Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills Records (MS004)

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Administrative History of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills

The beginnings of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills can be traced to Atlanta in 1868, when Jacob Elsas, an immigrant of German Jewish descent who had recently arrived in Atlanta from Cincinnati, began work in the city in the rag, paper, and hide business. Elsas soon recognized the need of his and other area businesses for cloth and paper containers to house their goods. Within two or three years Elsas had switched to the new business of manufacturing cloth and paper bags and had joined forces with fellow German Jewish immigrant Isaac May. In January 1872, the new company became known as Elsas, May and Company. Located in the former Atlanta slave market house, the company expanded during the 1870s; by the end of the decade, the firm consisted of a bleachery, print shop, and bag mill, and it employed between 100 and 160 workers, including women and children.

After receiving financial backing from Cincinnati banker Lewis Seasongood, the company began construction of a new complex of buildings on the south side of the Georgia Railroad line, east of downtown. By 1881 the company had become known as the Fulton Cotton Spinning Company, adding a bag factory to the new site in 1882. By the end of the 1880s the partnership between Jacob Elsas and Isaac May had discontinued. One part of the company evolved into the Elsas, May Paper Company and the other, led by Jacob Elsas and incorporated in 1889, became the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill Company.

Within a few years Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill Company had outgrown the capacity of the existing buildings, resulting in the construction of a second mill on the Atlanta site in 1895, with more than 40,000 spindles. A third mill added 50,000 additional spindles by 1907. In addition, a neighboring village with housing for the mill workers was well established by the turn of the twentieth century. Bag plants in New Orleans and St. Louis were bought during the 1890s, and mills in New York and Dallas began operation in the early years of the twentieth century. Additional plants in Minneapolis and Kansas City were established during and after World War I, and a plant in Denver was added in 1945, at the end of World War II. Expansion of the Atlanta plant also continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century: Offices, two picker buildings, and several warehouses were constructed during these years, and the Jacob Elsas Clinic and Nursery was established in the early 1940s.

Despite the early prosperity of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills, the company was troubled by periods of labor unrest. A wage dispute resulted in a two-day strike in November 1885. A second brief strike occurred in August 1897, when white workers protested the hiring of black women. The 1897 strike was settled after five days. A lengthier strike took place in 1914-1915, triggered by management's disapproval of the growing efforts among the workers to join the United Textile Workers. Besides the issue of unionization, the strikers demanded an increase in wages, a 54-hour work week, and a decrease in the use of child labor. The strike gained national notoriety when it drew the attention of the newly formed U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, who sent representatives to Atlanta to gather testimonies in March 1915. The strike ultimately failed in May of that year.

Many of Jacob Elsas' large family assumed management roles in Atlanta as well as in the other locations of the company. After his retirement at age 70, Jacob turned over the Presidency of the firm to his son Oscar in 1914. Sons Victor, Louis, and David worked in New Orleans, New York, and Dallas, respectively. Another son, Benjamin, succeeded Oscar as President in 1924. In 1942 a grandson, Norman Elsas, assumed the Presidency of the firm, followed by a second grandson, William Elsas, who served briefly as President in 1950. Following William's sudden death, Clarence Elsas, also a grandson, took over the Presidency in 1951. Clarence Elsas served as President until 1956, and again held the position from 1960 to 1968.

Jacob Elsas played an instrumental role in the founding of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He became one of the early customers of the Georgia Tech shops, and he enrolled his son Oscar at the school for two years. Other family members, including Jacob's grandson William, also attended Tech. Elsas' activities also extended to philanthropy, particularly in the support of the Grand Opera House, the Hebrew Orphan's Home, and Grady Hospital in Atlanta. The elder Elsas died in 1931.

Changes in packaging after World War II sparked changes within the company. Products such as multiwall paper bags, canvas goods, osnaburgs and barrier materials replaced some of the old products, to respond to the new market opportunities presented in the postwar era. In 1956, Eastern and Midwestern investors bought controlling interest in the company, the nine bag manufacturing companies were sold, and in 1960 the parent company became Fulton Industries Inc. The Atlanta mill, which remained known as Fulton Cotton Mill, continued in operation under the management of Elsas family members until 1968. In that year Fulton Industries Inc. was sold to Allied Products Corporation. Fulton Cotton Mill's last President, Meno Schoenbach, served in that position from 1971 until 1978, the year the Atlanta mill finally closed its doors.

In 1997 Aederhold Properties redeveloped the historic Fulton Cotton Mill in Atlanta into a mixed-income community of 182 loft apartments.

Description of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills records

The three series that make up the processed part of this collection contain a variety of materials and cover numerous topics relating to the operation of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills.

documents the business activities of the executive office during the early twentieth century. Although there is some documentation relating to the 1914-1915 strike in Atlanta, correspondence and other office files (newspaper clippings, advertisements and printed material, forms and notes and some statistics) cover earlier and later business concerns, including the Atlanta mill village, working conditions, an 1918 incident of labor unrest at the mill in St. Louis, and the 1937 Black-Connery Bill.
consists of materials relating specifically to the Atlanta strike of 1914-1915. Series 2, subseries 1 documents the union activities of the striking workers as well as management’s opposition to the issues of the strike. These subject files contain materials such as newspaper clippings, transcripts, sworn statements, and correspondence. The second subseries contains the strike-related correspondence of Oscar Elsas, President of the mill during this period. The third subseries is made up of transcripts of testimonies presented by striking and non-striking workers and management, given before the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations during March of 1915.
contains the reports of the “operatives,” workers secretly hired by management to monitor the activities of mill workers and working conditions. Although a large part of this series covers the period of the 1914-1915 strike in Atlanta, the series also contains reports from operatives in Atlanta after the strike and from the other Fulton Bag mills. Some related correspondence is also included in the series. The series is divided into seven subseries, according to the location of the mill. One subseries containing newspaper clippings is included at the end.

The Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills Digital Collection can be found at: http://www.library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag/

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Some parts of the unprocessed portion of the collection may be restricted because of content, or because of the condition of the originals. Please consult one of the archivists to obtain permission to access these parts of the collection. Permission to publish materials from this collection must be obtained from the Head of Archives and Special Collections.