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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Cannon Mills

by Kevin Cherry, 2006

James W. Cannon. Image courtesy of North Carolina State Archives. Cannon Mills, producer of all-purpose cloth and kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom textile products, was founded by James William Cannon, a 35-year-old cotton broker and general merchandiser, in 1887 in Concord. Costing $75,000 and employing 4,000 spindles, the steam-powered Cannon Manufacturing Company produced its first yarn on 1 Apr. 1888. Instead of spinning yarn and sending it to be woven into fabric in northern factories (as was then the rule among southern cotton mills), Cannon began with raw cotton, spun the yarn, and wove it into a finished product called Cannon Cloth. An inexpensive item, this cloth was popular with housewives who sewed items such as shirts and pillowcases at home.

When it became clear that factory-sewn pieces would eventually replace simple fabrics, Cannon surveyed the textile industry and decided to fill the towel-making niche. Cannon Manufacturing Company produced its first towels in 1890. The company's early towels, made out of a flat (also known as huck) weave, were designed to be completed by the housewife, who cut and hemmed them to desired sizes. Around the turn of the century, Cannon began to weave a more absorbent towel known as terry or Turkish cloth, a new product for the company and the South that became popular during World War I. By the end of the war, Cannon had become the nation's largest towel producer.

The Cannon textile enterprise expanded rapidly. With various partners, James William Cannon organized Cabarrus Cotton Mills (1892), Patterson Manufacturing Company (1893), Kesler Manufacturing Company (1895), Gibson Manufacturing Company (1901), and Coleman Mills in Concord (1906), which had been founded by a former slave and had employed only blacks. In 1906 Cannon bought 600 acres of land located about seven miles north of his first plant in Concord, where he built a planned community that included rental houses and a school. The community became the quintessential "company town" of Kannapolis.

Some of the housing conditions of the workers in the Cannon Mills to contrast with the homes and gardens some times shown from the "show mills" of the state, 1912. Image courtesy of Library of Congress. A 1928 consolidation of nine textile plants into the Cannon Mills Company helped the business survive the Depression. Cannon continued to add to its family of mills throughout most of the twentieth century, buying such companies as Maiden Knitting Mills (1969), Wiscassett Mills Company (1978), and Beacon Manufacturing (1978). Cannon Mills' low debt, fully funded retirement plan, large amount of attractive real estate, and lack of firm family control created an opportunity for a leveraged buyout and hostile takeover. In 1982 David Murdock, a California industrialist, financier, and real estate developer, offered $44 per share for the approximately 9.4 million Cannon shares then selling for $28.92 each. Within 34 days, Murdock controlled 98 percent of Cannon Mills stock at a cost of $413 million.

Murdock reorganized management, invested $200 million in capital improvements, redesigned the company's product lines, and made dramatic changes in Kannapolis by donating parkland, spurring the creation of a senior center and library, and renovating the business district. He also sold company housing and tore down the YMCA, one of the centers of town life.

Negotiations for the sale of Cannon Mills began in 1985, and Fieldcrest Mills, Inc., of Eden, bought Cannon's bath Herman Parker, 6 years old, worked at Cannon Mills, Kannapolis, NC, 1912. Image courtesy of Library of Congress. and bedding operations in January 1986 for $250 million. This purchase included 12 plants and 14 sales offices, which employed nearly all of the company's workers, and created a new corporation, Fieldcrest Cannon, Inc., under the leadership of Joseph B. Ely II. The resulting modernization and automation of production equipment led to a reduction in the number of employees. With the purchase, Fieldcrest doubled in size and became one of the largest producers of home furnishings and textile products in the world. Murdock retained that portion of nonindustrial property owned by Cannon Mills and managed it under the name of Atlantic American Properties.

In December 1997 Pillowtex, Inc., a Dallas-based manufacturer of Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, Disney, and other brand-name fabrics and home furnishings, purchased Fieldcrest Cannon for $700 million. Pillowtex's Kannapolis-based operations, which employed approximately 4,000 people, were closed in 2003.

Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff: 

Pillowtex declared bankruptcy in 2013, terminating 4,800 jobs in North Carolina. The Cannon brand is now owned by Iconix Brand Group:

ICONIX BRAND GROUP, INC.
1450 Broadway, 3rd floor
New York, New York 10018

Phone  212.730.0030

Iconix Group corporate web page for the Cannon brand: http://www.iconixbrand.com/brands/cannon/

References:

Cannon Mills Company, 1887-1987: A Century of Progress (1987).

