Springs, Elliott White
Businessman, aviator, author. Springs was born in Lancaster on July 31, 1896, the son of Leroy Springs, a wealthy textile manufacturer, and Grace Allison White. He graduated from Culver Military Academy in Indiana in 1913 and received an A.B. from Princeton University in 1917. On October 4, 1922, he married Frances Hubbard Ley of Massachusetts. They had one daughter, Anne Kingsley Springs, who married H. William Close, and one son, Leroy “Sonny” Springs II, who was killed in an airplane crash in 1946.
Elliott Springs was one of the most daring pilots of World War I. Following his enlistment, Springs was sent to England for training with the Royal Flying Corps. Selected for the prestigious British 85th Squadron, Springs racked up four kills before he was wounded after crash-landing on June 26, 1918. Upon his recovery, he was promoted to captain and transferred to the 148th Squadron of the U.S. Army. He became an “ace” (five kills) on August 3. By the end of the war, Springs had shot down eleven planes (other likely “kills” were not confirmed) and was the fifth-ranking American ace of World War I. He was awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the American Distinguished Service Cross. He would return to military service in 1941 during World War II and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
After World War I, Springs briefly worked as a test pilot for the LWF Engineering Company of New York. He then went back to South Carolina to work in the family’s textile business. His demanding father put him to work in a variety of jobs to learn the family business, but the work did not suit Springs. To relieve the tedium, Springs took to writing accounts of his war-time experiences. He began by publishing short stories and then wrote War Birds: The Diary of an Unknown Aviator, a thinly disguised account of his time in England and France during World War I. Published in 1926, the book was an instant critical and commercial success. From 1927 to 1931 Springs published dozens of short stories and seven more books, mostly about his flying experiences. Although his later works fell far short of the acclaim garnered by War Birds, Springs nevertheless earned $250,000 from his writings. He was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2000.
After his father died in 1931, Springs defied predictions that he would quickly run through the estate (supposedly valued at $5 million) and took over his father’s textile company. At the time, Springs Cotton Mills consisted of six aging plants in Chester, Lancaster, and York Counties. Springs mastered technical details as well as business principles, working on a loom in his basement to test proposals of his workers and supervisors. He found that “for a man who loves machines, a cotton mill beats an airplane.” He learned to tell by sound whether a machine was running properly.
During the 1930s and 1940s Springs consolidated his mills into one company, built a finishing plant, established a sales arm, and modernized the business. By 1958, the last full year he managed the company, he had built assets to $138.5 million, compared to $13 million when he became president. Sales were $163 million, more than nineteen times greater than in 1933. Springs was the seventh- largest textile company in the nation but led the industry in profitability. The company had become the world’s largest producer of sheets and pillowcases. In particular, Springs won acclaim (as well as criticism) for his humorous and risqué advertisements promoting his company’s “Springmaid” sheets. He was also known for special benefits he provided employees, including medical care, profit sharing, and recreational facilities.
Springs died on October 15, 1959, in New York City. His remains were cremated and returned to Fort Mill for interment in the White family plot of the Presbyterian cemetery. He was named to the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1985 and inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2000. He was named to the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1985.
Davis, Burke. War Bird: The Life and Times of Elliott White Springs. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.