What 2 Brothers Started in NC in 1905 Is No More

Iconic Cone Denim White Oak plant in Greensboro will close Dec. 31
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 18, 2017 10:46 AM CST
The Story of a True USA Icon's Rise and Fall
A stock photo of blue jeans.   (Getty Images)

Moses and Ceasar Cone founded their denim brand in the late 19th century, and in 1905 opened the Cone Denim White Oak plant in Greensboro, NC. Within three years, it was churning out more denim than anywhere else in the world, reports the Triad City Beat; in its heyday, White Oak clocked in at 1.6 million square feet, making it the world's largest such plant and the long-time supplier of denim for Levi's 501 jeans. After a 112-year run, what the New York Times calls a "shrine to bluejeans and the last major manufacturer of selvage denim" in America will close Dec. 31 (the company does have plants in Mexico and China); current owner International Textile Group made the announcement, which affects 208 workers, in October. Though the plant does employ modern looms, it also made denim the "right" and "painstaking" way, per the Times.

As Apparel News explains, a rising desire for selvage denim (see a primer on the sturdier, more unique, and pricier denim here) spurred Cone to source and refurbish 1940s-era American Draper X3 fly-shuttle looms to produce it. The official word from the company on the closure cited "changes in market demand" and noted that the plant's size and capacity created "a significantly higher manufacturing cost that cannot be supported in a sustainable business going forward." The Winston-Salem Journal shares another of the plant's claims-to-fame: During 1969 storms, 3 million yards of denim ended up getting wet and required cleaning. Workers washed it in a chemical solution that caused streaks in the fabric—and Cone sold it anyway, under the name "pinto wash," giving America its first bleached jeans. (Now we are instead a nation that wears these and these.)

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