Thomas Textile Company collection
Scope and Contents
The collection includes clothing samples manufactured in Whitehall, dating from 1988 at the time of the factory’s closing; newspaper, magazine, and catalog clippings of Thomas advertisements dating back to 1953; and photographs, including slides, used for said advertisements.
The clothing samples have been divided into three categories: boy's, girl's, and miscellaneous, this last category containing items either not sex-specific or that required special packaging. The printed materials also include an article about the company and a party invitation. All of the clippings have been kept in their original format.
A detailed inventory of this collection, found in the printed finding aid, gives each item a record number. The inventory, as written in 2003, does not include a record number 36. Since the short film about the company, made by Thomas Swartz, Jr., currently on a D.V.D. but apparently originally added to the collection as a V.H.S. tape, needed to be formally included in the collection, it has been given that number. Researchers can use an older version of the finding aid which lists the records as they are found in the boxes in order to make the process of perusing each box in succession more efficient. This approach is only necessary for the clothing samples. Apparently they were assigned record numbers before being boxed; in turn, the size of the items determined their placement within the boxes, thus not matching the record-number order. The items in Series II and III, in contrast, are arranged by record number. Please ask the Heritage Room staff for this document.
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
This collection has no restrictions. This collection is open to the public. Library policy on photography and photocopying will apply. Advance notice may be required. Apply in the Heritage Room for access.
Biographical / Historical
The Thomas Textile Company was founded by Thomas J. Swartz in 1921. For about nine years, the company mostly made diapers, manufactured in Orange, New Jersey. Having joined the business at some point during these years, Thomas’s brother, Herbert, moved to Whitehall, Georgia, in 1930, to set up new manufacturing operations. The company opened its own plant in Whitehall in 1934; a second floor was added to this facility in 1939. Thomas stayed in New York with the company’s sales and administrative offices.
The original Whitehall building served as the company’s main sewing plant until 1958, when it became a warehouse. Sewing operations at that point moved to the River Building complex, part of which is an historic landmark, proclaimed to be the site of the first cotton mill in Georgia. Indeed, the Thomas company had established operations at Whitehall because they purchased birdseye and flannel fabric from the Oconee Manufacturing Company that had previously owned the mill.
The Thomas Textile Company by that point had expanded its operations to include night gowns, kimonos, towels, and washcloths. In the 1940s, the company began producing chenille bathrobes. The first playwear garments were designed in 1952 by Polly Smith. Eventually the company began to focus much of its production on playwear for infants. They had three lines per year, Spring, Fall, and Holiday, and significantly expanded their sales force.
A separate shipping facility in Whitehall was built in 1953 and operated by Carl Zitzelman, brother-in-law to Herbert Swartz. After Herbert’s death in 1958, his son, Herbert Swartz, Jr., managed the plant in Whitehall until his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 40. The position of plant manager was then transferred to Elliot Messing. At the death of the company’s founder, Thomas J. Swartz, in 1977, management of the business passed to his son, Thomas J. Swartz, Jr. Herbert’s brother John managed the shipping operations after Carl Zitzelman’s retirement in the early 1980s.
Having reached a high of $10.5 million in 1984, sales totals decreased to over $5 million in 1988. Changes in the global economy, with manufacturing shifting in nations like the Philippines, put an end to much of the textile industry in the Southeast United States. The operations of the Thomas Textile Company ceased on Friday, December 16, 1988. Fred Horns, the former national sales manager of the company, continued to operate the Thomas Children’s Outlet Store locations in Whitehall and Atlanta, selling the company’s apparel until 1993. The old mill was sold to Miller-Gallman Developers in 1997 and became the Whitehall Mill Lofts.
10.37 Linear Feet (Five boxes measuring 30 by 18 by 6, one box measuring 25 by 19 by 2.5, and one file box measuring 6.5 by 15.5 by 10.)
Clothing samples, advertisements, photographs, and other documents pertaining to the Thomas Textile Company, which operated in Whitehall, Georgia, for more than 50 years.
The collection is organized in the following series: I. Clothing Samples II. Photographs III. Advertisements and other printed documents
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Thomas J. Swartz, Jr.
- Thomas Textile Company collection
- Kimberly Leffert, Theresa Flynn, Justin Kau
- April 2003, revised May 2008 and September 2019
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the Heritage Room, Athens-Clarke County Library Repository
2025 Baxter Street
Athens GA 30606