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Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills Records

 Collection
Identifier: MS004

  • Staff Only

Overview

Founded in Atlanta during the late 1860s, the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills operated under the management of Jacob Elsas and his descendants for more than a century. The processed portion of this collection, which is divided into four series, documents the business activities and concerns of management and workers in the Atlanta mill during the early twentieth century. Materials relating specifically to the 1914-1915 strike in Atlanta include the correspondence of Oscar Elsas, transcripts of testimonies given before the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, and a group of operative reports. Correspondence and operative reports also provide some documentation of union activities and working conditions at other Fulton Bag mills, particularly those in St. Louis, Brooklyn, Dallas, and New Orleans. The fourth series contains documents, ledgers, and scrapbooks relating mainly to the first seventy-five years of the company's history. Selected items in this collection have been digitized. The digitized items are available here: http://www.library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag/index.html To search within the digitized items, use the following Google search structure: [search term] site:library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag Example: strike site:library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag

Dates

  • Majority of material found within Bulk, 1881-1956
  • 1872-1994 (bulk 1881-1956)

Language of Materials

English

Physical Description

(ca. 255 record center cartons, ca. 45 card boxes, ca. 300 document cases and Oversize)

Restrictions: Access

Some parts of the unprocessed portion of the collection may be restricted because of content, or because of the condition of the originals. The infirmary and medical records in Series 5 are restricted per statute. Please consult one of the archivists to obtain permission to access these parts of the collection.

Restrictions: Use

Permission to publish materials from this collection must be obtained from the Head of Archives and Special Collections.

Extent

600.0 Linear feet

Scope and Contents

The six 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.

SERIES 1 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.

SERIES 2 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.

SERIES 3 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.

SERIES 4 consists of materials that were originally donated to Emory University's Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library. These materials relate to the administrative activities and financial transactions of the company, particularly during its earliest years. Two of the ledgers in this series (MS004-L266 and MS004-L288) document the activities of the Fulton Cotton Spinning Company during the 1880s and 1890s, and one of the two scrapbooks in this series (Scrapbook 1) covers the period from about 1881 to 1949. General office files, by-laws, meeting minutes of the boards of directors, and financial ledgers are also included in this series.

SERIES 5 contains mainly personnel records, including accident reports, infirmary and medical records, and other general personnel records, dating from the 1910s to the early 1970s. Due to the nature of these records, most of these files are confidential.

SERIES 6 contains the business records of Fulton Cotton Mills and Fulton Industries, as well as those of some affiliated mills. Included are purchase orders, invoices, bills of lading, and accounts payable and receivable. Interspersed with the business records are some personnel records, which are mostly restricted. These records are generally later in date than those in Series 5.

SERIES 7 contains ledgers from Fulton Cotton Mills and Fulton Industries.

For more detailed descriptions of these series, see the scope and content notes under each series and subseries.

This finding aid constitutes a description of part of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills records and ledgers only. The remainder of the collection will be added to the inventory as soon as they can be made available. Researchers wishing to access unprocessed parts of the collection may contact one of the archivists.

Selected items in this collection have been digitized. The digitized items are available here: http://www.library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag/index.html To search within the digitized items, use the following Google search structure: [search term] site:library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag Example: strike site:library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag

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.

Arrangement

The collection has been divided into seven series. Some of these series are further divided into subseries.
  1. SERIES 1. Executive office files
  2. SERIES 2. Strike records
  3. SERIES 3. Operative reports
  4. SERIES 4. Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills - Materials from Emory University
  5. SERIES 5. Personnel records
  6. SERIES 6. Business records
  7. SERIES 7. Ledgers

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Because of their age, some of the paper materials in this collection are fragile. Careful handling is recommended.

Other Finding Aids

Prior to 2005, parts of this collection were partially processed and described, and partial inventories were available in the Georgia Tech Archives reading room. Concordances with previous arrangement schemes are available on request.

A print copy of this finding aid is available in the Georgia Tech Archives reading room.

Provenance

Accession Number: 1985.0801 (old number: 1985-08-01). This collection was acquired from the Fulton Cotton Mill in Atlanta in 1985. Series 4 was transferred from the Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) in late 2007 (accession number 2007.109).

Accruals

Materials in Series 4 were acquired from Emory University in late 2007 (2007.109).

Other Available Formats

Digital reproductions of selected items in this collection are accessible via the Web. Please see the box and folder list of this inventory for links to digital images.

