The Bygone Days of U.S.Textile Manufacturing | A Continuous Lean.

The Bygone Days of U.S.Textile Manufacturing

Aug 12th, 2009 | Categories: Americana, Cleveland, History | by Michael Williams

At one-time we actually made things in America. I know that sounds strange, but I assure you it is true. Not only that I offer proof via the 57th edition of the Davison’s Knit Goods Trade book from October 1947. The book was a resource for all things knitwear related, wholesalers, dyers, manufacturers, agents and all sorts of other related pursuits and a symbol of our post-industrial existence. The owner of the book is Mr. Steven Tater of Ohio Knitting Mills (link here) from Cleveland. Back in the day, Ohio Knitting Mills and my hometown of Cleveland was one of the centers for knit wear production in the United States. Start American manufacturing rant. Not so much anymore. These days you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the U.S. that manufactures knits. The only makers left would most likely still be in business as a result of the Berry Amendment (the law that gives preference to domestically made goods). People say that this is just protectionism, but the fact of the matter is Berry is one of the main reasons that any U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing survives today. End American manufacturing rant.

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The image directly above is Stone Knitting Mills Co., the predecessor to Ohio Knitting Mills. It is amazing to see this book and take a trip back in time with all of the small independent factories and agents, especially in a time of consolidation and homogenization. When you drill down to the core of ACL it is about fighting for the little guy, for the independent shop. Like anything else, there is a place in this world for the big box retailers and chain stores. Hell ,I shop there and don’t have a problem with that, but it is important that people don’t hold on to what little we have left or this is going to be one depressing place.

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Comments: 22

22 Comments to “The Bygone Days of U.S.Textile Manufacturing”

  1. DavidH
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 11:24 AM

    We still make things: war, bubbles, fat people.

  2. Michael Williams
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 11:27 AM

    I think credit cards are still made here too.

  3. jfox
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 12:10 PM

    easy to get caught up in the big names like Red Wing, Levis etc as US manufactured brands, but was going through old boxes of clothes a while ago (by old I mean like my childhood pyjamas, shirts and jackets circa 197-odd) and was genuinely surprised that the majority had “made in USA” on the tag. At some point it became a mark of economic progress to note “we have factories in Taiwan” or where-ever. that the company was global. faster/cheaper etc. not a level playing field though, hardly needs to be said here.

  4. Comfortably Smug
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 1:18 PM

    One of these days I’d love to sit down over a couple beers and discuss http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waltham-Lowell_system

    Did so much to help and hurt the cause. I wrote a paper about it in my labor economics class and it’s fascinated me since.

  5. Brian Miller
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 2:48 PM

    I often feel like I’m a lone voice of this sentiment – that we SHOULD buy American-made products and we, as a country, should go back to encouraging this behavior. Personally, I’m done with this “buy cheap stuff made overseas and treat it as disposable” mindset. And I go the extra mile and pay the extra money to get something made by my neighbors, then use/keep it longer. Simple. I like supporting the working man and craftsman. Anyway, bottom line, despite the copious opinions to the contrary, I appreciate the sentiment of this piece.

  6. Paul
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 3:13 PM

    I grew up in Connecticut and one can still see the old brass foundries and mills along the Housitonic and Connecticut rivers – shells of their former selves – they’re like tombstones. BUT – with the building still standing, doens’t it make sense that if we were to bring manufacturing (anything) back, the real estate is there waiting for use. My two cents.

    I really love these recent posts of nostalgia. Always appreciate your blog.

  7. The Invisible Agent
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 3:17 PM

    I have some great old high school & college letterman sweaters from the 1940′s and 1950′s made by Ohio Knitting Mills. My favorite is a Washington Huskies rowing sweater from the 40′s with a big W & crossed oars. It’s pretty neat-o!

    I.A.

  8. sam
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 3:53 PM

    i heard someone the other day referring to cheap labor as “crack to the business world/industry.” so, the more i think about it, it’s like our country is on drugs and can’t think straight. problem is: who do you organize the intervention for?

  9. DCLawyer
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 4:04 PM

    I love the blog, but let’s not forget that the reason that we don’t manufacture inexpensive goods here is that people would need to pay about twice the amount they currently do.

    We still manufacture plenty over here, but its high tech stuff that labor costs are only a tiny percentage of.

  10. Tex-D
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 4:09 PM

    At some point, business became less about adding value to a community and simply became all about extracting value. Producing quality goods at a fair price has taken a back seat to producing goods cheaply to maximize profit margins. Businesses used to make products to stand the test of time and now it is all about planned obsolescence. For all of us who talk about it, how many actually get out and support local craftsmen and artisans? We need to lead with our actions and not just our words.

    Thanks, ACL, for keeping the spotlight on this.

  11. Jared
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 6:41 PM

    I’m sure it’s not for sale, but if it is. I’d be very interested in buying that book. I know you’re not an auction site. Just thought I’d inquire.

