Architect, engineer. W. B. Smith Whaley was born on May 24, 1866, in Charleston, the son of William Baynard Whaley, a prominent Charleston cotton broker, and Helen Smith. He studied engineering at Bingham Military Institute in North Carolina, as well as Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, before earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1888. He soon joined the Providence, Rhode Island, architectural and engineering firm of Thompson & Nagle, the major partner of which, D. M. Thompson, was a textile designer and developer in New England. In 1892 Whaley visited Columbia, South Carolina, to study the potential for hydroelectric-powered textile mills on the Columbia Canal. Impressed by the industrial promise of Columbia, Whaley returned there later that same year, opening an office as a cotton mill engineer. He produced his first South Carolina design in 1893, the ten-thousand-spindle Union Cotton Mill, for Union County textile entrepreneur Thomas C. Duncan.
In January 1894 Smith forged a partnership with the local architect and civil engineer Gadsden E. Shand. Known as W. B. Smith Whaley & Company, the firm became the state’s premier architectural and engineering concern specializing in textile mill design, innovation, and development. With designs to its credit in Massachusetts, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, Whaley & Company earned both regional and national reputations. In South Carolina alone, from 1894 to 1903 the firm designed and built sixteen mills, including four that Whaley owned and managed himself in Columbia—Richland (1894–1895), Granby (1896), Capital City (1899), and Olympia (1899–1900). Other textile mills included the Courtenay Mill in Newry (1893–1894), the Enterprise Mill in Orangeburg (1896), the Warrenville Mill in Aiken County (1897), the Buffalo Mill in Union County (1899), the Lancaster Mills for the textile magnate Leroy Springs (1900), the DeKalb Mill in Camden (1900), and the Glenn-Lowry Mill in Whitmire (1900). In 1899–1900 Whaley built his masterpiece, the 2,400-loom, 104,000-spindle, four-story Olympia Mill near Columbia. As the largest, most expensive, and most technologically and architecturally advanced textile mill under one roof in the world, Olympia Mill, Whaley hoped, would establish Columbia as “the greatest cotton manufacturing city in the south.”
In 1900 Whaley expanded his operations by opening an office in Boston and hiring the young architect George E. Lafaye of New Orleans to take charge in Columbia. As chief draftsman, Lafaye designed and executed, under Shand’s direction, much of the firm’s work in the state after 1900. Apart from textile mills, Whaley & Company’s designs included the Columbia State newspaper building (1897) and Columbia’s YMCA building (1898–1899), as well as some large residences. Because indebtedness and labor disputes threatened the existence of his four Columbia mills, their board of directors reorganized operations, and Whaley resigned as president in November 1903. Despite his genius for mill design and promotion of industrial development, his company could not avoid bankruptcy. Whaley’s Columbia office reorganized as Shand & Lafaye, Architects and Engineers, as Whaley relocated to Boston in December 1903 to pursue textile mill design and engineering in New England. He later moved to New York, where he developed and perfected an internal combustion engine, touted by numerous engineers as an improvement over the diesel engine. Whaley died in New Rochelle, New York, on April 17, 1929, and was buried at Larchmont, New York.
Power, J. Tracy. “‘The Brightest of the Lot’: W. B. Smith Whaley and the Rise of the South Carolina Textile Industry, 1893–1903.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 93 (April 1992): 126–38.
Smith, Fenelon DeVere. “The Economic Development of the Textile Industry in the Columbia, South Carolina Area, from 1790 through 1916.” Ph.D. diss., University of Kentucky, 1952.
Wells, John E., and Robert E. Dalton. The South Carolina Architects, 1885–1935: A Biographical Directory. Richmond, Va.: New South Architectural Press, 1992.