A Timeline of Textile History

6000 B.C.
WOOLEN textiles are found in Southern Turkey.

5000 B.C.
COTTON is grown and woven into cloth in India, Pakistan, and Eastern Africa. FLAX is grown & woven into LINEN fabric in Egypt.

2700 B.C.
SILK cloth is woven from the cocoons of silkworms in China.

2500-1200 B.C.
Textiles are woven in India, Pakistan, Central Europe, and the Middle East. China is spinning and weaving silk into fine brocade and damask fabrics. Silk fabrics are also made in Persia, Syria, and Japan. Spinning of wool & cotton fibers into yarn was done by hand using a distaff (stick) and a bowl in which to spin the stick. The loom is of ancient origin.

500 B.C.
The Great Wheel is developed in India for spinning cotton into yarn. The Great Wheel is used in Europe by the Middle Ages.

300 B.C.
England, France & Spain are making woolen textiles.

700 A.D.
American Indians (Pueblos) are growing & weaving COTTON into cloth.

400 A.D.-1500’s
Development of textile production in England and throughout Europe. Carding and weaving of cotton or wool is done at home or in guilds (cottage industry). Waterpower, used since ancient times only to grind grains and irrigate land, is now harnessed to run machines for the developing the textile industry in England.

The Hosiery knitting machine is invented by William Lee in England.

American Colonies begin growing and exporting cotton primarily back to England.

England builds factories for power spinning and weaving of cloth.

Rhode Island develops a cotton industry dependent on Southern plantation cotton-grown and cleaned by enslaved labor. Massachusetts builds textile mills.

Slater Mill built by Samuel Slater in Rhode Island becomes the first water-powered spinning mill in America.

The Cotton Gin is invented by Eli Whitney to speed up production of removal of seeds from cotton fiber.

The first successful power loom is built by William Gilmore & David Wilkinson of England.

A textile mill city is built in Lowell, Massachusetts along the Merrimack River, modeled after the textile mill cities of England. Nine large brick textile mills, six miles of canals, machine shops, worker housing and churches are built. Thousands of people were employed in Lowell.

The turbine is first developed in 1827, and it eventually replaces the water wheel in the late1800’s, making waterpower more efficient.

First steam locomotive is built in the United States.

Southern textile mills develop along the waterways of the southern states, and following the American Civil War in 1865, the textile industry shifts more to the south as a result of the primary location source of cotton, less expensive production costs, a hungry workforce primarily made of women and children to work in the mills, while men built the structures, maintained the machinery, and continued to tend to the farms. Former enslaved Americans work in the mill system, but perform much of the loading and unloading of raw and finished products.

Railroads are built throughout the eastern United States, but are not fully developed until after the American Civil War. As other power sources become available to include steam and coal, factories no longer need to remain along the rivers, and new factories are built along the rail lines gaining an advantage over those existing mills, which began on the rivers.

George Franks Ivey teaches the first textile course at North Carolina State University.

The Cone brothers construct White Oak Cotton Mills in Greensboro. By 1908 it becomes the world’s largest denim manufacturer. The heavy-duty blue denim fabric produced by the mills managed by Moses Cone ultimately gave him the title “Denim King”.

Rayon (made of purified cellulose fibers and consider an “artificial” silk) is commercially produced in the United States of America.

Many Northern cotton mills close due to higher labor and production costs and the reestablish themselves in the Southern states. The number of textile mills continues to grow as well as employment.

Rayon fabric production begins in Burlington, North Carolina with the beginnings of Burlington Mills by Spencer Love.

The School of Textiles at North Carolina State University is created out of the School of Engineering, NCSU at the Board of Trustees meeting on June 8, 1925.

Acetate is developed by Celanese Corporation of America.

Glass fibers are spun into fabric.

Nylon fiber is developed by the DuPont Company.

Nylon fiber is used instead of silk for military parachutes in World War II, and for women’s hosiery.

In North Carolina, 40 percent of all jobs were in the textile manufacturing industry. By 2013, just 1.1 percent were in the textile industry.

The United States is heavily involved in the manufacturing of textile products to support the war effort to include: uniforms, equipment for the soldier, tentage, parachutes, medical supplies, and other military products.

Metallic fibers are used in fabrics.

Employment in textiles throughout the Southern United States peaks at 1.3 million jobs.

Olefin (polypropylene used to make carpets) is developed.

Acrylic fiber is developed by the DuPont Company.

Polyester is developed combining with cotton for more durable wash & wear fabrics.

Spandex (lightweight, smooth, flexible synthetic fabric) is developed.

Non-woven textiles are developed and heavily manufactured.

Burlington Industries becomes largest textile manufacturing corporation in the world.

Lyocell (originally trademarked as Tencel, it is a form of regenerated cellulose. Consisting of cellulose fibers, it is made from dissolving pulp and then reconstituting it by dry jet-wet spinning. The fiber is used to make textiles for clothing and other purposes) is developed.

Due to rising costs in labor salaries and health & retirement benefits and production costs, the textile industry begins to move outside of the United States to Mexico, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Korea, South America, Central America, Italy, Turkey, Australia.

Many Southern textile mills struggle and then begin to close due to cheaper competition and inability to upgrade machinery and facilities. Between 1997 and 2009, more than 650 textile plant facilities close in the United States. The NAFTA agreement added to the demise of the textile industry in the United States.


(Some books can still be purchased and others may be found in public libraries or online.)

Broudy, Eric. The Book of Looms. New Hampshire: Brown University Press of New England, 1979.

Glass, Brent D. The Textile Industry in North Carolina. North Carolina: Division of Archives and History, 1992.

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, James Leloudis, Robert Korstad, Mary Murphy, Lu Ann Jones, Christopher B. Daly. Like A Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, The University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

Hollen, Norma and Jane Saddler. Textiles. New York: MacMillan Co., 1955.

Mitchell, Broadus. The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South. The University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Tullos, Allen. Habits of Industry: White Culture and the Transformation of the Carolina Piedmont, The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.