Industrialist, businessman, politician. W. C. Hamrick was born on June 30, 1860, in Cleveland County, North Carolina, the sixth son of Cameron Street Hamrick and Almira Bridges. Between 1877 and 1882 Hamrick attended Boiling Springs Academy, studied medicine, and completed his medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore. Returning to North Carolina, he began his medical practice and opened a pharmacy in Grover. Finding medicine too strenuous, in 1885 he moved to Shelby and opened a drugstore. On October 15, 1885, he married a young seminary student, Paola I. Turner. They had six children.
After serving in the North Carolina House of Representatives, in 1889 Hamrick moved his family to Clifton, South Carolina, where he opened a mercantile store patronized by employees of the Clifton Manufacturing Company. “Thrown in daily contact with the textile laboring class,” Hamrick believed this experience gave him “deep insight into their thoughts and ways.” In January 1895 Hamrick accepted a position with the Gaffney Manufacturing Company and moved his family to Gaffney where, in 1897, he opened the Cherokee Drug Company. In Gaffney, Hamrick was a leader in the successful effort to form the new county of Cherokee from adjoining counties and to make Gaffney its county seat.
Early in 1900 Hamrick and other leading citizens of Gaffney organized a cotton manufacturing enterprise, the Limestone Mills. Elected secretary and treasurer, Hamrick oversaw construction and brought the new facility into profitable production. In 1907 a second enterprise, the Hamrick Mill, was organized and Hamrick was again placed in charge. Three additional mills were added to the Hamrick Group, including the Broad River Mill in 1912, the Musgrove Mill in 1920, and the Alma Mill in 1922. Hamrick served as executive officer of the Hamrick Group until his death. He also served in the South Carolina Senate in 1910 and from 1927 to 1934. He was a trustee of Limestone College from 1899 to 1935, serving as chairman from 1921 to 1935.
Hamrick’s 1931 autobiography, Life Values in the New South, examined problems faced by southern textile manufacturers, their worldview, and their values during the early twentieth century. Hamrick advised textile manufacturers to “capitalize only to the minimum,” incurring as little debt as possible, and stressed the importance of a continuous return for investors. Hamrick advocated the paternalistic mill village for housing and caring for mill workers and avoiding unionization. He saw the mill village as an improvement in the lives of most workers who had arrived in Gaffney from the rural countryside. He advised a mix of skilled and unskilled laborers and encouraged managers to use the most advanced technology available. Hamrick died on October 21, 1935, and was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Gaffney.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
Hamrick, Wiley Cicero. Life Values in the New South. Charlotte, N.C.: Observer Printing House, 1931.