Textile Industry

By: William F. Harris

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: July 14, 2017

In 1830 James Bowie proposed establishing a cotton mill in the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas and obtained a charter for the Coahuila Manufacturing Company. The next charter was issued in 1845 to the Texas Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company. Another was issued in 1850 to the Bexar Manufacturing Company. Cotton textile manufacturing was decidedly the principal industrial interest of early Texas, but a combination of factors prevented any of these schemes from becoming successful. The Texas Almanac for 1868 reported that the Bastrop Manufacturing Company, the oldest in the state, had 1,100 spindles and could supply 1,000 yards of cloth daily. The Waco Manufacturing Company, with 1,000 spindles, could produce 800 yards daily, and the Comal Manufacturing Company had 800 spindles. The Eureka Mills at Houston could produce 2,000 yards of cloth daily, but the Houston City Mills Manufacturing Company, with 2,288 spindles and one jack of 240 spindles for wool, was the largest in the state. There were altogether at this time eight textile mills in Texas. These mills turned out both yarn for home finishing and finished cloth. On a much smaller scale, textile mills in Texas were counterparts of mills in England and in the East. For example, Henry Runge, proprietor of the water-powered cotton mill at New Braunfels, bragged that most of his employees were girls and children working long hours for low wages and that, although he never heated the mill, he closed down only three or four days a winter because of the weather. A slight decline in the textile industry after the Civil War was followed by the beginning of a gradual expansion. The most important single mill, other than those previously mentioned, was the Slayden-Kerksey Woolen mill built in Waco in 1885 for making fabrics for men's suits. In 1909 Texas produced but 0.4 percent of the nation's textiles; in 1919 this had risen to 0.5 percent and in 1925 to 1.1 percent. Of the cotton textile mills in operation in 1925 only one, the Sherman Manufacturing Company, established in 1891, had been in operation before 1900.

In 1945 there were twenty-five cotton textile mills in the state, but as late as 1949 mills in Texas consumed only 3 to 6 percent of the cotton grown in the state (see COTTON CULTURE). In 1950 practically none of the mohair production was processed in the state, and only a negligible percentage of the wool production was processed in plants at New Braunfels, Eldorado, San Marcos, Brownwood, and Houston. The textile industry in Texas had easy access to marketing areas of the nation and to the raw materials necessary to the industry. In the early 1970s there were over twenty-eight plants in Texas manufacturing items that fall into the category of textile mill products. During 1970 the industry employed 6,928 Texans, who received a payroll of nearly $23.1 million. These textile mills used Texas cotton, wool, and mohair in their fabrics. The state produced 25 percent of the nation's cotton, 97 percent of the nation's mohair, and 20 percent of its wool during 1971. Textile mills in Texas furnished material to over 700 manufacturers in the state; in 1970 these companies employed 60,719 persons, with a payroll of $252.3 million. The mills in Texas sold their products in both national and international markets. In the late 1960s mills in Corsicana, Hillsboro, Ralls, and Houston experienced financial difficulties and were forced to close because of outdated equipment and competition from foreign imports. Burlington Industries, Incorporated, an internationally known textile manufacturer, had mills in Post, Memphis, and Sherman, Texas. These plants produced bed sheets and pillow cases from raw materials found in the state and turned out packaged products ready for distribution. Twelve plants in Texas, including these three, used cotton and synthetics to produce bed sheets, pillow cases, duck twill, canvas, Osnaburg, flannel, shirting, gingham, upholstery and drapery fabrics, and industrial fabrics. Two carpet mills were operating in the 1970s in Hillsboro and Marlin. Nine knitting mills produced such items as ladies' ready-to-wear, men's wear, knit and doubleknit sportswear fabrics, athletic clothing, hosiery, sweaters, and shirts. Two mills produced glass yarn, woven fiberglass cloth, and fibrous glass reinforcement, and three mills produced such items as cordage, twine, yarn, and reinforced polyethylene fabric. Three mills used wool and mohair in the production of drapery fabrics, neckties, scarves, blankets, upholstery fabrics, uniform goods, coating materials, and flannels. Various other mills produced bias tape, bags, waistbanding, surgical dressing, and medical and baby products. With the advent of solvent scouring, dyeing, and finishing, the way was opened for further expansion in individual mills and in the number of mills operated without the use of water and the consequent pollution of water resources.

The natural fibers of cotton, wool, and mohair were often used in combination with synthetic fibers, depending on the design, color, and purpose of the fabric. Knitted fabrics came to the fashion forefront in the late 1960s because knitted weaves had great elasticity, needed no ironing, and had considerable body. Knitting machines could be changed quickly to alter the pattern and weave to follow the new styles. Woven fabrics producers met the competition with the development of stretch woven fabrics and by changing their patterns and designs more often than before. The 1987 Census of Manufacturers reported 105 textile mills in the state and 847 apparel manufacturing mills. The apparel industry alone employed over 49,000 Texans. Dallas and El Paso were the leaders in textile production of both finished and unfinished goods.

Henry James Young Mills, A Study of the Wool Industry in Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1930). J. W. Norman, The Future of the Textile Industry in Texas (M.B.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1925). John Thomas Smither, Possibilities of the Textile Industry in Texas (M.B.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1923). Texas Apparel Industry Needs and Texas Textile Industry (Natural Fibers Economic Research, University of Texas at Austin, 1974). U.S. Department of Commerce, General Summary: 1987 Census of Manufactures (Washington: GPO, 1991).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

William F. Harris, “Textile Industry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/textile-industry.

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July 14, 2017