Related Materials

  1. FULTON BAG AND COTTON MILL STRIKE ALBUMS, 1914-1915. 3 volumes. Annotated photograph albums of the 1914-1915 strike by one of the organizers, Ola Delight (Mrs. E. B.) Smith.
  1. FULTON BAG AND COTTON MILL STRIKE PHOTOGRAPHS, 1914-1915 (L1983-38). 89 images. The collection features images of the mill village, the strikers, and the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill buildings during the period of the 1914-1915 strike.
  2. LANE BROTHERS PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLECTION, Boxes 53 and 54. This large photographic collection contains several images of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill and village dating mainly from the 1950s.
  1. ELSAS FAMILY PAPERS. Three collections, including the Oscar Elsas Family Papers and the Louis Elsas Family Papers. The Jacob Elsas Family Papers consist of 600 copies of outgoing correspondence from Jacob Elsas, dating from 1888 to 1932. The Breman Museum also holds miscellaneous papers and artifacts relating to the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills.
  2. THE ESTHER AND HERBERT TAYLOR ORAL HISTORY PROJECT--CUBA ARCHIVES. This oral history project includes interviews with two members of the Elsas family, Edith Elsas and Herbert Elsas.

Separated Material

The photographs and architectural drawings in this collection have been processed separately. See the finding aids for the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills photographs (VAM004) and the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills architectural drawings (VAMD004).

Artifacts, including the last bag run by Fulton Bag in 1958, have been added to the artifacts collection.

Selected Bibliography

  • Fink, Gary M. The Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills Strike of 1914-1915: Espionage, Labor Conflict, and New South Industrial Relations. Ithaca, New York: ILR Press, 1993.
  • Kuhn, Clifford. Contesting the New South Order: The 1914-1915 Strike at Atlanta's Fulton Mills. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  • McMath, Robert C., Jr. History by a Graveyard. Labor's Heritage 1/2 (April 1989): 4-9.
  • 100th Anniversary: Fulton Cotton Mills. Textile Industries 132/12 (December 1968): 62-76.
  • Wilson, David L. A Treasure Trove of Information about the Labor Movement in the South's Textile Industry. The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 25, 1992): B5.

Physical Description

(ca. 255 record center cartons, ca. 45 card boxes, ca. 300 document cases and Oversize)

Original File Plan

The original arrangement and organization of the materials in this collection is often not clear, although the correspondence to and from Oscar Elsas was apparently grouped together, as were the operative reports. When it has been possible to discern the original arrangement, this organization has been retained.

Note:

This finding aid constitutes a description of part of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills records and ledgers only. The remainder of the collection will be added to the inventory as soon as they can be made available. Researchers wishing to access unprocessed parts of the collection may contact one of the archivists.

Selected items in this collection have been digitized. The digitized items are available here: http://www.library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag/index.html To search within the digitized items, use the following Google search structure: [search term] site:library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag Example: strike site:library.gatech.edu/fulton_bag

Processing Information

Christine D. de Catanzaro, Jody Lloyd Thompson, and Kent Woynowski processed these papers in 2005. Leah Kim processed Series 4 in June 2010. Christine de Catanzaro, assisted by Rebecca Lawrence and Sarah Scott, processed Series 5 in May 2015.

In January 2016, a revised inventory of the ledgers was created. The following ledgers noted on earlier inventories were found not to exist: MS004-L187 (Cash Book, 1912-1913) (Box 462), MS004-L194 (Cash Book, 1907-1909) (Box 469), MS004-L234 (Index to Ledgers, 1902-1911) (Box 506), MS004-L239 (Voucher Record, 1918-1919) (Box 512), MS004-L241 (Voucher Record, 1915) (Box 514), MS004-L242 (Voucher Check Register - Brooklyn, 1930) (Box 515), MS004-L247 (General Ledger, 1902-1911) (Box 519), MS004-L249 (Accounting Journal, 1919-1920) (Box 521), MS004-L250 (Accounting Journal, 1920-1922) (Box 522), MS004-L253 (Index to General Ledger, undated) (Box 525), MS004-L254 (Index (Atlanta) Customers Ledger, 1914-1915) (Box 526), MS004-L261 (Accident Reports, 1907-1909) (Box 531).
Title
Inventory of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills records 1872-1994 (bulk 1881-1956) MS004B MS004 MS004
Subtitle
MS004
Status
Completed
Author
Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Christine D. de Catanzaro, Jody Lloyd Thompson, and Kent Woynowski
Date
Copyright 2005.
Description rules
Finding aid prepared using RLG Best Practice Guidelines for Encoded Archival Description and Describing Archives: A Content Standard.
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, Library, Georgia Institute of Technology Repository

Contact:
Library
Georgia Institute of Technology
266 4th Street, NW
Atlanta 30332-0900 USA
404-894-4586