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Setting Sail...History of Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon traces its origin to the Jones Falls area in what is now Baltimore, Maryland.  Several flour or grist mills were built there around 1810, and by the 1830s, many of the mills were being converted into cotton duck manufacturing operations.  One such mill, when it was converted in 1847, was named “Mount Vernon Mill No. 1.” This mill, together with several others in the area, would soon become the Mount Vernon Company, a leading maker of quality cotton duck cloth for sails for clipper ships and canvas cloth for tents.. 

The early years of Mount Vernon provided at least one interesting historical footnote.  Fabrics made by the Company’s mill in Baltimore were sewn into tents used by the Union Army in the Civil War.  At the same time, the Tallassee, Alabama facility, which became part of Mount Vernon in 1900, produced cloth for uniforms and carbine rifles for the Confederate Army.

Beginning around the turn of the 20th century, Mount Vernon endured a series of acquisitions, combinations and divestitures, as the Company and its cotton duck competitors pushed and shoved for influence in the market.  The Company finally reorganized in 1915 as Mount Vernon-Woodbury Mills.  The name was changed to Mount Vernon Mills, Inc. in 1956.  The Company remained primarily a cotton duck and canvas manufacturer into the 1940s when it began manufacturing blended fabrics with cotton and man-made yarns.  Net sales in 1946 were about $34 million.  By the 1960s, the product line had expanded to include such items as dryer felts used by paper manufacturers, fabrics for industrial and commercial conveyor belts, heavyweight apparel fabrics, and yarn for upholstery fabrics.

Beginning as early as the acquisition of the Tallassee facility, the Company shifted its focus southward.  The process accelerated after the Second World War, with several operations either built or purchased in the Carolinas and Georgia, including the Williamston Mill, which was purchased in 1957.  Following the corporate office move to Greenville, South Carolina in 1971, the last mills owned by the Company in the Baltimore area were closed in 1972.

Mount Vernon’s fortunes took a giant step forward in May 1982, when the Company was acquired by R. B. Pamplin Corporation.  Being a member of the Pamplin group of companies has provided Mount Vernon with the opportunity to pursue new acquisitions and invest heavily in state-of-the-art technology, both critical to survival and success in today’s global marketplace.  Likely the most important acquisition was the September 1985 purchase of Riegel Textile Corporation, another prominent textile company in the Greenville area.  The Riegel acquisition more than quadrupled Mount Vernon’s sales.  It further enabled the Company to move more aggressively into apparel fabrics and home furnishings and, for the first time, to enter the consumer products market.

Other key acquisitions, and one major divestiture, soon followed.  In December 1991, Mount Vernon purchased the manufacturing facilities of Harmony Grove Mills, Inc., a significant supplier of unfinished bottom weight fabric to the Company’s Apparel Fabrics Division.  In January 1993, Mount Vernon sold its paper making felt business, a strategic move enabling the Company to focus more on its core markets in apparel fabrics, home furnishings, and consumer products.  To help sharpen this focus, Mount Vernon acquired the Brenham and Cuero facilities of Brentex Mills, Inc. in February 1994.  The Brentex acquisition allowed Mount Vernon to expand its product offerings for the major apparel manufacturers to include pocketing fabrics.

Next, in December 1998, the Company purchased the textile manufacturing facility of Arkwright Mills, Inc. in Spartanburg, South Carolina, giving the Company more internal sourcing opportunities for its products.  Two acquisitions occurred in 1999 – the Fresno, California facility of Nisshinbo, California, Inc. (August) and the pocketing and interlining business of Western Textile Products Company (September).  The Fresno purchase brought important ring spun fabric capacity to the Apparel Fabrics Division, while the Western acquisition provided the Brentex Division with added manufacturing and marketing capabilities for cut pockets, waistbands, and related accessories.  More recently, in December 2003, the company bought the PhilChem textile sizing and related products operation from Process Chemicals LLC.  This transaction not only allowed vertical integration for purchase of important raw materials, but also provides expansion opportunities beyond the textile sector.

Coupled with the acquisitions is Mount Vernon’s quest to have “world class” manufacturing equipment and facilities.  While the bricks and mortar at several facilities date back to the Civil War and before, Mount Vernon facilities on the inside are as modern and state-of-the-art as any textile operation in the world.  From 1988 through 2011, the Company spent over $900 million in capital projects, with over $115 million spent between 2001 and 2006.  These expenditures have enabled Mount Vernon to constantly improve the quality of its products, to more rapidly deal with changing market conditions, to produce goods at lower costs, and to better serve our customers. 

Mount Vernon has faced many challenges in its history, with the pricing pressures from increasing imports in recent years being among the toughest.  Yet Mount Vernon has always found a way not only to survive but to thrive.  This time should be no different.  The Company continues to maintain one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry.  To meet the competitive threat, the company has had to close several operations since 2002.  But we have also seen several key competitors go out of business, and the Company is in a stronger position as a result.

In addition, Mount Vernon continues its push toward niche, value-added products that use our technology and experience. For example, the Company is providing state-of-the-art fabrics for military apparel, plus making flame resistant fabrics for industrial apparel. And, to help diversify beyond traditional textile markets, the Company has made several acquisitions in its chemical processing businesses. In September 2008, Mount Vernon bought key assets of CPC Chemical Holdings, adding significant wet chemical processing capabilities with plants in North Carolina and Alabama. This acquisition also included the FCI chemical wholesale and distribution operation. In December 2009, the Company bought the textile-related chemical manufacturing operations of Burlington Chemical in North Carolina. Separately, the Company doubled the size of its truck fleet with the purchase of Avondale Trucking, the transportation arm of Avondale Mills. Avondale Trucking is now a division of Smith & Waters, the Company’s transportation subsidiary, and operates out of Sylacauga, Alabama. This addition has allowed Smith & Waters to significantly expand its external hauling operations in the Southeastern U.S. and adjacent areas. Mount Vernon continues to look for other acquisition opportunities, and we are excited about the future.

* All photos on this page are courtesy of Baltimore County Public Library, Towson Maryland USA.

page | by Dr. Radut