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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishment and evolution of Cole Manufacturing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina

Here, Hatcher describes the establishment of the Cole Manufacturing Company in 1900 and its evolution over the first half of the twentieth century until she took over control of the company in 1953. Hatcher first explains how the planting machine invented and patented by her father and his brother revolutionized during the early twentieth century. In addition, she describes how the company fit in with the rise of industry in Charlotte.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. 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

JEAN COLE HATCHER:
The company came here, we actually were chartered in 1900, so I don't know where you get this 1901 business. And they actually came into Charlotte, probably ninety-eight or ninety-nine. Getting the thing started. And he got his original patent in probably ninety-eight or ninety-nine. When he got out of college and came back home, planting was very, very crude. There were one or two or three crude planters being used, but they were not effective. The most ways that things were being planted was the fact that they would plow the field, then do the furrows. And as they were doing the furrows, why, the wife, or somebody-a child-would walk along and hand-drop the seed. That way. And those planters that were being used were not refined enough, and they were crushing more seed, as they were trying to meter the seed out, than they were planting good seed. My uncle, as I said, where his flair came from, or how the idea came to him, I don't know. But I do know that he made the first planter for his father's farm, in their blacksmith shop. They had a blacksmith shop on the farm. And he made the first planters that we used on their farm, in that blacksmith shop. Then people in the neighborhood, in the general area, began to see what was being accomplished by his planters. And he would make one for a friend, and make one for a friend, and maybe loan his, and that sort of thing, until he found out . . . he believed that they were marketable. The Coles, at that point in time, had no money, period. Evidently. They'd spent it all on educating the children, or-I don't know why. But at least they had no capital. Let's put it that way. And, as I say, my father was president of Reinhardt College in Waleska, Georgia. He was the only one in the family, at that point in time, who was making any sort of a salary. And I think it was the very munificent sum of fifty dollars a month, if I'm not mistaken. But he had managed to save a great deal of it, and that sort of thing. And he got in touch with my father, to see if he was interested, and he was. And they came to Charlotte, and started. I think most of these histories and stories you'll find where they borrowed money, and financed it. They were able to attract the top-notch people in the community to back 'em, that was one thing for sure. President of the bank.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Could you mention some of the people that backed them?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Yeah. The brother Belks, for instance. Or Mr. B. D. Heath, H-e-a-t-h, whose family is still in Charlotte. They were quite prominent in textiles, and farming, and that sort of thing. And . . . Mr. John M. Scott, who was the founder, and president for a number of years, of the Charlotte National Bank, which is now Wachovia Bank and Trust here in Charlotte. They were early people who bought stock, and put money into the company. 'Course they have all the old minutes, and all that sort of thing, back to those days. And our minutes reflect their presence at the Board meetings, and that kind of thing.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What about D. A. Tompkins, was he a supporter of them? Do you remember him being mentioned then?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
I don't believe he came up in any of the histories. They were friends, of course. But I don't believe he had anything with the company. I think you might find those things alluded to in that little newspaper account, I'm not sure. [Pause]
ALLEN TULLOS:
It seems a bit interesting that E. M. Cole would kind of call upon all of his brothers. In some ways, I don't guess it's unexpected, but it does seem most interesting to note that he tried to involve all of his brothers in this enterprise. Did the different brothers have different kinds of positions, or specialities, within the operation? How did that work out?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
It didn't. The one brother who was around the plant the most-he was never married-was a dreamer like his father, as far as I determine. Very sweet, very dear uncle to have. And he had a certain flair. And he would tinker. Getting people to And he loved to think that he probably did a great deal more than he did. He sometimes resented Uncle Gene, said Uncle stoled his ideas. Which I don't think is true, in my observation for a period of about thrity-five years. He drew a stipend from the company, but to say that he was any part of the company . . . Then the other one, E. O., who was a Methodist minister, and did have some stock in the company at one time, and did hit my uncle to death, occupied the chair of the president for about ten years, almost. Had no business ever being president of the company. That's the harsh-is a factual thing to say. Because he was a man who did very many wonderful things, but he was not a proper person to have been president. The majority of the stock of the company is in a trust. But my sisters and I, we own the majority of the stock, through the trust. And our voice is the one that's heard the most. And we were too young not to- [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Along with daddy and Uncle Gene, came to me, because my uncle had no children. Daddy had three daughters, and I was the one who trotted around on his heels, all over that plant, from the time I could walk, I guess. Because it was within blocks of where we lived, anyway. And they came and said, "You've got to do something about it. The company's deteriorating rapidly, and it isn't growing at all. It's going backwards." And it being a closely held company, and it never had had a principal officer who was not a member of the family. Between these men who worked at the company, and the backing of my sisters and cousins, and the urging of my husband, I became president of the company, having never had a job in my life. Mean, that's how it came about. And, through some God-given gift-what it was, I don't know-I was able to turn it around. Mainly because I was giving support to the men who had the ability and the know-how to do it, not because I had any know-how. Probably the only flair I have is being a people person. I like people, I like to work with 'em. And I was able to give them the backing. They did the work.
ALLEN TULLOS:
That was in-
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
1953. I had been on the Board since 1942, and had been vice-president of the company. 'Bout many times I started at the top, and worked down to the bottom, [laughter] and started back up again.
ALLEN TULLOS:
But you say you had actually, as a child, gone in and-
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
It was amazing how much I knew about that company, and how much I knew about planting, and how much I knew about Cole planters that had gotten to me by osmosis. 'Cause, as I say, I was the oldest child, and just trotted around on my father's heels all my life. And I had gone down there so much that I knew. And I'd go down there when they would get out direct mail advertising, when they'd put me up on a high stool, and I'd stuff envelopes. And got paid a penny an envelope. Was the only job I had before I got to be president. [laughter]