Saturday, September 26, 2009

rare executive ability

The board went, in fact, as far as New York City and hired Duryea Van Wagenen. Van Wagenen had been recommended to the board by mill owners at Danville, Virginia, despite the fact that he had had no experience with woolen mills. His chief qualifications were his "rare executive ability" and a reputation for "handling big affairs." Van Wagenen, it appears, had been connected with the National City Bank of New York. He also seems to have held an administrative post in at least one Southern textile mill. But these facts are not clear.
--Harry Poindexter


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

a strong executive officer

Pireus Row from Moore's Creek

The group discovered that "this condition of affairs has worked serious injury to the mill." They feared worse troubles would develop if the situation were not altered. Friction between Valentine and Marchant had existed from the first, the committee reported, and the trouble was caused by petty jealousy. The upshot of the investigation was the resignation of Valentine in November, 1917, although he was not censured in the report.

Shortly afterward, the board took two steps which finally brought in a strong executive officer and materially altered the nature of the management. First, the offices of president and general manager, so long held by Henry Marchant were separated. The presidency was shorn of all real power and the "entire charge of the affairs of the Mill and its employees" was placed in the hands of the general manager, subject of course to the desires of the board. Second, the company for the first time went outside its ranks to get its chief executive officer.--Harry Poindexter


Monday, September 21, 2009

the gauntlet was down

Courtesy of the Elizabeth Valentine Meade Collection

Personal antagonisms within the management continued until 1918 to add to the miseries of the mill. It was the old story of divided authority and a natural jockeying for position. Valentine, as president and general manager, was supposed to oversee general policy and carry out the directors' wishes. Hampton Merchant, however, continued to exercise complete control over manufacturing processes. Both, according to the bookkeeper, interfered in office work unnecessarily.

In the summer of 1910, the quarrel burst into the open when H. D. Jarman, the bookkeeper, complained to the board of alleged interference in his work by Valentine and Marchant. The president answered with a stinging rebuke and the gauntlet was down. Unable to overlook the matter any longer, the board appointed a committee to investigate.--Harry Poindexter


Sunday, September 20, 2009

uncertainties and problems

photo courtesy the Taylor Collection. Pantops background, 313 Steephill Street and Woolen Mills Road foreground

A glance at the rising volume of sales enjoyed by the Charlottesville Woolen Mills during the war years will not reveal the uncertainties and problems which hovered over the management. The company had disposed of $274,000 in manufactured cloth in 1914. Swelling steadily, sales brought in nearly $450,000 in 1917 and over $588,000 the next year. But rising costs ate heavily into this income. Profits in 1914 had totaled $53,000. In 1917, with sales nearly twice as great, the figure stood at only $39,000; and two more years passed before net earnings exceeded those of pre-war years. Nevertheless, comfortable dividends of twelve to fourteen percent were mailed annually to stockholders. These served to soothe the irritations of war-time restrictions.--Harry Poindexter


Thursday, September 17, 2009

government seizure

Advertisement in the 1943 VMI Bomb

Military schools, absorbing about two-thirds of the cloth produced, provided the basic prop upon which the mill rested. Only one crisis of sizeable proportions occurred during the war years regarding this market. That resulted from the government's seizure of the wool supply shortly after school contracts had been signed early in 1918. The sudden spurt in wool prices threatened for a time to wipe out profit margins. But in spite of this and the wage increases of that year, the company managed to fill its orders and earn a substantial profit.--Harry Poindexter


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

no order was forthcoming

When the United States went to war in 1917 the Charlottesville company attempted to shift at least part of its production to war contracts. Negotiations with the Navy Department were carried on in 1918 at Washington and New York, but no order was forthcoming. Despite its wide experience in uniform cloth making the mill was never able to secure a government contract for war work.
As a result, the plant was forced to stick to the manufacture of uniforms for schools, railroads, and municipal civil servants. Faced with unsettled business conditions , an unpredictable wool supply, and rising wages, the management felt that it would be content if it could retain its workers, keep the mill runnlng, and earn enough to pay expenses. Fortunately, supplies were somehow obtained to fill orders with reasonable promptness. Except for a few schools which delayed buying uniforms in the hope that the government would furnish them, the mill kept a firm hold on its market and added some new customers.--Harry Poindexter