Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

The Short but Happy Life of Dyersburg Fabrics

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

The Short but Happy Life of Dyersburg Fabrics

Article excerpt


In this case the authors tell the story of the early years of Dyersburg Cotton Products, later Dyersburg Fabrics, in a way that highlights the difficulties the company had of surviving in an industry beset with so many labor and import problems. Woven around the account of Dyersburg Fabrics, is a brief account of the history of the U.S. textile industry from its inception in 1790 to its current status of near extinction. This case would be most suitable for upper division undergraduate courses or graduate courses in Human Resource Management or Organizational Theory or Behavior. The case is designed to be taught in one fifty to seventy-five minute class period, with about thirty to forty-five minutes of reading and preparation time on the students part, prior to class.


The history of the American Corporation begins with the textile industry in New England in 1790. Slater imported the British textile technology, processes and expertise to Massachusetts and a hundred years later, it had spread all over the northeastern U.S. Due to clashes between management and labor, the industry began moving south in search of rural communities in need of relatively good paying work, where patriarchal mill towns could be set up, including tenement housing owned by the company, and where entire families could be counted on to work hard and remain loyal to the company. On March 25, 1929, just a few months before the stock market crash, Dyersburg, Tennessee became the site of a cotton, spinning, carding and weaving operation transplanted from operations in Oswego, NY and Adrian, MI.

The company would barely survive the early years due to the global depression. The story told in this case is one of resilience and the tireless pursuit by management of healthy employee and community relations. The war years proved beneficial to the company, but the post war years saw the struggle become one of competition with foreign imports. Only through continuous modernization did the company continue throughout the century. Dyersburg competed more effectively than unionized textile mills, by paying decent wages and keeping employees involved in the social life provided by various company programs.

This case would serve well as a companion to the early chapters in a Human Resource Management text, giving a little of the flavor of how HR was practiced during the early part of the 1900s, or as a case to support a chapter on organizational culture in an Organizational Behavior class, dealing as it does with how organizational culture became an important phenomenon for management to understand and seek to influence, even prior to the time when organizational culture was a popular term.


If the life expectancy of a human being is based on how long the average person is tending to live when that individual is born, Dyersburg Fabrics no doubt outlived its life expectancy defined in individual terms. The life expectancy of a cotton mill born in 1929, in West Tennessee, although not officially established, must surely have been considerably lower than 70 years. The company that began in August, 1929, as Dyersburg Cotton Products, and later became known as Dyersburg Fabrics, lived to be almost exactly 70 years of age. Using the New International Version of the Bible, Psalm Chapter 90 and verse 10 says, "The length of our days is seventy years- or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away." Dyersburg Fabrics (the name we will tend to use here) achieved the Biblical promise of 70 years and also experienced the promised "trouble and sorrow", and in the end, it did "fly away". However, as is often the case with individuals, many of the nearly 26,000 days the company was alive, could be considered happy and hopeful.

Dyersburg Fabrics very nearly died as a child, which is not surprising since it was born in the economic equivalent of a disease epidemic. …

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