Paul R. Kearns, Weavers of Dreams (1995).

James Lewis Moore and Thomas Herron Wingate, Cabarrus Reborn: A Historical Sketch of the Founding and Development of Cannon Mills Company and Kannapolis (1940).

Additional Resources:

"James W. Cannon 1852-1921." N.C. Highway Historical Marker L-55, N.C. Office of Archives & History. http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?sp=Markers&k=Markers&sv=L-55

The History and Culture of Kannapolis, Pillowtex: Five Years Later: http://independenttribune.net/index.php/pillowtex/article/part_1/

Image Credit:

"James W. Cannon 1852-1921." Photograph. N.C. Highway Historical Marker L-55, N.C. Office of Archives & History. http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?sp=Markers&k=Markers&sv=L-55 (accessed October 3, 2012).

Some of the housing conditions of the workers in the Cannon Mills, Concord, N.C., to contrast with the homes and gardens some times shown from the "show mills" of the state, 1912. Image courtesy of Library of Congress. Available from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/nclc.02651/ (accessed October 2, 2012).

Herman Parker, 6 years old, worked at Cannon Mills, Kannapolis, NC, 1912. Image courtesy of Library of Congress. Available from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ncl2004003697/PP/ (accessed October 2, 2012).

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Comments

Comment: 

Would like to know if Cannon Towel Co.donated cash and/or product to the victims of Hurricane Harvey?Please advise,it would warm my heart!

Comment: 

Dear Ms. Mendoza,

I wasn't able to find information about Cannon's contributions, but this doesn't mean that their organization did not help the survivors. Part of what makes finding this info difficult is determining the ownership of Cannon. Their site it here:

https://www.cannonhome.com/

However, they are also part of the Iconix Brand Group, whose site you can find here:

http://www.iconixbrand.com/brands/charisma/

I hope this is helpful.

Mike Millner, NC Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Purchased 8 hand and 8 bath towels over a period of 4 weeks. Noticed a discoloration on hand towels, at least 4 and one bath towel discolored. I don't use bleach ' have to use 'sensitive skin detergent ', so the fading is happening even before I wash them, even during regular handwashing and drying my hands. I took pics. So why are these towels fading?

Comment: 

Dear Sirs,
I have three Cannon Christmas towels from the 1930's. I am willing to sell them for $100.00 each. I will send you pictures of them.
I will need an address to send them to if would like to purchase them.

Sincerely,

Laurie Howard

Comment: 

I am having a hard time finding a bedspread for a bed with a foot board. Since your company has been in business for many years, I thought that maybe you could help.
Thank you for your help.
Carolyn Moore

Comment: 

Dear Carolyn,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your comment.

Unfortunately, NCpedia does not have any information about specific products for Cannon Mills.  You may want to contact the manufacturer directly.  The Cannon Mills brand is now owned by ICONIX BRAND GROUP. 

Here is their contact information, obtained from their website:

ICONIX BRAND GROUP, INC.

1450 Broadway, 3rd floor

New York, New York 10018

Phone  212.730.0030

Iconix Group corporate web page for the Cannon brand: http://www.iconixbrand.com/cannon_history.html

I hope this helps!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

Sorry to read the comments reporting the poor quality of products wearing the once quality brand name of Cannon Mills.

As a visitor to Kannapolis in 1973 I was given a conducted tour of part of the C M operation and was very impressed with both the production process and the products. I was fortunate to be given a golf towel as a memento of my visit. Never used it for golf but it has had plenty of use whilst playing lawn bowls and is still going strong.

Shame on the financiers who take over companies and ruin employees lives just to break up the business to make a fast buck. Happens everywhere unfortunately: the company my wife worked for here in the UK was taken over by an ex-pat living in the West Indies and broken up. Good to report though that he got it wrong and didn't make the profits he hoped for!

Comment: 

My boyfriend worked for Cannon Mills for 28 yrs. Where can we get the contact information to inquire about his benefits?

Comment: 

It is a shame that a wonderful brand like Cannon is debased when it is bought by someone else. I grew up with the quality Cannon products and now work at Cannon School. I makes me very sad that the present company who owns the brand is allowed to produce substandard products. No doubt that Charles Cannon is rolling over in his grave!

Comment: 

I purchased 8 towels, 8 washcloths and 4 hand towels from Kmart in February. All of them fell apart at the seams after washing them and you cannot dry yourself off with them, they just push the water around. The worst $120 I have ever spent!!!

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