Industrialist. Smyth was born on October 26, 1847, in Charleston, the son of the Reverend Thomas Smyth and Margaret M. Adger. Smyth attended the South Carolina Military Academy, leaving it in 1864 to join the Confederate army. On February 17, 1869, he married Julia Gambrill. During Reconstruction, Smyth was one of the founders of the Carolina Rifle Club, and during the 1876 election campaign that brought Reconstruction to an end, he was captain of the Washington Artillery Rifle Club.
Smyth’s business career began immediately after the Civil War with a position as a junior clerk in the firm of J. E. Adger and Company, a hardware wholesaler. During the 1860s and 1870s, however, Charleston began to lose its dominance over wholesale trade due to unfavorable freight rates and the proliferation of wholesalers in inland towns once supplied by Charleston merchants. By the end of the 1870s Smyth became convinced that it was better to invest in the emerging textile industry of the upstate. In cooperation with the Charleston capitalist Francis J. Pelzer, Smyth decided to organize a cotton mill on the Saluda River in Anderson County. The first mill of the Pelzer Manufacturing Company was built in 1881, and over the next fifteen years three more mills would be added to Pelzer. Smyth served as the president of Pelzer Manufacturing Company for forty-three years until he sold it to Lockwood, Green, and Company in 1923.
The mill at Pelzer had a profound effect on the development of the textile industry in upstate South Carolina. From the beginning, Pelzer Mill took advantage of the newest technology available. Pelzer Mill was the first cotton mill to use incandescent lights. In 1895 Pelzer installed the first Draper Automatic Looms ever sold. The Number Four mill, built in 1896, drew its electrical power from a generating station four miles down the river. The mill later used some of the first automatic tying-in machines, and it was the first to use electric drives rather than the more dangerous belt systems. This progressive bent carried over to the company’s relations with its workers. Smyth never established a company store in Pelzer, and he established Chicora Savings Bank for the workers. The Pelzer mill also served as an informal training center for many workers who went on to be foremen and superintendents at other mills.
Although Pelzer was Smyth’s greatest accomplishment, it was not his only one. He also organized Belton Mills in 1899 and served as its president until 1920. Smyth was involved with many other mills, including Dunean and Brandon, both named for towns in Ulster where his ancestors had operated textile mills. He owned a controlling interest in the Greenville News from 1912 to 1923. Smyth helped found the Cotton Manufacturers Association of South Carolina and was active with the American Cotton Manufacturers Association. He served from 1896 to 1898 on the United States Industrial Commission. Smyth died at his home, Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina, on August 3, 1942. He was buried in the Second Presbyterian Church cemetery, Charleston.
“Capt. E. A. Smyth Dies at Age of 94.” Greenville News, August 4, 1942, pp. 1, 8.
Jacobs, William Plumer. The Pioneer. Clinton, S.C.: Jacobs, 1935.