From Bale to Cloth
the manufacturing process

Mill Occupations

Dillon's Cotton Mills and Child Labor
c. 1908, with photographs by Lewis W. Hine

Mill Hill Memories
oral histories

Ed Howell's Mill Hill Project


History of Cotton In the Coast and Upland Fields of South Carolina
focuses on Sea Island cotton (offsite)

Cotton in the Little Pee Dee Valley
by Victoria Proctor

For many years, cotton was king in Dillon County (Upper Marion), and in the post-Revolutionary period, cotton became the dominant crop.


Cotton field It takes about two hundred days to grow cotton to maturity. The seed is planted about April, and the cotton is picked about September or October. Cotton had to be picked by hand until the introduction of the mechanical cotton picker. The McCormick-Deering mechanical picker delivered in 1948 to a farmer in Dillon County was said to equal the work of 40-50 laborers picking cotton by hand.

Once the cotton is picked, it is weighed, then spread out to be dried and sunned prior to "ginning" (the process of separating cotton fibers from its seeds).

The invention of the mechanical cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 eased the process.

After ginning, the cotton lint, or fiber, is put into a press which packs them together to form a bale.

Mr. Stokes tells us in his History of Dillon County, published 1978:

[The rise in cotton production]" was greatly accelerated about 1798 by "Buck Swamp" John BETHEA when he erected the first gin house in the county and a cotton press. Oxen or mules were used to rotate the beam of the latter, compressing the lint into bales. The gin disappeared long ago, but the stoutly-built press, though unused for many years, is still in existence as a reminder of its former usefulness."

Cotton bales weigh between 300 to 600 pounds, though standard American bales weigh 500 pounds and are about 27" x 54" x 45" in size. The bale is wrapped around with jute or cotton bagging and held together by six steel bands. Note the cotton bales in the 1914 postcard below.

Cotton Warehouse
Cotton Warehouse
Postcard mailed from Wilson, NC on 8 Dec 1914 and sent to Mr. Henry Berry, Jr. from Frances.
Original provided by Ms. Lula Bass Manning of Latta to Sheila Berry, who contributed a copy to the Dillon County site.

Cotton that has passed through the gin and has been baled is classified into standard grades. The most common of these grades is middling. There are four grades above and four grades below middling cotton. Graded bales are then sent to warehouses where it is stored prior to shipment to cotton (textile) mills where the cotton lint is turned into fabric.

Dillon County History and Genealogy

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