The Heritage Room’s Thomas Textile Company collection (MSS 013) is not a typical archival collection. It does not contain much in the way of correspondence, financial records, or meetings minutes. Instead, it features photographs used in advertisements that the company ran in newspapers and magazines across the country, and copies of the advertisements, as seen below. And it includes a selection of the clothing that the company was producing in 1988, when it ceased its operations in Whitehall, Georgia.
The Thomas Textile Company began in the Northeast in 1921. In the 1930s, it moved its manufacturing operations to Whitehall, Georgia, part of a larger trend of the American textile industry moving to the Southeastern states, even as the company’s sales and administrative offices remained in New York City. Whitehall had been home to textile production since 1830. The mill building that still stands today was constructed in the 1890s. Thomas Textile at first built its own mill in the town, then later bought the old mill as well.
Thomas Textile began to focus its production on infant playwear in the 1950s. Examples of these from the Heritage Room collection are shown here. Though the company reached record sales totals as late as 1984, changes in the textile industry, with production shifting to nations like the Philippines, caused a rapid decline. On December 16, 1988, Thomas closed the Whitehall Mill. For many residents of Georgia, who had purchased clothes at the company’s outlet stores and known friends and family who worked at the mill for decades, the closure was a significant change. Whitehall, of course, would never be the same. The old mill remains, eventually converted into condominiums, as do many of the old houses where mill workers once lived.