Chapter 3 Productive Years America
In January 1948, we left Europe. It was not easy for us to leave our friends. My brother, Akos, had a little plant on Long Island, N. Y. where I became a partner and took it over. My older son, Otto, also came home during this year and was enrolled in North Carolina's textile college, North Carolina State University. In September, he started to study there. Andrew, the younger, stayed one more year in England. When we started our life in New York, it was so difficult. I was so scared of the big buildings and people because my English was very, very poor--worse than now. I started to run the plant because my brother was very sick and could not work anymore. He died in 1952. It was very difficult for me to begin a new life in a strange country without knowledge of the business systems or of the English language. I was also a stranger, not knowing anybody here.
Yet, I started this new life in New York rather successfully. We were never very wealthy, but did lead a nice cultural life--opera, theater, off Broadway, Carnegie Hall--all of the concerts. My wife and I lived a very high cultured life, and slowly we established ourselves. We made new friends, mostly Europeans, and lived a very good life, not luxurious, but our house was a wonderful place. Our house was next to my brother's house in a very good middle class section in the Queens, Long Island, New York. I had my own company car--my wife did not drive. Our two sons were top students in North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina--Andrew in the knitting department, and Otto in the chemistry department. They were making the highest grades in their class.
When the Korean War started in 1950, they did not have to go into the army because they were in the top 10 percent. They finished in 1952 on the same day. There were two years difference in their classes but they finished on the same day because Andrew was credited for the two years in England's technical college. During this time we lived in New York. My two sons had to live within a limited budget and they always did and never came to me to ask for more money. Andrew got a job before he graduated to open a knitting plant in Delaware when finally he went in the army. Andrew in 1952 worked in the missile department in Washington and Otto went to Germany to work for the American occupation forces, at first because they needed someone in a court martial case who spoke several languages; Otto spoke English, German, Russian and Yugoslav.
Otto was in Pennsylvania at an Army base--he was being trained in anti-tank warfare--and one evening he called us up to tell us that his unit was going to move the next morning to the front but 2 or 3 hours before the train would leave there came a request from Germany for a multi-language speaker and Otto was one of these. So he was removed from the unit and sent to Germany. He arrived in Germany, and they found out that he was not an American citizen. The next day they made him one, and he stayed there for two years. During that time Otto had the chance to go, with the permission of his superior, to study nuclear chemistry in Heidelberg, Germany where a very famous professor was head of the nuclear chemistry department. In 1954 Otto went back to Raleigh, N.C. to North Carolina State University and earned a Master's degree in one and a half years. Ann, his future wife, was 22 years old when she earned a Masters degree in Chemistry and she was working in the research lab at N.C. State. That is where Otto met her. In 1955, he married Ann, who had two children from a former marriage. Otto started to teach nuclear chemistry engineering as an instructor at North Carolina State while building a small nuclear station in the basement of the chemistry department--it is still there. He was an instructor making a very low salary. Since Otto was not making much money Ann worked on the night shift in a wool dyeing plant. She was the supervisor of the night shift. The two combined incomes made it possible for them to survive. Otto then got an invitation to go to California to work for the American Aviatio company that made nuclear stations too. The company made guidance systems for missiles, but the systems didn't function. Otto spent two years trying to find out why, and he eventually found the solution.
Andrew went to work in a knitting plant, and in 1954 married Jane who was very close to us. We had known her since she was sixteen years old. She went to college in Bridgeport, Conn. So we were very happy about Andrew's marriage. He was successful, but did not make a very high income. They lived in our house--we had a two family house--and then we got our first grandchild, Robin. We were so happy about it. In 1959, a new textile material appeared--double-knit. Andrew got a call from a Mr. David Schwartz, who owned the Jonathan Logan Corporation. He told Andrew, "You go to Europe and buy machines. You are starting a plant in Spartanburg." Andrew went to Europe, bought machines, moved to Spartanburg, and in January of 1960, started the Butte knitting mill. It was a small little plant with 20,000 square feet; when he died in 1971 it was 1 1/2 million square feet and had become world famous.
I could not live without my children. I needed my son, so in 1961, I sold my plant in Long Island and moved to Spartanburg. In 1962, I opened up a plant in Kings Mountain, North Carolina named Shannon Knit. We lived here in Spartanburg and I traveled to work everyday.
