William Gregg was born in 1800. His mother died when he was four. When he was ten, he was sent to live with his uncle, Jacob Gregg, in Alexandra, Virginia to learn watchmaking. During the War of 1812, Jacob Gregg abandoned watchmaking to build a cotton mill in Georgia, one of the first. The mill failed due to the flood of imports at the close of the war, and Gregg's uncle sent his young nephew to Lexington, Kentucky to apprentice with a watchmaker.
Twelve year old Gregg's brief exposure to his uncle's cotton manufacturing endeavor is often credited with creating a lasting interest in the field. Gregg went to Columbia, South Carolina and established himself in business in 1824. He married Marina Jones in 1829. His wife was from Edgefield District and it was through this family connection that Gregg became familiar with the area that was to become Graniteville.
He acquired part ownership of the Vaucluse Mill in the Edgefield District in 1837 with his brother in law General James Jones. Although successful, Gregg's initial experiment with Vaucluse was short lived and by December 1837 he had relinquished his shares.
In 1838 he moved to Charleston and became partner in the jewelry and silver firm of Hayden, Gregg & Co., and his fortune was secure. It was this financial security that allowed Gregg to indulge his interest in textile manufacturing. Gregg embarked on a serious study* of the industry, traveling North during the summer of 1844 to examine numerous textile mills in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire. There were several cotton mills in South Carolina by the 1830s, but these ventures were largely undercapitalized and prone to failure.
Gregg became convinced that with proper planning and knowledgeable supervision textile production could be conducted profitably in South Carolina and he began publicly promoting this cause. In the fall of 1844, Gregg anonymously published twelve articles in the Charleston Courier and shortly after he published the group in pamphlet form under his own name. In his 'Essays on Domestic Industry', Gregg forcefully described the necessity for textile manufacturing in South Carolina. In the introduction to the pamphlet collection of essays published in 1845, Gregg stated:
"I firmly believe that our advantages are such as to enable us to compete successfully with any country, now engaged in the manufacture of Coarse Cotton Fabrics. We have the materials among us which would create an energy that would revolutionize our State, morally and physically."
Gregg became committed to the idea that South Carolina was wasting its potential by shipping raw cotton to the North and buying back finished goods at exorbitant prices. Keeping local capital within South Carolina would diversify the state's heavy reliance on cotton growing and provide jobs for the poor whites excluded from the slave-labor economy:
"Let the manufacture of cotton be commenced among us, and we shall soon see the capital that has been sent out of our State returned to us. We shall see the hidden treasures that have been locked up, unproductive and rusting, coming forth to put machinery in motion, and to give profitable employment to the present unproductive labor of our country."
Dominated by cotton and rice planters, the Charleston elite that Gregg was addressing saw manufacturing as a risky and unsavory enterprise. Gregg argued that manufacturing would not simply make them more like the North but give Southerners independence from their economically dominant Northern neighbors.
Gregg's opinions about properly creating a community of ready labor for a cotton mill also foreshadow his actions when building the town of Graniteville. In discussing the comparative virtues of slave versus poor white labor, Gregg acknowledged the suitability of slave labor for textile production, but asks "shall we pass unnoticed the thousands of poor, ignorant, degraded white people among us, who, in this land of plenty, live in comparative nakedness and starvation?"
His response to his own question was a classic mix of philanthropy and hard-headed business acumen. Gregg wrote: "It is only necessary to build a manufacturing village of shanties, in a healthy location in any part of the State, to have crowds of these poor people around you, seeking employment at half the compensation given to operatives at the North."
The development of a mill community for a stable source of labor was a common feature of New England mills a generation earlier, but the scope and execution of Gregg's proposal was unprecedented in the South in the 1840s. As an outgrowth of interest in his Essays, Gregg began to assemble a group of supporters and prepared to petition the South Carolina State Legislature for a charter of incorporation. Unsure of his chances for success in South Carolina, Gregg simultaneously petitioned the state of Georgia for a charter. In December 1845 the charter was granted by the South Carolina State Legislature that allowed the Graniteville Manufacturing Company to take subscriptions for $300,000 worth of capital.
Gregg correctly observed that there were competitive advantages to operating a mill in the South. There was a surplus of labor, and there was ready access to water to power turbines to drive the looms in textile mills, and land was available at low price.
Gregg and Charleston banker Ker Boyce had 9,000 acres of land near Aiken in Horse Creek valley, "In the most healthy regions of the State, abounding with granite and building timber, and water power sufficient to work up half the crop in South Carolina."
