Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Cannon Mills and Kannapolis: Persistent Paternalism in a Textile Town

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Cannon Mills and Kannapolis: Persistent Paternalism in a Textile Town

Article excerpt

Cannon Mills and Kannapolis: Persistent Paternalism in a Textile Town. By Timothy W. Vanderburg. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013. Pp. [xvi], 280. $63.95, ISBN 978-1-57233-972-9.)

For most of the twentieth century, Kannapolis, North Carolina, remained the largest unincorporated town in the United States. Established as a mill village by James W. Cannon in the late 1880s, the community persisted under the Cannon family's direction until 1971. Charles "Uncle Charlie" Cannon inherited Cannon Mills from his father, James, in 1921 and, for the next half century, resisted numerous efforts to undermine his personal control of the company (p. xi).

Timothy W. Vanderburg traces the mill's rise and ultimate fall in Cannon Mills and Kannapolis: Persistent Paternalism in a Textile Town. This organizational history examines the Cannon family's brand of welfare capitalism as their enterprise grew to become the world's "premier towel manufacturer" (p. 37). Although touting paternalism as an inherent evil, Vanderburg admits that company policies provided stability, structure, and amenities for the workers. The village facilitated the transition

from farm work to industrial labor, and community services generated a mill identity and a sense of "family" (p. 84). Yet constant company oversight frequently exerted a degree of social control.

In general, paternalistic benefits contributed to a contented and loyal workforce. Consequently, Charles Cannon successfully resisted attempts by the United Textile Workers to organize his workers after World War I. A failed strike in 1921 concentrated power in Cannon's hands, and he built a company that weathered worldwide economic troubles during the Great Depression. The onset of World War II increased demand for textiles and helped solve many overproduction issues. The company reached the peak of its profitability in 1946, but an economic slump the following year marked the beginning of two decades of decline. …

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