In just two years, I had a fantastically wonderful plant, producing the same materials that Andrew introduced. Andrew had a vertical plant. He spun, dyed, and knitted yarns to produce the final product--dresses. That was the first vertical plant in the world. I worked in my own plant in King's Mountain until 1965, which was very exciting for me. However, coming from Europe color [racial] segregation was a very new thing for me. In 1961 Andrew's plant was absolutely segregated. He had black water, white water, black toilet, white toilet, but I started King's Mountain without any restrictions. I decided to do something about the segregation in the plant. When I opened the plant, the mayor came to me and said, "Hopefully you will have only white people working for you." This was very new to me and I told him, "I don't know why you are telling me this. Did you think that you were coming here to help me?" I didn't promise him anything. A black Reverend also came to me--near my plant there was a black ghetto--and he said, "I hope that you will hire black people too." I told him, "Look Reverend, let me tell you something. I belong to the minority in Europe and you can't tell me about being a minority, and when the time comes, I will call you and you will recommend to me high school graduates--boys and girls--from honest families", and he promised. This was the starting point. I rented an empty store in King's Mountain and engaged an English mechanic to put in six machines. When everything was ready, I brought in eight black and eight white workers. These sixteen workers worked together in three shifts until they had become good friends. They used the same bathroom, drank from the same water fountain and ate together as in the main plant. In about three months when I felt that they had become a homogeneous working group I placed them in the main plant and with this move completely integrated the plant with about thirty percent black workers. This was in 1963. In my plant, there were about 120 people. I opened with only one water fountain and rest room for all. I also made the blacks and the whites eat together. Even before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, my plant was fully integrated, with thirty percent of my workers being black. At this time, I was probably the first man in the history of North Carolina who had integrated a plant.
In 1963, people were coming from all over Gastonia and Charlotte to look at the first integrated plant in a real Southern town like King's Mountain. They would ask me, "How did you do it?" I would reply, "You just have to have love for the people." Yet, I did not recognize how dangerous it was. The KKK could have burned crosses in my front yard, but nothing ever happened. Even our workers, who were probably part of the KKK, were not doing anything wrong to me. I was very happy.
The workers got along together. However, only 20 percent of our workers were women. Of the women, only two were black because they were not as educated as the white girls. Yet, the white boys were not as intelligent as the black boys because they were uneducated farmer boys many of whom could not even write their names, and the black workers were mostly high school graduates. I acted as if I was a resident there, and everybody liked me so dearly--everybody in the plant and in the town. The newspaper came out with an article about me, and I later got a key to the city from King's Mountain, recognizing me for what I had done there. The mayor was even very happy with me. It was very, very satisfying to me to have such good friends among the merchants. Our product was famous, and I had wonderfully good big customers. In 1963, we merged with a New York company, Doublex, so we changed the name to Doublex Shannon.
In 1965 my partners and I decided to sell the plant to Reeves Brothers and Andrew, my son, and his boss asked me to join Butte Knitting Mill to completely reorganize Butte's quality control. Until 1965 the product produced at Butte was in such demand that they had not needed to worry about quality control, but my whole industrial training and my whole career had been aimed at maintaining quality--for me that was the most important part of producing the product. Butte Knitting was unique, a vertical textile organization, probably the only one of its kind in the whole world. In 1961, Andrew with his fantastic knowledge took over a small plant and built up one of the biggest in the world. He bought yarn, he spun yarn, he dyed yarn, and made cloth and from cloth he made dresses. He had about three thousand workers and he had about twenty-six sewing plants in Alabama, Texas and in Florida and he had a jet plane and he visited every plant every week. So he was a very unusual managerial head in this textile mill and was unbelievably popular because he did everything for the towns. It was this special managerial style that made Butte unique.
In 1969 Andrew was a member of the Board of Trustees of Wofford College. Paul Hardin was the president of Wofford then and Andrew decided to donate money for the building of a new library and to name the library after me. I did not know much about it. On March 27, 1971 the library was opened. The day before, on the 26th, he called me into his office and told me "Father tomorrow you please wear a dark suit. Then he told me that tomorrow would be the opening ceremony of the library. I did not know anything about it. Because if I had known I would not have allowed him to name it for me. It was a big occasion for my sons and they were the happiest in the world. My two sons were so wonderful, everything they did, they did to please me. And Andrew was at this time at the peak of his career. He died nineteen years ago in 1971; he was 40 years young.