Gregg oversaw design and construction of the mill himself. He had felt that the main reason the Vaucluse Mill wasn't successful was because its owner did not take active part in the operations or management. Vaucluse was both small and under-capitalized, 'a study in inefficiency' he thought, and it was this experience that convinced him he could do it the right way.
William Gregg believed that if he cared for his workers, they would develop intelligence and responsibility as workers and he built his mill and mill houses as a self-contained community. Gregg relied on local people to build the mill as well as operate it, employing farmers, tenant farmers, and the poor at wages commensurate with those paid to Northern mill workers
A contemporay journal described it:
"When Graniteville burst upon our view from the summit of the hill, its main building of white granite, 350 feet long, with two massive towers ornamented at the top, looking like some magnificent palace just rising out of the green vale below, with an extensive lawn in front, and clean trimmed gravel walks around, and fountains spouting their crystal waters in the air in fantastic shapes; the neat boarding houses and cottages for single families, and the handsome little church, all constructed and ornamented in the ancient Gothic style, and each house having its own garden for vegetables and flowers."
Gregg also created what was perhaps the first compulsory education system in the United States. He built a school for children from 6 to 12 years old, furnished teachers and books, and fined parent workers five cents a day, withheld from their wages, for every day their children were absent from classes.
Gregg was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1856, and he continued to argue passionately for internal industrial development. He believed that there was little reason to look to the expanding West or the industrialized North when so much of the treasures of South Carolina, in his eyes, lay untapped.
* Serious study of the industry: Gregg's 'Essays On domestic Industry' appears as an appendix in the textbook, 'COTTON MILL, COMMERCIAL FEATURES', by Daniel Augustus Tompkins. Charlotte, N.C. 1899
ESSAYS ON DOMESTIC
An Inquiry into the Expediency of Establishing Cotton Manufactures in South Carolina
WRITTEN BY WILLIAM GREGG, Of Edgefield District, South Carolina in 1845
In the city of Charleston we have an inexhaustible supply of wood for such purposes, and our location is more favorable as regards the use of Pennsylvania coal, than any of the eastern cities. In England it is estimated that each pound of cotton consumes half a pound of coal in its manufacture. In a lecture on the comparative cost of water and steam power, delivered before the citizens of Hartford, Conn., by Mr. Charles T. James, of Newburyport, and which was recently re-published in The Charleston Courier, he states that to run two mills in the latter place, one of 6,336, and the other 11,000 spindles, with all the apparatus for weaving, consumes 3¼ tons of anthracite coal per day, for which is paid, delivered at the factory, $4 42-100 per ton. These are, however, mule spindles, which require 20 per cent. less power than such as we would use. Montgomery, in his "Treatise on Cotton Manufacturing," gives 65 horse power, as the size of an engine, competent to drive 5,000 heavy spindles, and all the other machinery to make cloth. There are various ways of calculating horse power, he speaks of the English mode, that is, a power that will raise 33,000 pounds, one foot, in a minute.
I am almost ashamed to say anything more on the subject of steam power in Charleston.
Indeed, the restrictions on its use in this city are not in keeping with the age in which we live; when the Press, which prints this article, a beautiful and complicated machine, which with the aid of steam power would perform its work of itself, is driven by the labor of negroes, two of whom may be seen, whenever it is in operation, with coats, jackets and shirts off, sweating and tugging like horses; and all this labor might be performed with very little more fire than is used in a common parlor grate, and not much more risk.
Steam power in the North
Steam power is so universally used in all the Northern cities that you can scarcely find a grindstone that is not turned by it.
I had occasion, while in Philadelphia, to look for a child's velocipede, and was directed to a man who made them in Dock street. I found him busily engaged turning out quantities of them for our Southern market; his lathes and circular saw were driven by a small engine, which, together with its furnace, did not occupy the space necessary for a smith's forge, and it certainly did not produce half the smoke.
On another occasion I visited a lastmaker. His shop was in the fourth story of a house near Market, between Fourth and Fifth streets; his lathes were also driven by a steam engine, the furnace for which was an iron stove, with the boiler on the top of it, the smoke pipe entering the chimney. He had more power than he needed, and rented the surplus to a carpenter, in the fourth story of a house, on the opposite side of a narrow street, the power being communicated by a belt.
At another time, I paid a visit to a pencil-maker; his lathes were likewise turned by steam power, and I do not exaggerate when I assert that the furnace of his engine could not contain half a bushel of coal. I could go on naming numberless similar instances for I had the curiosity to notice these things, having long regarded our restrictions as impolitic and illiberal. We ought to be as liberal as other cities in this respect. Slight impediments often turn the course of large streams, and so it may be in this matter. Our city council ought to adopt the course pursued by Philadelphia and New York, in relation to steam power. The latter city has no legislation on the subject, nor ought Charleston to have any. Every man has his redress in the common law for actual nuisances.
