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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 >>

Scientific management and efficiency in the textile industry

Furman discusses the impact of "scientific management" on the textile industry beginning in the 1920s. Describing some of the ways in which the industry strove to become more efficient, Furman focuses on innovations in machinery. In addition, he explains how ideas about efficiency spilled over into aspects of the industry such as housing for mill workers. According to Furman, these developments were indicative of American individualism and progress.

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

Did many of the northern companies . . . I've heard a lot about the scientific management in the North. How influential was that in the South and did that cause any hard feelings? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Well, they always had a thing that they called a "stretchout" system. I mean, that's what it was. Of course, the whole truth of the matter was that nobody scientifically figured what was a fair load of work on a particular person. Of course, they are all different. For instance, one man might have a dexterity about him . . . of course, a spinner, you can see them put up those threads when they break and it's just a matter of flicking your finger, but you try to put it up and you would have a hard time doing it. The whole thing was built to make a yarn that wouldn't break and it took some real work to do it. Another thing was the quality of the looms. When they first started running looms, they were not automatic looms. They ran but they weren't automatic and eight to ten looms was all a man could look after. Well, I've known the time . . . when I sold those last seven mills that I sold to Burlington from Martell Henrietta in '59, I think it was, '58 or '59 and over at a little mill at Cherokee Falls, they were tending 225 looms with one man. Of course, they had the fastest, best machinery you could find. Purely a matter of . . .
Progress in the machinery? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Progress in the machinery and ability of the person. They had a lot of people who were educated and then, they were doing it on piecework and the more he turned out the better off that fellow was.
So, does this concern for better efficiency begin in the twenties or earlier? ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: It began in the twenties, that's when it really started, back there. Of course, I may be wrong, but I attribute a great deal of the change in the attitude of many of them and the change for help from owning their own homes. Now, you would be amazed but after we sold houses in the Monaghan Mill village out here for instance, that right outside there was a lot of vacant land out beyond that. We cut it up into lots and I had several men that bought their own houses . . .
These are . . . ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Mill houses, that they were living in, renting, and they bought a lot out there and built a house and rented that house to somebody else. And got ten times what the mill was charging rent for it.
Well, I guess they were fast learners. ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Well, sure. But that's America. That's what in the United States has been available to people if they became individuals and knew what they were doing and did it.