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The Cannon Mills Company was an American textile company founded by James William Cannon, based in Kannapolis, North Carolina. It was founded in 1888 and went bankrupt in July 2003. The Cannon brands were then purchased by the Iconix Brand Group.
Name of Company
Cannon Mills was purchased four times, and had four names.
- Cannon Manufacturing Company (1888–1921)
- Cannon Mills Company (1921–1983)
- Fieldcrest-Cannon Corporation (1983–2001)
- Pillowtex Corporation (2001–2003)
Cannon Manufacturing Company
In 1887 James William Cannon founded the Cannon Manufacturing Company in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His goal was to produce a basic textile product instead of yarn making or a product in which another company could produce. His company produced towels that were sold under the brand name “Cannon Towels”. Ten years later, he opened another mill in Concord, North Carolina.
In 1905, Jim Cannon designed and purchased 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land in northwestern Cabarrus County, North Carolina. The land was formerly used as a cotton plantation. He laid out a plan for a small mill village with homes for the workers. By 1907, the first mill was completed just west of what was Town Lake. The mill, known now as Plant 1, was opened in 1908 after a brief two-year cotton shortage.
By January of the next year, the Cannon Manufacturing Company had employed 840 people in its single Kannapolis plant. James William Canon and his company built hundreds of homes for the mill workers, and also a world-class YMCA facility. At that time, it had the largest membership in the world. He also donated land and money for school construction and education. That year, the first school, McIver was opened. Cannon erected stores, businesses, and churches. Cannon also donated funds to the Cabarrus County Government to improve the main road leading to Kannapolis from Concord. In 1917, James Cannon arranged a life insurance policy for all Cannon employees. This had never yet been done for employees of a company.
1921 was an important year for the Cannon Mills Company. A strike occurred in the localized Charlotte, North Carolina area, affecting all textile mills in this area. Charles A. Cannon was already in charge of Cannon Mills affairs, since his father was trying to recuperate from ill health. The correspondence between James W. Cannon and his son reveal that Charles was doing an exemplary job handling affairs and not recognizing the union activities. On June 1, 1921, the members of the United Textile Workers Union of America went on strike. Employees starved as the union failed to support the strikers. Although Cannon called the National Guard to "keep the peace," the strike ended because union official fled town after union corruption. Cannon Mills did not unionize during this attempt, which left the whole World War I generation skeptical of labor unions.
J.W. Cannon was recently elected as Chairman of the Board and his son, Charles Albert, was made president of the Company. Later that year, Jim Cannon developed an unknown illness in the winter of 1921. He was reported dead at 6:00pm on December 21, 1921. Ironically, he died at the same time as when the afternoon whistle blows for quitting time at the mill. He was buried at Oakwood Cemetery in downtown Concord. The Cannon Manufacturing Company was left to its president and the youngest son, Charles. By the time of J.W. Cannon’s death, the population of Kannapolis was roughly 6,000 citizens and the mill had employed about 15,000 workers.
The company grows
With Charles Albert Cannon in charge, the Cannon Mills Corporation was now entering its golden years. In 1924, funds and land for James William Cannon High School were donated from the company. Later in 1928, Charles Cannon organized nine textile companies into a large corporation, Cannon Mills. 300,000 towels were produced each day, and it soon became the world's largest producer of Textile products. Charles Cannon retired in 1962 at the age of seventy. Donald S. Holt replaced Cannon as chairman of the board, and sales and profit continued to rise. The one-million-square-foot towel distribution center was built in 1962 and the 840,000 sq ft (78,000 m2). sheet distribution center was constructed in the early 1970s. Charles A. Cannon died on April 1, 1971 of a massive stroke.
In 1911, Marshall Field & Company, the Chicago department store, acquired seven mills in Eden, North Carolina (then known as Spray) from Benjamin Franklin Mebane, a local entrepreneur who had secured financing from Field's. In 1916, Field's began construction on Fieldcrest Mills in Fieldale, a 1,600-acre (6.5 km2) mill town near Martinsville, Virginia, which was completed in 1919. Field's later purchased more mills to supply its retail and wholesale operation. In 1935, James O. McKinsey, then chairman of Marshall Field's, the Chicago department store, reorganized Field's 24 textile mills into one manufacturing operation, called Fieldcrest, with headquarters in New York City. In 1953, Fieldcrest was spun off from Field's.
