens & Boys Underwear & Nightwear
Stone Manufacturing Company is one of the leading producers of men and women's clothing in the United States, and owns one of the largest single apparel factories in the world. The company's Cherrydale plant, located in Greenville, South Carolina, manufacturers an entire range of products, including men's pants, shirts, shorts, sweaters, t-shirts, underwear, and sleeping garments. In recent years the company has also manufactured a popular line of women's clothing. Some of Stone Manufacturing Company's best-known brands include Umbro, a line of soccer clothing, Women on the Run, a line of running clothes for women, and U.S. Action, a line of sports clothes for both sexes.
Stone Manufacturing Company was the brainchild of Eugene E. Stone III. Stone was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and attended Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia. He went on to Georgia Tech University in Atlanta and later graduated with a degree in geology from the University of South Carolina.
In 1929 Stone set out to strike it rich in the oil fields of East Texas. He joined the Seaport Oil Company working out of Houston and developed a close friendship with the man who started the company. At the time, drilling for oil seemed to be an easy route to success. Seaport Oil drilled seven wells and came up with seven oil gushers. However, Seaport Oil was just one of many companies that found oil, and, within a bare six months, the oil market was completely glutted. As a result, the price of a barrel dropped from a high of one dollar to a low of just six cents. Stone's dreams of wealth were shattered, and he returned to Greenville a poor but wiser man.
Back in Greenville, Stone soon found that conditions were even worse than in Texas. The entire nation was in the grip of the Great Depression, and South Carolina was particularly hard hit. Property values for both residential and commercial real estate had dropped dramatically, and wages were approximately one-third of what they had been before the Wall Street crash of 1929. Small farms in rural South Carolina had suffered the same fate as farms in the Dust Bowl of the plains states, and many families moved to cities in order to find work at factories or small businesses.
One of the small apparel manufacturing companies in Greenville was also struggling to survive. The firm was forced to reduce the wages of its employees so that it could continue business operations. An embittered worker sabotaged the firm's boiler and left the entire factory and all its personnel working in the cold. When Stone's father, the owner of the building, was asked to repair the boiler, the younger Stone, who had gained some experience fixing boilers in his student days, volunteered to tackle the problem. Stone fixed the boiler, the company resumed its normal operations, and the young man was offered a job at ten cents an hour for sixty-eight hours per week. Stone assumed the job with his usual enthusiasm, and despite the long hours found the time to court and marry Allene Wyman, known affectionately by her friends and family as "Linky." Stone and Linky left on their honeymoon with a guarantee from his boss that they would not only receive the two weeks' pay for his time off, but a new icebox upon their return.
When the Stones returned from their honeymoon they discovered that there would be neither a two-week paycheck nor an icebox. Stone immediately resigned, and with the skills he had acquired at the apparel manufacturing company, he opened the Stone Manufacturing Company on July 9, 1933. Stone hired five seamstresses and purchased eight sewing machines that formed the cornerstone of his company for the first few years. Stone himself did all the fabric cutting, as well as all the packaging and shipping. His wife was in charge of designing all the clothes.
The first order received by Stone Manufacturing Company was from Sterling Stores of Little Rock, Arkansas, for the production of 25 dozen pink bloomers of knit jersey made from cotton. Although the shipment got lost in transit, Sterling Stores gave Stone another chance and soon developed into one of his most loyal customers. Also during the company's first year of business, Stone made a sales call to G. C. Murphy Company, a retailer with stores throughout Pennsylvania. Before he finished showing the buyer his entire line of clothing, the buyer began filling out an order pad. After the meeting, Stone happily announced that the company had enough orders for the entire year.
During the mid-1930s, the nation was still in the midst of the Great Depression. Stone Manufacturing employees worked in cold, damp conditions since the company was only able to afford one potbellied stove for heat. Yet the firm produced high-quality clothes that people could afford, which was quite an accomplishment during the Depression. By 1935 the company was not merely surviving but making a profit, and Stone decided to buy a furnace for the clothing plant. One of the few apparel manufacturing firms in the country whose sales were always increasing during the 1930s, Stone Manufacturing Company was the envy of the entire industry.
In the late 1930s, due to its rapid growth, the company moved to a larger facility and at the same time expanded its product line. Stone Manufacturing was making dresses, aprons, slips, panties, dustcaps, and sunsuits. The sunsuits sold at Woolworth Department Stores for ten cents. The company held to a high standard of quality: for example, while most bloomers at the time were made with eight or nine stitches to the inch, Stone's bloomers were sewn with 15 stitches per inch. As a result, the clothing made by Stone Manufacturing gained the reputation of keeping its shape through continual wear and washing.
By the beginning of World War II, sales at Stone Manufacturing were growing approximately 30 percent per year. The U.S. Government contracted the company to make clothes for its soldiers in various theaters of war, and was given a production allotment. This allotment meant that one-quarter of the company's manufacturing facilities had to be set aside for producing clothing for the government. One of the firm's most important products during this time was mattress covers. These covers were so well made that sailors reportedly inflated them and used them as floats to wait for rescue boats when ships sank. By the time the war ended, Stone Manufacturing Company employed over 300 seamstresses.
