Springs Industries, a cotton textile company, was founded in 1887 by Samuel Elliott White of Fort Mill. Originally named Fort Mill Manufacturing Company, the company soon became a leading textile manufacturer in South Carolina. After White’s death in 1911, ownership transferred to “Colonel” Leroy Springs. In 1922 Springs organized a company–Springs Mills, Inc.–to centralize control over his various holdings in Lancaster County. But his aggressive management style had drawbacks. Laborers threatened strikes over low wages, and the disgruntled cotton buyer Eldred Griffith shot Springs in Charlotte, North Carolina, over a questionable business deal. Though wounded in the head, Springs recovered, but he decided to manage his mills remotely from his office in New York City. On April 9, 1931, Leroy Springs died of respiratory failure during a visit to Charlotte.
Elliott White Springs, his son, inherited his father’s six cotton mills, 7,500 looms, and 300,000 spindles, all valued at $7.25 million. In his first months as mill president, Elliott Springs purchased used equipment from New England industries, and the recently renamed Springs Cotton Mills began to manufacture a variety of new fabrics–pillowcases, towels, dress goods, and spun rayon fabrics. But Elliott continued his father’s administrative style, particularly his antipathy toward organized labor. Only under direct pressure from federal New Deal agencies did Elliott reluctantly increase wages and reduce the workweek from fifty-five to forty hours.
After World War II, Springs again expanded corporate holdings with an effective “Springmaid” advertising campaign and the construction of the $15 million Grace Bleachery. At the time of Elliott Springs’s death in 1959, Springs Industries included assets worth $138.5 million, 17,800 looms, and 836,000 spindles. Management transferred to his son-in-law, H. W. Close.
The 1960s treated Springs well. In 1962 Springs built a twenty-one-story office building in midtown New York. The next year Close’s mills began producing polyester-cotton fabrics. In 1969 Springs completed a ten-year, $230 million expansion program, but national economic slowdowns and foreign competition hindered profits during the following decade. At the same time, turnover rates soared as a younger generation chose not to work in the mills or live in their parents’ communities. New federal environmental regulations in the 1970s forced a $1.8 million expansion of Grace Finishing Plant’s waste-treatment facility, while a government recall in 1976 of Springs fabric treated with the carcinogenic chemical “Tris” cost the company millions of dollars in lost revenue and perhaps even more in bad publicity. W. Close died of heart failure in 1983. Under new management, the company was renamed Springs Industries and in 1985 acquired a major competitor, Lowenstein Corporation, for $286 million. Additional acquisitions came a decade later, allowing the company to reorganize into three production groups: bed fashions, bath fashions, and diversified products. In 1998 Springs elected Crandall Close Bowles, daughter of H. W. Close, as company president. Net sales for Springs Industries in 2000 were $2.3 billion.
Davis, Burke. War Bird: The Life and Times of Elliott White Springs. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
Pettus, Louise, and Martha Bishop. The Springs Story: Our First Hundred Years. Fort Mill, S.C.: Springs Industries, 1987.