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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Arthur Little, December 14, 1979. Interview H-0132. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

From dreams of glove factory ownership to their realization

Little recalls that when he was small, delivering milk to a glove mill in Newton, North Carolina, he dreamed of owning such a mill himself. With his brother, he eventually started one, relying on community connections and meeting the explosion of desire for gloves that followed the end of World War II. Here, he recalls the path he took to realize his ambition.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Arthur Little, December 14, 1979. Interview H-0132. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
What made you decide to start a glove mill? How did that idea even come up?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Well, I knew that was coming.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter]
ARTHUR LITTLE:
I don't know whether I ought to tell all these things. I don't know where it's going.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, it's just going into a collection in the library, but is there something …
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Well, when I was delivering milk in the city of Newton as a boy from fifteen to eighteen years old, we had to get up early in the morning, milk the milk, and cool it, and bottle it. And you had to get up early to do that and get to school then after you delivered it. And I'd go by Newton Glove, and it was maybe about three times as big as this complete office. And I'd think to myself, "Some day, if I could just grow up to have me a little business, a glove mill like this, and not have to deliver this damnable cold milk, I'd be a happy boy." And that never did get out of my mind; it never did. I never had a desire to get into anything else.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Wow.
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Never had a desire to get into anything else. Because all during the Depression, they would run at least two days a week when other companies were busted and closed for years on end. In Newton, I don't know of but two things that stood that thing, and that was the old Newton Oil and Fertilizer Company and the two banks. That one bank there, when Roosevelt closed the banks, they said was the strongest bank in North America. It didn't even owe a corresponding bank any money. You know, banks work through each other. But it didn't even owe a correspondent bank anything. We were lucky through here. We didn't have any banks to go under. Not in Catawba County. Catawba County through that bank holidays, all our financial institutions were solid. They opened on time and everything else. Which shows that not only the people that [were] running the bank, but that our stock of people here are conservative and thrifty, or was at that time. [Laughter] I can't say for that now. They saved their money. They tried to save their money, and they tried to… In other words, they was just down-to-earth good German Dutch people.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So was it your idea to start the mill then, rather than your brother's? More your idea than his?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Well, yes, it was mine. I was the originator. I had to beg him awful to get him to come with me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were they kind of afraid to take the chance?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
I think they was afraid, yes. Was afraid to take the step.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did they think might happen? Were they afraid that you might lose your savings?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
They figured that we'd probably go broke.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter]
ARTHUR LITTLE:
But we didn't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me about how you started out.
ARTHUR LITTLE:
We lived out in the country, and we had at that time a Lum and Abner telephone. Do you ever hear of them? The old-time telephones, you know, that you pick it up and you twist a crank and ring it. In my workings at Hickory, I had got in touch with the Cutters' Exchange in Nashville, who catered to the needle trade. I wrote them and asked them if they had any machines. I knew the kind of machines we'd have to get. And they answered me back, and they said they did. Well, the man that answered it was a man that I had been looking for and I couldn't find, and we didn't know what happened to him. But he used to sell machines for Union Special Machine Company, and of course during the War they had no machines to sell. So he went back to Nashville and worked with Cutters' Exchange redoing machines. So I got on the Lum and Abner telephone and called him and talked to him, and I bought twelve from him. He sent them here, and we set them up, and we made our first gloves in September of '45. We had about twelve operators to start with, and we added more as time went along.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you get your first workers? Were they people that you knew?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Yes, they was people here that we knew. My brother's wife had a couple sisters that knew how to make gloves, and we trained … [Interruption] . 3 * See interview with Kathryn Killian and Blanche Bolick. Of course, you can't imagine those times. We had to get priorities to get the material to work with. It was just after V-J Day. V-J Day was in August. We started in September, and the demand for gloves was tremendous, just tremendous. And we made gloves and sold them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you had a hard time getting the material?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
No, I didn't have a hard time, because this all was made down here at Newton, close by, and I was in on the drag and I knew all the people, and they knew us, too. And I had priorities. I went to Charlotte and got priorities to work with cloth. Cloth was the biggest thing to get priorities. We could get thread pretty easy. And I got a good bit of my equipment from Mrs. Rankin's husband, [Adrian L.] Shuford. Oh, he was a great friend of mine. And we'd talk to each other five and six times a day on the telephone.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, really?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Yes. So we got a small cutting press from him. And then we went up there with a tractor and put it on skids and just pulled it up the street and put it in the back of that building and pulled it on up to its place with the tractor. I sold him a lot of gloves, too. I sold him 10,000 dozen gloves the day the Korean War started. We had already moved down here. This is built on the back end of a small farm we own. It runs from here plumb on up to the other road. And I sold him a lot of gloves; he bought a lot of gloves from us.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You mean you would sell him finished gloves and …
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Yes, and he'd resell them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why would you do that, rather than sell them directly yourself?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Well [Laughter] , he had been so good to me, I couldn't help but sell to him. He never loaned me a dime; he never went on my note. Well, nobody never went on my note for anything.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there very much competition among the different …
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Oh, yes, we was in competition with each other. Yes, all the time, but I always tried to stay clear of them if I could. I remember I spent one night up near Richmond to see Reynolds Metal Company. I called on them on Monday morning, and they said, "Oh, you're from Conover. Do you know Shuford down there at Warlong Glove?" I said, "I sure do. You buy gloves from him?" He said, "Yes. Is he a Jew?" I said, "Oh, hell, no." [Laughter] I told him this, Ray. I said, "No, hell, he comes from some of the oldest stock in the country, Shuford." But he did talk funny. Oh, he was smart. He could handle two telephones the best of any fellow I ever seen. He fooled with stocks. But the poor fellow didn't know danger. He didn't know financial danger if he'd see it coming down the road. But he was just lucky. He didn't have enough training to know stocks.