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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Alester G. Furman Jr., January 6, 1976. Interview B-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishment of the textile industry, buying land and stock, and role of local people

Furman continues his discussion about his father's involvement in the establishment of the textile industry in Greenville, South Carolina. Here, Furman focuses on how his father bought land for building textile mills, rather than housing. He describes how local people would buy stock in the tracts of land. Furman argues that local people welcomed the textile industry in this way because it brought jobs and economic opportunities. As such, his description of the establishment of industry in the area seems to emphasize grassroots participation of local peoples over industry paternalism. In addition, Furman emphasizes the fact that his father did not accrue major wealth during these years, but barely made ends meet. Nevertheless, he did begin to carve out a decisive place for his business in the area.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Alester G. Furman Jr., January 6, 1976. Interview B-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So really, my father started trying to get these different organizations started and building mills.
BRENT GLASS:
Now, when you say "started," how was he involved in it? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Well, I'll tell you. In the first place, he went to get the land for them. I mean, they had to have land. It's rather interesting to me, because he bought land for concerns to put a mill on. Some foreign, some local. There were some merchants here who had done pretty well and they . . . for instance, Old Man John Woodside was a merchant on Main Street and Mr. F.W. Poe was a merchant and Mr. James H. Morgan was a merchant and they built the Woodside Mill, the F.W. Poe Manufacturing Company and . . . oh, the Morgan mill was named . . . well, they called it the Sampson Mill, but that wasn't it's name. American Spinning Company was its name. That was some, then the Brandon Mill, Father got the land for that and by that time, people wanted a local interest in it. They wanted people to buy a little stock in it and as a result of that, he would go out and sell, get people to subscribe to the stock I'd better say, rather than "selling" it. He went to get them to subscribe to the stock in different companies. In small sums. A hundred dollars to a thousand dollars was a big sum. Then after they operated for awhile, some of them wanted to sell that stock and they would come back here and say, "You got me to buy this, now would you sell it." So, it started him in the stock business. Then, he used to do a great deal in municipal bonds. I laugh about it often now, because a hundred thousand dollar issue of municipal bonds was a big issue. Today, we don't think anything of ten million. (laughter) That's the difference.
BRENT GLASS:
About how much would one of these tracts of land cost? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Oh, not much. Land was very cheap in those days.
BRENT GLASS:
He would buy from a local farmer? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Oh, sure. The farmer was glad to get rid of some of it, mostly.
BRENT GLASS:
Was there any suspicion on the part of people about bringing industry in? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: No.
BRENT GLASS:
No resistence? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: No, no resistence whatsoever.
BRENT GLASS:
They were pleased? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Well, they would be getting the jobs, all those people coming down from the hills. Incidentally . . . this is really an anecdote that goes back a little in time. While his father was Assistant United States District Attorney, here were these people that would come in who had been drawn for the jury, or some drawn as a witness. Of course, we had legal distilleries here in those days. They had warehousemen and . . . what did they call them? Well, it was the man who tested the strength of the whiskey, whether it was eighty proof, ninety proof and all that. Classer. That's what it was. Warehousemen and classers. But anyway, they would come down here and what transportation did they have? They had nothing but oxen and a mule and they would have to come down here twenty-five or thirty miles from the up part of the county to the court. At that time, the United States Court only had two districts. They had the eastern district in Charleston and the western district in Greenville. Well, the western district was everything in the upper part of the state and all these people had to come in here. Here were these people who would come over here and they would get little fees of a dollar for a witness, a dollar a day or whatever it was, small fees. And then Congress never appropriated that money. They didn't have them like they have it today where you can just go in there and they give you a claim. Congress met the first of December every year before what was then the end of the fiscal year and appropriated money to pay these court claims all over the United States. It was a cumbersome thing, but that was the way it was done. Well, here were these people and they had to come and they had no way to get those things to them and if they got them, nobody could cash them. So, Father would discount those things for them. In other words, he'd get ten percent off of them and they were tickled to death to do that because they would have to go thirty miles back up in the country and if they were on the train, they would have to come from over at Gaffney or Spartanburg and Anderson and those places, they didn't pay them to travel, they just paid them witness fees and jury fees. So, he had a little business that was going. That was another thing that kept him from being a lawyer. (laughter) Anyway, that was the way that he started developing these things and then, as I said, he started getting the land to put buildings on, he solicited subscriptions to the stock, for which he got nothing and the only time that he made anything out of that was when they wanted to sell it and he sold it and got a commission and did a little bond business on municipal bonds. Not himself, because he did not have the capital to buy, but he would do it for these big firms in New York and Cincinnati and Chicago that would give him a commission for buying these bonds for them.
BRENT GLASS:
Did he own stock himself in these mills? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Oh, he got very little, he didn't have any money to buy it with. He subsequently owned stock in them but he wasn't in the original doings because he just didn't have any money to buy it with.
BRENT GLASS:
Was he involved in providing machinery for the mills? Did he get involved with that? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Well, you see, it was the machinery manufacturers who really started these mills, so in those days, there weren't any banks down in this part of the country that could finance anything. He had no basic connection with banks in New York or those kinds of things to do that. So, in his first twenty years or so, he was just working tooth and toenail to make a living, if you want to know the truth about it.