King Cotton Ruled in Charlotte During Mid-20th Century
By Jesse Atkins
At one time here in Charlotte, the textile industry was where King Cotton lived. The mills were his castle and the South was his country. The mills were the lifeblood of this city.
Everything lived and died by the power generated from textiles. The mills built houses, stores, churches and streets for its workers. People came from the farms and rural areas to work in the mills and better themselves.
Heading north from East Trade Street, the mills and their villages were spread out all the way to Craighead Road. There was Hudson Hosiery, Highland Park No. 1, Louise Mill, Larkwood Hosiery, Highland Park No 3, Johnston and the Mercury Mill.
Each owned houses for its employees, from a few houses to full villages. These were all in the North Charlotte area or the northern part of the city. There were also other mills east, west and south of the city.
The cotton mill workers (often called “lintheads”) and the hosiery mill workers all worked hard, played hard and living was hard. Things just weren’t easy in those days.
All in all, these were great people with dreams for themselves and their children. The houses were well-maintained and inexpensive.
You rented the homes from the mills for 50 cents per room per week and some were as low as 25 cents per room per week.
Neighbors became friends for life. No one was better than anyone else, even though the supervisors or those in authority lived in the houses on the front streets or closest to the plant.
You could buy food, coal for heating and pay your house rent through payroll deduction at the mill.
The really big problem that hung over you was, if you lived in a mill house, you or someone in your family must keep a job at the mill.
Of course, not everyone at the mill lived in mill houses. There were private homes for rent and many big homes that took in renters and boarders.
But, for the most part, the mills had a growing work force in each family. The more kids in a family, the better the supply of workers for the mills and that in itself was not all bad.
To work in the mills, you had to be trained, and training on the job was the only way to become skilled. You soon learned just how the mill operated and made the product it sold.
In the case of cotton mills, it all started with cotton, which came from the fields either in this area or trucked in from other states. First the cotton goes to the gin to be stripped of all husks, seeds and trash.
Everything is used: seeds for oil; husks for motes and fertilizer; and finished cotton for cloth.
From the gin, the cotton went through the card room. The card room took the raw cotton and ran it through a small channel making a rope about one inch in diameter. This was the start of the final thread that became one of many in a piece of cloth.
From the card room, it went to the slubber, where it was combined with other ropes and twisted together to make a 1/8-inch cord. That was placed on spinning machines with more twisting of cords together to make a strand of cotton or, as referred to in the mill, an end of cotton.
Next was the spinning room. From the spinning room it went to the spool room where cords were again joined with other strings of twisted cotton called roping and filling. The roping was the strands of cotton that were the beginning of the cloth. The filling was sent to the weave room, bypassing the spooler room. The roping then went to the warpers.
After being placed on racks, the strings called ends were run side-by-side on a big beam called a warp. The big roll of ends was to stay together.
After the warp came of the warper machine, it went to the slicer where it was bathed and then dried.
Next was the drawing room. People there using a hook device put each strand in its place to make pattern. The beam of strings now harnessed went to the weave room to be united with fillings on the looms.
The harness moved up and down while the filling strings went between the roping strings on a shuttle, thereby weaving and making cloth. When the warp was completed, it was cloth.
The cloth went to a finishing room. There, the cloth was cut, folded, packaged and shipped.
Jesse Atkins is a Charlotte resident.