1915 British World War 1 Propaganda Poster. As Allied workers went to the front line, women took their place in the factories; especially in industries that were essential to weapons and munitions production. The demand for manufactured goods between the warring nations created a fantastic opportunity for American producers, and the Canton Cotton Mills were well positioned to take advantage. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The Canton Cotton Mills’ leadership completed these additions in time to properly exploit the increase in demand for their products brought about by World War I. Perhaps they completed this objective, in part, by utilizing unsavory means. In June of 1910, as workers finished the installation of the new machinery in the expansion, federal prosecutors dropped a bombshell in the textile industry by indicting Colonel Robert M. Thompson and seven others on charges of manipulating the price of cotton in collaboration with dozens of cotton mills across the country. Amongst other mills along the Textile Heritage Trail, the government implicated the Canton Cotton Mills as a co-conspirator in this plot. The whole conspiracy was part of an effort to keep the price of cotton low for manufacturers nationwide, as Southern mills bought up all their local cotton at a lower price and sold the surplus on to Northern mills, who would have had to pay a higher price if they bought through normal channels. Perhaps it was the negative publicity from this incident which caused the Cherokee Advance, ever the ally of the Canton Cotton Mills, to write an article in 1914 about the mill’s providing an excellent and high-paying cotton market for local farmers.
Whether they cheated or not, the Canton Cotton Mills went into the First World War fully equipped. Indeed, the mills appear to have run full time throughout the war. Out of appreciation for the efforts of the mill’s employees during this period, management saw fit to reward workers 2 days of paid vacation at Christmas of 1915. However, this benevolence flew out the window in 1916 when the mills were faced with the Keating-Owens Child Labor Act, which sought to prevent the sale of goods produced by companies who employed children under the age of fourteen. R. T. Jones, along with other delegates at the Georgia Manufacturers’ Association, roundly condemned the bill which they believed endangered their workforce.
1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance map depicting Canton Cotton Mills. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
However, the Canton Cotton Mills clearly profited from the war, as they announced in 1923 that they would build a second mill in Canton. Management intended for the No. 2 mill, as it would come to be known, to more than double their production and employment numbers. As such, they spared no expense on the mill, reportedly spending $2,000,000 ($30,436,140.35 in 2020 dollars) on the building, machinery, and houses for the employees.
L.L. Jones, son of R.T. Jones and treasurer of the Canton Cotton Mills, wrote an article describing the new mill in glowing terms. He noted the quality of the machinery, the ventilation, and heating that the new mill would possess. He also touted the up-to-date nature of the mill village which would feature both a church and a school. He claimed that the new employee houses would have running water, electricity, and sewage. Finally, he called for 650 to 750 new employees to work at the new mill.
Canton Cotton Mills No. 2 circa 1950. Photo Courtesy of the Cherokee County Historical Society.
When they completed the mill in 1924, the Canton Cotton Mills controlled a total of 229 Cards, 1,400 looms, and 43,000 ring spindles which employed 1,000 people who produced their now famous “Canton Denim”. Despite all of the joy and pride that the 1920s brought to the employees of Canton Cotton Mills and the Jones family, perhaps their greatest pleasure came from seeing R.T. Jones’ grandson and namesake, Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones, win the US Open in 1923. In time, the young golfer would become a household name and go on to co-establish the Master’s Tournament in Augusta.