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Chatham Manufacturing Company

by James L. Hunt, 2006

Chatham Manufacturing Company, one of North Carolina's oldest textile firms, was established in the late 1860s, when Alexander Chatham and Thomas L. Gwyn, owners of a store and grain mill in Elkin, began to process local wool into yarn and cloth. By the time Chatham and Gwyn formed a partnership in 1877, their Elkin Mills produced woolen blankets, flannels, jeans, and knitting yarns. After a railroad line was completed to Elkin in 1890, the operation was enlarged and reorganized. Alexander Chatham retired from the business, Gwyn sold his interest to the Chatham family, and Hugh Gwyn Chatham, Alexander's son, became president. The new operation was incorporated as Chatham Manufacturing Company in 1894. Modern buildings with new machinery were built in the 1890s. The company's famous products included woollen "Chatham Blankets," which were sold in all parts of the United States.

In 1907 a second factory was built in Winston-Salem. Sales offices were established in large urban centers throughout the United States. Large amounts of blankets and uniform cloth were produced for American armies in World Wars I and II. In 1936 Chatham Manufacturing abandoned its primary reliance on blanket sales and began to produce upholstery material for automobiles. In 1960 the company extended its upholstery business to include furniture fabrics. After World War II, a bitter fight took place over the unionization of Chatham's employees. In 1965 Chatham workers in Elkin chose to be represented by the Textile Workers Union of America.

In the late 1980s, Chatham Manufacturing owned plants in Elkin, Eden, and Charlotte. About two-thirds of the company's more than $125 million in sales in 1987 derived from upholstery products, while most of the rest of the company's revenues were from the sale of bedding products, including blankets. A majority of the company's stock was still owned by descendants of Alexander Chatham. However, in 1988, Northern Feather, Ltd., a Danish textile maker, outbid family members and senior management for control of Chatham Manufacturing and purchased the blanket-maker for more than $92 million. This ended the company's more than 110 years of North Carolina ownership. Northern Feather went bankrupt within four years, however, and Chatham Manufacturing was sold to CMI Industries of Columbia, S.C., in 1992. In 2000 Atlanta-based Interface, Inc., acquired the firm from CMI Industries, and, as Chatham, Inc., it became part of the Interface Fabrics Group, with a focus on upholstery for commercial and residential uses.

Reference:

"Mr. Chatham's Mill," Rohn & Haas Reporter 17 (November-December 1959).

Additional Resources:

Digital Forsyth: http://www.digitalforsyth.org/photos/browse/business-industry-businesses-chatham-manufacturing-company

Search Results for "Chatham Manufucturing Company" in the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Collections.

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Comments

Comment: 

I was given two Chatham blankets 100% wool by my mother in law. they were never used and have been kept in a cedar hope chest. they do not smell like cedar. they are twin/full size. They are also at least 50 years or more old she thinks. Are they worth something? how should they be cared for? The tag says they can be washed in cold water delicate cycle but I thought that wool could not be washed. I am also looking to maybe sell these. What would I ask for price?
Thank you

Comment: 

Dear Jan,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking time to ask your question.

We receive frequent inquiries about the value of historic items such as textiles, silver, and furniture.  Unfortunately, we are not able to provide any information to help with their valuation. Many find local antique dealers to be helpful resources.  You may also contact our reference staff here at the Government & Heritage Library for help researching print and other sources that may help you.

You can find our reference librarian contact information at the following web page --  http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/contact.html.  They can be contacted by telephone or email or by coming in person to the State Library.

Thanks for visiting NCpedia, please visit again, and good luck with your research!

Kelly Agan, NCpedia Digital Media Librarian, Government & Heritage Library

 

Comment: 

It appears that Interface Fabrics Group was bought by Guilford of Maine, which was then reorganized in 2008 as True Textiles, Inc. You can try contacting the company directly; their contact information is here:  http://www.guilfordofmaine.com/contact

-Mike Childs, NCpedia, N.C. Government & Heritage Library.

Comment: 

I purchased a beautiful blanket manufactured by the Chatham company, model CA4667. It is in pristine condition. Is this model still in production or do I have a piece of history?

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Copyright notice

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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