After the war, Stone Manufacturing planned to take advantage of the demand for clothing necessitated by the return of servicemen to the United States. Stone himself thought that items such as the boxer shorts issued by the government and worn by military personnel during the war, popularly known as "skivvies," would transform the country's buying patterns. Stone purchased a new plant in Columbia, South Carolina, to foster its growth.
During the postwar years, as demand for its products grew, Stone Manufacturing began examining ways to improve the performance of the sewing machine. One of Eugene Stone's own inventions was the "clipper foot," a small attachment located next to the needle of the sewing machine to cut the thread after the seam was completed. This labor-saving device allowed the seamstress to continue sewing without having to stop and reach for a pair of scissors. Stone's invention was so efficient that sewing machine companies soon incorporated the "clipper foot" into the manufacture of their machines.
By 1949 Stone Manufacturing Company had grown so rapidly and had become so successful that it was profiled in Life Magazine as one of the leading clothing firms in the United States. The company had grown from a mere five employees in 1933 to over two thousand by the end of the 1940s. Production was so efficient that it had doubled a total of five times in just 13 years. The new plant in Columbia was fast becoming the largest manufacturing facility of men's and boy's underwear in the world. Women's clothing items, a specialty of Stone Manufacturing Company, were also produced in ever-greater quantities to meet the burgeoning demands of a populace entering America's economic boom.
During the 1950s, the company prepared to meet the growth in consumer demand by designing and constructing an entirely new manufacturing facility in Cherrydale, South Carolina. When the plant began operation in 1951, it was heralded as the biggest apparel production facility in the world. At a time when planning, outfitting, and operating a clothing manufacturing plant with 300 sewing machines seemed nearly impossible, the company's new Cherrydale plant included over one thousand sewing machines.
The company's success continued into the 1960s. Stone Manufacturing broadened its product line to include more children's clothing such as T-shirts, pants, shorts, and underwear. The company's line of women's clothing also continued to expand, and began to gain a greater share of the domestic market. Men's clothing and boy's clothing, the firm's two mainstays, were enjoying their greatest popularity ever. Sales for men's underwear, especially the company's line of boxer shorts, were growing rapidly. Although far from the spotlight of Paris or New York fashions, Stone Manufacturing Company remained abreast of current trends within the fashion industry that affected the styles of clothing for both men and women.
With the advent of the 1970s, Stone Manufacturing Company expanded its line of children's wear and women's clothing. New product lines such as children's sweaters and women's jackets quickly gained the attention of consumers throughout the United States. In the mid-1970s, the physical fitness craze caught on in the United States, and Americans began to exercise on a more regular and vigorous basis. By the end of the decade, it was evident that this movement had become a permanent feature in the daily lives of millions of people. Management at Stone Manufacturing Company recognized the potential of such a new market and began to produce the simplest of exercise clothing--running shorts.
Soon Stone began to produce athletic socks, T-shirts, underwear, jerseys, sweatshirts, sweatpants, basketball shorts, and many other items. Soccer quickly became popular with young people across America, especially teens, and Stone Manufacturing Company launched its Umbro brand of soccer wear, which included jerseys, shorts, and knee-length socks. By the end of the 1980s, sales for the Stone activewear division were increasing rapidly.
By the mid-1990s, Eugene Stone III was gone and had been replaced by his son, Eugene E. Stone IV, who served as the company's chief executive officer. Like many other companies with a long history of family management, Stone Manufacturing Company has benefitted from the steady direction of its founders. If Stone's leadership remains flexible enough to continue to adapt to trends in the apparel industry, the company is assured of a prosperous future.
Principal Subsidiaries: Stone Manufacturing Company Lavonia; Stone Manufacturing Company Menswear.
- Curan, Catherine, "Wall St. Bullish on WR Shirts," Daily News Record, April 21, 1995, p. 1.
- ------, "Men's First Period Financial Results Better than Women's," Daily News Record, June 28, 1994, p. 2.
- Gellers, Stan, "Designers Love Linen," Daily News Record, July 1, 1993, p. 6.
- ------, "Clothing Coming of Age," Daily News Record, May 22, 1992, p. 93.
- Hancox, Clara, "What Will It Take to Survive into the Next Century," Daily News Record, June 28, 1993, p. 23.
- Salfino, Catherine, "More Vendors See $ in the SSS Sports," Daily News Record, April 24, 1995, p. 6.
- ------, "Men's Apparel Execs Cheer Results of 1994 Federal Election," Daily News Record, November 10, 1994, p. 12.
- Stone, Eugene W., III, Stone Manufacturing Company, Newcomen Society: New York, 1990.
- "The Story of Stone Manufacturing," Life Magazine, August 1949, pp. 39--44.
- Vargo, Julie, "Work Clothes Bring Fashion to the Street," Daily News Record, November 18, 1994, p. 3.
- Walsh, Peter, "Outside Forces that Influenced Fashion," Daily News Record, May 22, 1992, p. 60.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996.