Water for power in the South*
The cheapness of water power, if not the chief, will at least constitute one important element of success with us. There is, probably, no State in the Union in which water power is more abundant. Leaving out of the question as being too tedious to enumerate, the great number of water falls on the tributary streams of the Pee Dee, Wateree, Broad and Saluda rivers, we will notice those only, in the immediate vicinity of our two lines of railroad to Columbia and Hamburg, that is, within five miles of them. In the most healthy regions of the State, abounding with granite and building timber, water power may be found, sufficient to work up half the crop of South Carolina, all of which is nearly valueless at the present time.
Lest I be misunderstood as to what I mean by domestic manufactures, I will here state that I mean the erection cotton manufactories to employ the poor and needy, and the hundreds who seem to have little else to do than follow our military parades through the streets - the erection of cotton manufactories throughout the State, to employ our poor and half starved population, whose condition could not but be improved in working up a part of our cotton into cloth to cover their nakedness, and to clothe our negroes and ourselves, at a cost for the manufacture of the coarse fabrics (osnaburgs) of 2¼ cents per pound and for the finer, such as brown and bleached shirtings, drillings, and cotton flannels, of from 3 to 8 cents per pound instead of sending the same abroad to be returned to us, charged with 12 cents per pound for osnaburgs, and from 20 to 65 cents for the other articles named.
Call for manufacturing endeavor
I mean that, at every village and cross road in the State, we should have a tannery, a shoe-maker, a clothier, a hatter, a blacksmith that can make and mend our ploughshares and trace chains, a wagon maker, and a carriage maker, with their shops stored with seasoned lumber, the best of which may be obtained in our forests.
This is the kind of manufactures I speak of, as being necessary to bring forth the energies of a country, and give healthful and vigorous action to agriculture, commerce and every department of industry, and, without which, I venture the assertion that this State can never prosper.
This is the state of things that every true friend of South Carolina ought to endeavor to bring about. If he wishes to see her worn out and desolate old fields turned into green pastures, her villages brightened up with the hand of industry, her dilapidated farm houses taken down, to be replaced by opulent mansions, her muddy and almost impassable roads graded and macadamized, let him use his endeavors to make the people of South Carolina think less of their grievances and more of the peaceable means of redress.
Let our politicians, instead of teaching us to hate our Northern brethren, endeavor to get up a good feeling for domestic industry - let them teach our people that the true mode of resistance will be found in making more and purchasing less.
* power in the Gregg mill
history of turbine development gives additional information about the type of turbine
probably installed at Graniteville. The first practical turbine was developed by Benoit
Fourneyron, a French engineer, and placed in service in 1827. Several years passed before
Fourneyron adapted his wheel to the requirements of textile mills, but by 1839-1840,
reports on the turbine were appearing in the American publication, Journal of the Franklin
Between 1842 and 1846 Elwood Morris installed small Fourneyron turbines in factories around Philadelphia. The first Fourneyron turbine installed in a major northern mill was at Fall River, Massachusetts in 1844. Blackwood's description of the 1847 installation of a turbine at Graniteville is certainly evidence of a very early first use of this power source in a major Southern mill. The Graniteville turbine was most probably a Fourneyron. There was another French designed turbine, the Jonval axial-flow wheel, which was in use at this time, however the first Jonval in the United States was not installed until 1850.
By 1858 three turbines powered the mill. Two were rated at 120 horsepower and the third supplied 170 horsepower. One of the 120 horsepower wheels normally powered the saw mill but could be hooked up to the main power shaft if one of the other wheels failed.
The Fourneyron and other early turbines exerted their force through vertical shafts. The conventional way of providing power to textile machinery was through overhead or under floor pulleys mounted on horizontal shafts. A major problem was to change the direction of power transmission from rotary vertical to rotary horizontal.
A letter by William Gregg in 1865 implies that the horizontal cross shafting of the mill was driven by gearing from a vertical shaft placed close to the wall of the cloth room. This could be accomplished by using bevel or miter gears on the vertical shaft which would mate with similar gears on the horizontal shaft.
By 1858 the mill was equipped with a gas works which made illuminating gas through the destructive distillation of rosin. Gregg's house was also fitted out with gas light which was installed in 1857 - the mill probably had its gas plant around the same time.
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