  12. JFD
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 8:07 PM

    “…let’s not forget that the reason that we don’t manufacture inexpensive goods here is that people would need to pay about twice the amount they currently do.”

    That would be okay really, since most of us need less than half of what we have.

    Not meaning to start an argument… but I live in a house that is 125 years old (that’s a lot for places in the West). The closets are tiny. Our house is about 8 blocks from (the unsinkable) Molly Brown’s house. Her closets were not much bigger than ours, though her house was the much bigger house. People just didn’t have that much stuff. And they seemed to do fine.

  13. CAMP
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 8:48 PM

    The consumer is also to blame, not just the “greedy, big, bad, businesses” looking to increase profit margins. Companies in a capitalist society want increase profitablility, but they also have to observe consumer behavior. If the American consumer cared enough to avoid, or even boycott foreign made products, manufacturing would have remained in the USA.

  14. Andrea
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 9:58 PM

    When I was sorting through some old clothes recently I found a pair of Sears painter’s pants I bought in the late 1980s; union made in the U.S. of A. Amazing how much things have changed in just 30 years.

  15. sam
    on Aug 12th, 2009
    @ 11:28 PM

    @CAMP

    that’s pretty much what i was saying. should we organize the intervention for the companies and businesses that are “hooked” on cheap labor OR the consumers that are “hooked” on cheap crap? alls i know is…less crap in the world sounds good to me, however they sort it.

  16. Tony
    on Aug 13th, 2009
    @ 8:34 AM

    If you’re looking for someone who still makes Letterman sweaters the old way: http://www.centraliaknittingmills.com/
    Great quality, prices and service…

  17. ZZ
    on Aug 13th, 2009
    @ 9:37 AM

    While there’s no question that a lot of textile manufacturing has left the US, it’s also true that there is a lot of mistaken perception about manufacturing in the US generally. In the last 20 years or so, manufacturing in the US as a percentage of GDP has fallen by 30%, mostly due to much faster growth in services and construction. But total manufacturing output, according to the 2009 Economic Report of The President, was up 81% over the last twenty years.

  18. Christina Phillis
    on Aug 13th, 2009
    @ 9:41 AM

    Being from Cleveland, this really intrigues me. It’s amazing to think that right in my hometown clothing was produced. Such a far cry from the Forever 21s and H&Ms, where I am constantly seduced by their low prices and trendiness.

  19. DCLawyer
    on Aug 13th, 2009
    @ 5:23 PM

    A lot of “we could just buy less”sentiment out there.

    It’s nice for those of us who can afford to buy new shoes for our kids when their feet grow and new clothes every school year. There are a LOT of folks, however, for whom that’s a hardship. For them, less expensive imported goods are a godsend.

    I’d challenge those who claim to be willing to pay more to ACTUALLY do so. If everyone who claims to be concerned about this did, we’d see more manufacturing here. Rather, its OTHER people who should pay more and get less.

  20. Sean S.
    on Aug 13th, 2009
    @ 8:58 PM

    I’d challenge those who claim to be willing to pay more to ACTUALLY do so. If everyone who claims to be concerned about this did, we’d see more manufacturing here. Rather, its OTHER people who should pay more and get less.

    I do. Hell, I just bought a 100 dollar tie (Robert Talbott) from my local custom men’s clothiers. I buy most of my basics from either American Apparel or any number of other Union-manufacturers (WigWam, Windjammer etc.) My clothes from work are either Kenneth Gordon or Gitman Bros., most of my pants are various Union-brands, and all my jeans are American-made. I do this mostly by buying less, and investing in better made goods that I know will last awhile.

    I don’t make an especially large amount of money (33K), and admittedly I don’t have children, which I think is where the real kicker comes along for clothing, but its not undoable, if you’re willing to not have a billion disposable shirts.

  21. DCLawyer
    on Aug 18th, 2009
    @ 4:05 PM

    Sean S: Good for you! (I really mean it – not being sarcastic).

    All we need is a few hundred million other people to do this as well. My dad spent most of his life selling US made clothes (undergarments, t-shirts and things you’d print stuff on mostly – not suits – at wholesale) and the offshoring of this production has pretty much put an end to that business.

    We say we want local, but for most of us, it’s the price that counts in the end.

  22. PK
    on Jan 10th, 2010
    @ 11:06 PM

    Think…..Supply and demand! What happened? Be honest, most Americans buy by price, especially now with unemployment being at 10%. “Wally world” took the supply and demand to the hilt! They are buying based on quantity.
    What people don’t realize is to be competative with the cheaper “stuff” is the bigger the demand, the lower the cost of goods. Don’t forget the employment needs. Employed people spend money.
    Example: Small business just getting by, suddenly gets contract to provide
    20 X’s what they normally supply. That business will need more employees, shop around for better cost on supplies to fill order…etc.
    Lastly, remember the days of “haggling”? I think the USA might need to start there to get ourselves back to the days of textiles.There are deals to be made. The larger the demand the lower the cost.