When the "bone dry law" was adopted in Springfield in 1903, local distilleries closed. A city business meeting was held to find an industry for those who had lost jobs with the ending of the whiskey industry.
The committee became interested in a woolen mill in Franklin, KY operated by the Tatham Family, and recruited the family to run a mill in Robertson County. The Springfield Woolen Mills was incorporated shortly thereafter, and a fundraising program began.
The First Blanket
Seed money of $35,000 was raised in capital stock to get the Woolen Mills in operation. With this money, two acres of land were purchased at a rate of $100 per acre. A small two-story building was built, and enough equipment acquired to begin operation with this initial fundraising.
On January 8, 1904, the first blanket was produced. A workforce of 50 people were employed at this time.
An additional office, warehouse and 12 additional looms were added later that year to help produce the 175 blankets needed per day.
World War I Production
By 1918, the Woolen Mills
turned out 250,000 blankets annually. The total revenue was reported to be one million dollars. Partially responsible for this success was the bankruptcy of the Nashville Woolen Mills that took place in 1915.
The federal government
also bought 85% of all blankets produced at the Woolen Mills
for World War 1 soldiers - a role that the mill would play again in a few years.
In 1920, the price of woolen textiles dropped, and many mills around the country went out of business. But by 1921, the Springfield Woolen Mills bought the largest share of wool sold in the state. Even more machinery was added to increase production. By 1925, it had reached the largest woolen mill status in the south with 400 employees and production of 225,000 blankets per year. The Mills provided houses for some employees on the property, and a church was built to provide a facility for those working at The Mills. This was the only mill in the U.S. that did not cease production throughout the depression.
The Springfield Woolen Mills runs 24 hours a day with 125,000 blankets going to American Indians, 300,000 for the Army and Navy, and countless others going to hotels, steamships, hospitals, Pullman Railroad cars, and some specifically for racing horses in Kentucky.
A few names of the blanket styles included "Cherokee", "Auburn", Princess", and "Nightingale". Over half of the wool used was grown in TN and KY.
World War II
During World War II, 95% of production went to Army and Navy blankets. The Woolen Mills made about 35,000 blankets every month.
In 1944, the Springfield Woolen Mills and its employees were awarded the Army-Navy "E" Award by the War Department. A prestigious award, it was given for "high achievement in producing materials needed in the war effort."
During this time, the Mills began making men's shirts, baby blankets, bathrobes, and women's wear in 12 authentic Scottish Clan plaids along with lots of herringbone, solids and twills.
Post War Production
The Mills operated 3 factory
outlet stores in Springfield, TN, Hopkinsville, KY, and
Bowling Green, KY.
The Mills was purchased by Chatham Manufacturing Company out of North Carolina for about $2.5 million. Chatham was the nation's largest manufacturer of blankets. At this time, The Mills had 300 employees with an annual payroll of $1 million.
Springfield Woolen Mill Closes
In 1963, The Woolen Mills announced that it would close on December 30th due to "heavy" financial losses. The blame was placed on the continuing impact of increasing imports of woolen products from low-wage countries.
350 workers lost jobs.
At this time, this was Springfield's oldest and 2nd largest industry.
In 1964, the NASCO
Company moved into the space with 19 employees.
At this time, NASCO had a
small space in Ashland City, TN and sold stools door to door by high school & college kids. The company used a silk screen process to print emblems or other designs on the stools.
NASCO was undergoing a metamorphosis. Salesmen were targeting schools and many programs, such as bands, senior classes, athletic programs,
chorus groups, and home economic classes to sell products to fundraise for gaps in much-needed supplies.
Because of the company's unusual buying habits - not knowing how much of any one product would be popular - the company branched out into manufacturing rather than purchasing them from the outside.
By this time, NASCO was manufacturing more than 40,000 stadium cushions, 7,000 gym bags, 25,000 elementary school tote bags, and 60,000 bottles of its own all-purpose cleaner (REX) per week. NASCO had 14 divisions, and sold $13 million worth of candles, greeting cards, litter baskets, stationary, plastic tumblers, jackets, combs, toothbrushes, and air freshener. NASCO had become the nation's largest supplier of equipment bags for professional and college football teams and major league baseball teams.
NASCO had expanded its manufacturing to a line of sports apparel - the famous nylon jacket - and active wear. The four plants, located in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia were no longer able to keep up with the doubling of sales every three years. The company acquired a 95,000 square foot sewing plant in Shelbyville, TN to meet the increasing production levels and anticipated growth.
Revenues were anticipated to be in the $80 million range.
NASCO is acquired in a merger with Innovo Group Inc. headquartered in Sugar Land, TX. It now operated as a subsidiary of Innovo with 250 employees remaining in Springfield.
NASCO continues to be a leader in school fundraising products with school jackets and bags, but adds candy, cheese & sausage, gift wrap and magazine subscriptions. At this time the company held licensing agreements with every professional U.S. sports team in addition to 156 colleges.
Innovo sells the fund-raising component of the business, and focuses on obtaining new licensing agreements. It secures NASCAR, Major League Baseball, and in later years, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Warner Brothers for the Looney Tunes characters, The Simpson's, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Anheuser-Busch Companies.
In 1995, Innovo began distribution to Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, Kohl's, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, and Sports Authority.
Springfield Facility Closes
Despite these positive developments, Innovo struggled financially, and the securement of the licensing agreements were costly endeavors.
The decision was made to consolidate all headquarters, distribution and manufacturing operations to Knoxville, TN.
Employees out of work went to other flourishing Springfield industries, such as CEI, Collins & Aikman and Frigidaire.