In 1965 I joined him at Butte. In 1966 the Jonathan Logan organization had a plant in Shannon, Ireland. The Irish government tried to get industry around the Shannon airport in an industrial park; in this complex came General Electric and other big companies, and Logan bought an existing knitting plant--the Lana Knit plant--which was in very bad shape. So in 1966 Andrew and his boss, Richard Schwartz, asked me first to go over to London where the knitting and distribution house was and then to go to Shannon to see what was going on. So after I had been there about two or three weeks, I came back and I reported to Andrew and Richard Schwartz that the conditions were unbelievably bad--the management was bad, the system was bad, the quality was bad, and the treatment of the people was not human.
In May 1966 they asked me to go over and try to improve the plants in London and in Shannon. I started to work very hard, and my son Otto took over the management and tried to create a modern plant with good quality. At this time Butte needed additional material because they could not produce enough here, and the reason for buying the Butte Irish plant was to produce cloth to deliver from Ireland to the US. At first my son Otto worked in the London office of Lanaknit, and he and Mr. Molnar tried to organize the sales of the merchandise. And I went to Shannon to try to organize the production.
This was a happy and interesting time in my life because I could start again as I had with my work in Yugoslavia; so first of all I organized the plant. The people had been neglected; the machines had been neglected; everything was below my standards. So Otto and I started to reorganize the plant. So in 1966 we brought to Ireland all the machines from London. I stayed there until 1967; in the first part of February Otto came back from London and took over the management and was very successful. He asked me to help him technically to reorganize and buy new machines--new finishing machines to introduce quality to make a perfect product. It was very difficult and in February 1967 Andrew and Richard Schwartz came to visit us in Ireland; I told them that on March 12 "we will send the first 50,000 lbs. to you." Andrew believed me but not his boss. On March 12, 1967 the first big jet airplane arrived in Shannon and we loaded the 50,000 lbs. and sent it over here to Spartanburg. So Andrew's boss was surprised because he never believed that we would do it. Then in 1967 I left Otto in Shannon and came back to Andrew because the Butte Knit company needed many improvements regarding quality control. Andrew gave me a free hand as to what I could do; I did an amazing job regarding quality. With my connections in Germany we could get any machines we wanted.
Again in 1967 I went back to Ireland with my wife and spent the whole summer there. The airplane was loaded with 50,000 lbs. every week. While I was in Ireland in the summer of 1967 I tried to help Otto who knew well how to run the plant, but I had certain ideas of how to further modernize the plant and first of all the quality, and I worked closely with Otto to implement those plans over the three months that I spent there.
The Irish head of the Shannon development company had been giving grants and tax-free status to companies to come there and build plants, so in 1966 I had gotten in touch with this Mr. O'Reagan. He was the head of this organization of the Irish government. Otto and I had gone over to this Mr. O'Reagan to introduce ourselves and I had told him that we did not want to play the ugly American there but we did want to modernize the plant and so we brought over many people from Butte--technicians--and introduced my system. I had told him that I wanted to make this a family oriented company; he had listened to me, but he had not believed me. Everybody is human. The Irish people are very nice people, very smart, very intelligent and I loved every moment with them. The plant looked very different to the technicians; especially the spinning and the dyeing. Otto was the big expert on this; I did not understand too much about spinning and dyeing. When Otto and I had talked to Mr. O'Reagan about establishing a family oriented plant he had listened but had not believed us. Two weeks later he came over to my office and said to me "I have to apologize to you; when you told me that you wanted to build a family oriented plant with a close relationship between workers and management I was skeptical, but what happened today convinced me. When I came to Shannon there were two young men standing at one of the bus stations. I stopped my car and asked one of them, 'What are you doing here?'" I thought that they must have missed their bus. "They did not know who I was. 'Where do you want to go?' 'We want to go to Lana Knit; we work there.'" He asked them: "How do you like now Lana?" And the two men told him: "It's a different world. We belong to the family." This big man came over and apologized to me; he had not believed what I had promised.
