Once “Largest Manufacturer of Towels in the World”

An aerial shot of Cannon Mills from the Photographic Archives at UNC-Chapel Hill

On April 1, 1888, Concord’s steam-powered Cannon Manufacturing Company, predecessor of Cannon Mills, produced its first yarn.

Founded by James W. Cannon the year before, the steam-powered, 4,000-spindle manufacturing facility took raw cotton, spun the yarn and then wove it into a finished product called Cannon Cloth. The inexpensive cloth was popular for making shirts and pillowcases. By 1890, Cannon was focusing his operation on towels. Initially the flat weave towel was designed to be completed at home, with the  purchaser cutting and hemming the fabric to desired sizes.

In 1906, Cannon bought 600 acres of land a few miles north of Concord. He built a planned community that included rental houses and a school. The community became the town of Kannapolis. Around that same time, Cannon began to produce a more absorbent towel made out of terry cloth. By the end of the World War I, the company was the nation’s largest towel producer.

Cannon expanded his textile holdings and, in 1928, he consolidated nine plants into the Cannon Mills Company. Eventually part of Fieldcrest and later Pillowtex, the Kannapolis-based operations of Cannon Mills closed in 2003.

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