The Textile Educational Enterprise at Georgia Tech

J. A. Stewart, writing in the Scientific American in 1900, enthusiastically acknowledged the rapid progress made in cotton manufacturing in the South, declaring that "this splendid growth is bringing the South into prominence," and nowhere more strongly than at the Georgia School of Technology, where "the first cotton trade school in the South" opened its doors in 1899. (1)

Georgia Tech President Lyman Hall had led the way in raising funds for the establishment of a Textile Department at the Georgia School of Technology. The time was right in the late 1890's for his decision to establish textile engineering, for the textile industry in Georgia and neighboring South Carolina was growing rapidly, and employment opportunities seemed rich for future textile graduates. Hall pressed his case hard, using a three-pronged approach: the use of New South rhetoric, conditional gifts from philanthropists, and conditional appropriations by the State legislature. (2) Taking advantage of his acquaintance with Aaron French, Pittsburgh manufacturer, President Hall was ultimately successful in obtaining substantial donations from the industrialist, and he was successful in persuading the Georgia Legislature to fund the school conditionally pending receipt of private donations. In 1897 the Legislature appropriated $10,000 to establish a Textile Department "for the education of students in matters usually taught in other textile schools; provided, that this appropriation shall not become available until ten thousand dollars, in money or equipment, is donated by private individuals or others" (3)

A major factor in the funding of the Textile Department was the procurement of gifts of textile machinery through the strenuous efforts of Oscar Elsas, a Tech alumnus and vice president of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill. Elsas travelled north and persuaded textile firms in that region to donate state-of-the-art machinery later valued at $20,000. J. A. Stewart noted that "every machine of consequence known to the cotton manufacturing industry is to be found [in the Textile Department at Georgia Tech], and in most cases in considerable variety of makes of manufacture." (4) Stewart went on to state that there were

"four types of cards: a Winship 60 saw cotton gin, gin feeder and condenser; two kinds of drawing frames, a railway head, a ribbon lapper, a comber, five processes of fly frames, three types of ring spinning frames, four spoolers, three winders, and a wet and dry twister. " (5)
Fifteen types of looms were available, everything from those used in the making of coarse cloth to fine Jacquard products. Among these looms were Whitin, Mason, Crompton & Knowles, Kilburn, Lincoln, Northrop, Calvin and Jacquard looms. The wide variety of equipment available to the students would enable them to operate all kinds of textile machinery anywhere they might go and would make them attractive candidates for positions as textile mill operators and managers.

When the prospect of sufficient funds became bright, Lyman Hall approached officials of the Lowell (Massachusetts) Textile School, for possible assistance in the design of the Textile Department. He was able to arrange for consulting by C. P. Brooks, head of the Lowell School; and through this consulting, plans were drawn up for a Textile Department patterned upon that at the Lowell School, which was widely admired as one of the best such schools in this country. Brooks provided sound advice in planning for the equipment and the curriculum for the new department, which consisted of units devoted to carding, spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing, textile design, textile mechanics, textile engineering, and mill management. With the required funds and the promise of machinery secured, the State of Georgia released its appropriation in the summer of 1898. Construction began soon and proceeded very quickly, and the building was completed the same year. The brand new A. French Textile School opened its doors for instruction in February 1899.

The building itself, named in honor of the chief donor, Aaron French, and designed by the Massachusetts architectural firm of Lockwood Greene, was considered a very modern cotton mill, embodying "the very latest ideas of mill construction." (6) The structure, measuring 150 feet by 70 feet, was built of brick and contained three stories. There was an elevator in the Receiving Room in the basement, and machinery and supplies could be easily lifted to the upper floors. The main entrance, on the south side, was set slightly to one side, with eight windows to the left (west) and six windows to the right(east). Many large windows on all sides of the building and in all three stories allowed plenty of daylight to enter the building, and a skylight over the main staircase provided additional light for the departments on the top floor. Power for the many machines throughout the mill was provided by an eighty horsepower Corliss steam engine in the basement.

The main entrance led to the first story, which was the middle floor. To the immediate right was the principal's office, and a large exhibition room was opposite the entrance. On the east side could be found the Jacquard Designing Room and the Designing Room. Fully the west half of the floor space was devoted to warp preparation and contained twelve hand looms, two Jacquard looms, and several folders.

The west end of the basement had smaller windows because of the elevation, and in this end of the structure was the Ginery, with dust chamber adjacent and dust shaft extending upward to the top of the building. The Engine Room, location of the Corliss engine, and the adjacent Heater Room also occupied the west end of the basement, with the Receiving Room and the Finishing Room to the rear. The east half of the basement was the location of the Dye House which contained eight vats with water and steam fittings, a dyeing machine, steam chest, dye-kettles, measures, frames, and other equipment. In addition, the Laboratory, the Lecture Room, the Store Room, and an office occupied this part of the floor.

The second or top story of the building was not divided into rooms, but rather consisted of one large open area containing machinery. On the floor plans, this area is labelled the Carding and Spinning Room. In the center of the open area stood the huge Spinning Mule, fifty-four feet long. Elsewhere in the room were spoolers, twisters, warpers, and a slasher, as well as various other machines used in the Department of Carding and Spinning.

The A. French Building was home to Textile Engineering at Georgia Tech until the completion of the Harrison Hightower Textile Engineering Building in 1949, a half century later. More than a century after its construction, the A. French Building still stands as a reminder of the trailblazing work done in textile education in the earliest years of Georgia Tech.