The previous management were not treating their workers fairly: first of all, it was dirty and the pay was low and too much was being demanded of them. A few months later because of our way of running a very successful business, everything was changed for the better; the worker with the most manual job was as convinced that he was an important part of the production as the highest leader of the company. I wanted to convince them that their job was as important as the highest managerial job. My philosophy was always to tell the people: "What you are doing is important." A man who cleans the toilet or sweeps the floor is so important that if he does not do a good job my plant will be dirty and that results in a loss of quality. People who worked for us were talking about our approach many years later. I always said that every job was important; every job was a part of the one hundred percent needed to make good materials--the cleaning, the floor cleaning, and knitting and supervising and quality control. Each part of the manufacturing is important to the result. So for that reason we had a great success in Spartanburg.
In 1970 my son Andrew decided to create his own plant and his own vertical organization. This was the time that polyester (double-knit) was a very important fabric. Butte had texturizing, and dyeing, and knitting and produced the final product--dresses. It was a very difficult process. I and he had to buy all the important machines, which he did. In June 1970 Andrew left Butte and opened a small office in Hillcrest Offices behind the Hillcrest Shopping Center to prepare the new plant. He started to build a plant in Moore on Route 1, near Woodruff. In four months Andrew built a 400,000 square foot building; one here and one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In October 1970 we opened a plant with 10 machines and 6 people and Andrew built a beautiful office on I-85 and I ran the plant alone until early 1971 when Otto came back home from Shannon. That was a tragic year for me; happiness in opening the Wofford Library and then tragedy when on May 6 Andrew died.
So we started this plant, the name of which was Olympia, on a very small scale, but we already had a plan to build a big plant and before Andrew died we already had 120 machines and 900 people. We were very successful because we were the only company that could supply dyed yarn in knitting cones but we did not make dresses. The whole of the production went to the people who made dresses. It was a very wonderful organization; I made all the possible contribution that I could to it, but naturally Andrew was the head, and then came Otto and other people. So when Andrew died this left the plant without a very strong talented man and there was no one but Otto who could fill that position. Otto knew more than other people, but when a leader dies there are people who are going to try to grab a big part of the management. So when Andrew died on May 6, 1971 I was named as chairman of the board and was still running my own quality control program because my basic principle was that quality was the most important thing in the world. We produced for the manufacturers of dresses and for wholesale firms contract work from yarn to cloth.
Otto was devastated by Andrew's death. My sons were so close to each other that they were like two bodies in one soul. They lived together as children in one room over twenty years; they went to the same college in England; and went to the same college in North Carolina. Otto took nuclear chemistry and Andrew took knitting. While they were in college in England they lived together in one room; in Raleigh, they did the same thing at North Carolina State and they were always in the top 10 percent of their class.
Andrew was very successful, and he did very nice things for this town. In the hospital he bought the first intensive care heart unit and he bought the first heart scanner; his name is on the machine. He did many things for this community and also for the Jewish community. He insisted it was sensible to build a new synagogue; the old synagogue was on Dean Street, near the Evans Building. He gave this old building to the Anglican Church. He built the education building for the Jewish temple.
In 1969 there was talk of establishing the Charles Lea Center and the problem was money. Andrew took a part in the effort and raised about $950,000 in six months. The Appalachian Fund matched the same amount of money and the Charles Lea Center was built in 1969. In September 1971 it opened after he had died. The Charles Lea Center was a unique facility. Its purpose was to educate setomnolent children. There were two schools: the Teszler school where hyperactive but otherwise normal children with learning disabilities were treated and the McCarthy building where the heavily handicapped were treated. And naturally the Charles Lea Center got much help from the state. There was never again any need for private fund raising anymore; the state and the school districts supported the Center. Today the Charles Lea Center is unique in the whole country; there are about 700 students. It is an absolutely modern center. The Teszler School remained a relatively small school because every year 30 percent of the students go to the regular Junior High school. Today there is a different system. Today every public school has one class for hyperactive or difficult children identified by the teacher.
From 1971 until 1979 Olympia Mills existed but it was not so successful as Andrew had hoped so in 1974 Monsanto bought the plant in Spartanburg and everything that Olympia had. Monsanto continued everything as it was but the double knit industry suffered a tremendous crisis in September 1974; the product was not so popular anymore. But until 1979 they were still running Monsanto in the old way. I was vice-president and head of the quality control and I worked until 1979. I was seventy-six years old when Monsanto stopped the one plant left and re-organized it and established a key electronic plant making silicon chips. Monsanto completely sold out the knitting part and brought electronic work in its place. So my working career was over.
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