Dillon County History and Genealogy, graphic by Victoria

THE COTTON MILL

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Manufacturing: From Cotton Bale to Cloth
by Victoria Proctor

New England was the first great center of the cotton manufacturing industry in the United States. Demand for raw cotton was high, both domestically and overseas, and the South was too busy raising cotton to build mills. It wasn't until after the War Between the States, that factories for making cotton cloth were built in the South.

THE PROCESS

Men opening bales of cotton at the
 White Oak Mill in Greensboro, North Carolina, 1907 Manufacturing began in the opening room, where workers removed the ties and bagging from bales of raw cotton. Because of the dust and dirt and the ever-present danger of fire, this room was often located in an adjacent warehouse or in the basement of the mill.


Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

Cleaning: After the cotton bales are opened and put through a machine called a bale breaker, the cotton is sent through various types of cleaning machines to remove the pieces of twigs and leaves that may still remain in the bales. A machine called an opener tears apart any matted lint and takes out part of the dirt. Another machine called a picker removed the short fibers and dust from the cotton and forms layers of the material. These layers are called the lap.

White Oak Mill in Greensboro, North Carolina, 1909Carding comes next. The lap of cotton is passed through a machine made up of cylinders which are covered with wires like the bristles on a hairbrush. These wires, called the card, separate and untangle the individual fibers of the cotton, forming them into a broad web. The web is passed through a funnel which shapes it into a large loose rope called a sliver. The slivers are fed into a ribbon lap machine. Fast-moving belts and powerful machines made carding a particularly dangerous job.

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

Combing: From the ribbon lap machine, rolls of fine cotton pass to complicated machines called combers. The combers take out the knots in the fibers and comb out the short fibers and those which have become crossed. The cotton comes out in the form of rope-like slivers which are then coiled in cans. These slivers are passed through the drawing frame which straightens out the fibers and makes them as nearly parallel as possible.

Twisting makes the slivers as slim as window cord. The fibers are twisted in a machine called a slubber. Spinning frames draw out the yarn and twist it to make it fine and yet strong. In this process, yarn is prepared so that it can be classified on the basis of counts.

Doffers Doffers at the Bibb Mill No. 1, Macon, Georgia, 1909. Photograph by Lewis Hine.
(A doffer takes off the full spools and replaces them with an empty one. The frame that holds the spools has about 250-300 spools on each side of the frame. This is call a side; the frame has two sides. --Sarah Goins, May 2003)

Photo courtesy of the National Archives (NARA).

Weaving Sizing and Weaving: In sizing, the yarn is put through a slashing machine. Here three threads are put together and passed through the size; this is a hot glue made of wheat, rice flour, sago, farina, tallow, wax, and china clay. This sizing binds the threads together and makes them wear better. Various kinds of looms are used for weaving the yarn into cloth.

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.


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Dillon County History and Genealogy

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