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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ethel Bowman Shockley, June 24, 1977. Interview H-0045. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Changing technology and production in a textile mill during and after WWII

Shockley describes changes that occurred in the Plaid Mill during and after World War II as they shifted from cotton to silk to rayon. According to Shockley, these changes necessitated new equipment and new training. She recalls finding the newer, synthetic materials easier to work with, but that this benefit was overshadowed by the simultaneous adoption of piecework. Thus, the workers had to work harder and longer to make the same amount of money. Shockley recalls that employee complaints were unheeded because the mill owners were more interest in high production and cheap costs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ethel Bowman Shockley, June 24, 1977. Interview H-0045. 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

CLIFF KUHN:
Did the Plaid Mill make things for the War?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Yes, they made that parachute stuff. And it seems to me like they made some khaki for it. But they made all that stuff we'd make the parachutes out of, that pure silk.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you work much overtime during the War years?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
No, I didn't work hardly any overtime. One or two times we worked on Sundays during the War, because I remember the first Sunday I ever worked we was on pure silk. And it had to be processed through oil or something before we run it. And the government was going to take it. And Mr. Copeland was our superintendent then, and he thought if we'd go ahead and put it in the oil and stuff. . . . Well, the government wouldn't take it. So we worked two Sundays straight. The government took every bit of it.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did work in the Plaid Mill or work in textiles in general change after World War II, in terms of different kinds of things that you made or other sorts of changes that went on in the industry the last twenty years that you were working in the Plaid Mill?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
I don't think there was too much of a change, only we went out of silk. And we went into rayon, and rayon-cotton, and then we went from that to nylon.
CLIFF KUHN:
For each of those things, did people have to learn new, different kinds of skills?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Yes, with the nylon they had to make different machinery and set up different ways.
CLIFF KUHN:
Was that hard, to learn the new machinery?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
No, it was really easier work on the nylon than it was on the rayon, because the rayon was a soft yarn and fussed up. It would break; you'd have to tie knots every time you look around. But the nylon was stronger and would go right on through your work.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did people like working with the synthetic fabrics, compared to the cotton or the wool, the natural fabrics?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Much better. It was better because it was easy, but still you had more production to get off on it because it run better. The better your yarn was, the higher your production.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did the production compare to what you had to do before?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
You'd get paid by the board. I think there was twenty-four bobbins to the board. If we had a good grade of yarn and it run good, they'd set the production on that up about ten or twelve boards higher. And then if you got off too many of that, they'd set it up a little bit more. So the harder you worked, they added more production.
CLIFF KUHN:
When did they go to the piecework?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Before World War II.
CLIFF KUHN:
Do you know why they went to piecework at that time?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Because they would give you more machinery to run, and you could get off more work with less employees. By your taking on more work, you could get more production, and they could make their material cheaper or get more out of the material.
CLIFF KUHN:
Did some people not like having to work more, having to make more production?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Yes, we fussed, but what good did it do? [Laughter]
CLIFF KUHN:
[Laughter] How did you fuss?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
We'd tell them they was not doing us right. [Laughter]
CLIFF KUHN:
[Laughter] Was that Mr. Copeland you'd tell?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Any of them. They'd say, "Well, if we don't do so-and-so, we just don't get the orders," and that shut us up.
CLIFF KUHN:
I guess so.
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
"We've got to beat So-and-so for a run," they'd say, so there we'd go.