Fieldcrest-Cannon Corporation and Pillowtex Corporation
In 1982, California billionare David H. Murdock purchased the Cannon Mills Company and its 660 acres (2.7 km2) of surrounding property. Murdock proposed a redevelopment plan to the company and the community which included the renewal of downtown Kannapolis (now Cannon Village) and the construction of a brand new YMCA. On November 6, 1984, the Town of Kannapolis was officially incorporated, becoming the city of Kannapolis. Also that year, David Murdock constructed a brand new YMCA. The next year, the company and all of its Bath and Bedding division were bought by Eden, North Carolina-founded Fieldcrest Mills, Incorporated, for somewhat less than $250,000,000. This became the Fieldcrest-Cannon Corporation. The newer smokestack of Plant One, painted white since its construction in 1950, was repainted maroon, also bearing the corporate name. Many union problems resulted after the purchase.
In September, 1997, Fieldcrest-Cannon was sold to the Pillowtex Corporation for $700,000,000. Sales slid, and problems began to appear as Pillowtex lost money. According to a former CEO of Pillowtex, its largest product buyer, Wal-Mart, encouraged the company to move production overseas [to remain competitive] but Pillowtex refused. It was undercut by competitors (producing overseas at lower prices) and when its prices were no longer competitive stopped (or lost) its opportunity to supplying Wal-Mart.
Three years later, in November 2000, Pillowtex filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. In May 2002, Pillowtex briefly surfaced from bankruptcy for little more than a year, but things kept sliding.
On July 30, 2003, Pillowtex Corporation announced the complete bankruptcy of the company. Over the night of July 30, 7,650 people became unemployed (4,340 in Kannapolis alone). This was the largest permanent layoff in the history of the State of North Carolina. The bankruptcy announcement also included an agreement for Pillowtex assets to be sold to GGST LLC, a joint venture of four liquidation companies (SB Capital Group, Gibbs International, Gordon Brothers Retail Partners and Tiger Capital Group), for $56 million, subject to bankruptcy court approval. 
On October 7, 2003, Pillowtex won approval from a bankruptcy court judge to sell company assets, including machinery and brands, to GGST LLC for $128 million. The brands "Cannon", "Royal Velvet", "Charisma", and "Fieldcrest" became the intellectual property of SB Capital. The "Cannon" and "Royal Velvet" brands have been licensed by Li & Fung, headquartered in Hong Kong. "Fieldcrest" branded products have reappeared as "exclusively at Target". Iconix Brand Group bought the Pillowtex brands in 2007.
Beginning in June 2005, workers of the D.H. Griffin Wrecking Company began the demolition of Plant 1, an area the size of The Pentagon. In November 2005, the eastern half of the Towel Distribution Center was imploded, and the main office building was completely demolished by the end of the year. Town Lake was drained and filled in.
On March 24, 2006, the remaining portion of the Towel Distribution Center and the Bleachery were imploded. Over 1,200,000 square feet (110,000 m2) was demolished, making it the third largest building implosion in U.S. history. A few months later, on August 10, the smokestacks were imploded. On November 8, of that year, the 268-foot (82 m) water tower was demolished, officially ending the Cannon Mills era.
The Cannon family was very generous in donating funds for projects in the area. Such include:
- The City of Kannapolis, North Carolina
- The Cannon Memorial YMCA
- Cannon Hall, Appalachian State University
- Cannon School
- Cannon Village
- The Cannon Foundation
- Cannon Reservation, Camp John J. Barnhardt, Central NC Council Boy Scouts of America
- Charles A. Cannon Pool in the Baker Sports Complex at Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina
- J.W. Cannon Dormitory at Davidson College
- Charlotte Country Day School's Cannon Campus
North Carolina Research Campus
The North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) was built on the former site of the Cannon Mills Company. Construction began in 2005, and the campus opened in 2008. The NCRC is a private-public venture involving North Carolina's major universities and private investment. The NCRC is a scientific and economic revitalization project that encompasses the former Cannon Mills plant and the entire downtown area of Kannapolis, North Carolina.
- Kannapolis, North Carolina
- Kannapolis City Schools
- Cabarrus County, North Carolina
- North Carolina Research Campus
- The Age of Wal-Mart, CNBC television documentary, first aired late 2004
- Mecia, Tony; Bell, Adam (2003-07-31). "Company gives up on rebuilding, returns to bankruptcy court". Charlotte Observer via NewsBank. Retrieved 2006-10-05.
- Official Pillowtex, LLC to be Acquired by Iconix Brand Group, Inc.