After some initial teething, the company quickly proved highly prosperous, producing shirting and sheeting that sold well in markets as far away as Philadelphia and New York. Graniteville was also unusual in that it employed the labor of free white laborers, mostly women and teenaged children, at a time when most southern manufacturers used the labor of black slaves.
Chartered by the South Carolina General Assembly in December 1845, the Graniteville Company was one of the earliest and most successful textile manufacturing operations in the South. The guiding light behind its creation was William Gregg, a highly successful Charleston jeweler-turned-manufacturer who became a leading proponent of southern industrialization during the antebellum era. With an initial capitalization of $300,000 raised primarily from the Charleston mercantile community, the company commenced operations in 1849 in a massive granite factory located on the banks of Horse Creek in southern Edgefield District (now Aiken County). After some initial teething, the company quickly proved highly prosperous, producing shirting and sheeting that sold well in markets as far away as Philadelphia and New York. Graniteville was also unusual in that it employed the labor of free white laborers, mostly women and teenaged children, at a time when most southern manufacturers used the labor of black slaves. During the Civil War, Graniteville produced cloth for the Confederate government as well as the civilian market. It was also one of the few southern manufacturing companies to survive the war largely intact, and resumed civilian production shortly after the end to hostilities.
The Graniteville Company expanded in the decades following the war, building new factories at neighboring Vaucluse and Warrenville and acquiring two mills (Sibley and Enterprise) in nearby Augusta, Georgia. Declining profits forced the company into receivership briefly in 1915, but it emerged in just seventeen months, thanks to government orders brought about by America’s entry into World War I. The 1920s and 1930s were lean years for Graniteville, with increasing competition and the Great Depression taking a toll on company profits. War orders during the 1940s again improved the fortunes of the company, allowing the company to pay off all its debts and embark on a massive postwar modernization plan. In the years following the war, Graniteville Company pioneered the production of permanent-press textiles. Acquired by Avondale Mills, Inc., in 1996, the remaining Graniteville facilities continued to produce high quality denim, cotton, and specialty fabrics.
Gregg-Graniteville Collection. University of South Carolina-Aiken Library, Aiken.
Mitchell, Broadus. William Gregg: Factory Master of the Old South. 1928. Reprint, New York: Octagon, 1966.
Special issue on Graniteville. Textile World (June 1976). Wallace, David Duncan. “A Hundred Years of William Gregg and Graniteville.” Manuscript. David Duncan Wallace Papers. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston.