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Nov 11

Pup Tents and Underwear: Madison’s World War II Factory

Posted on November 11, 2015 at 9:28 AM by Ken Kocher

Morgan County’s greatest contributions to the home front during World War II came not from factories but from fields and forests.  Cotton, pulpwood, beef, dairy, and other products from the pastures and woodlands of the region’s farms poured into the war effort.  From 1940 to 1945 the value of crops harvested doubled from fewer acres planted.  The value of livestock sold more than doubled.  The value of farm machinery almost doubled as tractors replaced mules.

Madison didn’t have any traditionally male “Rosie the Riveter” type factory jobs.  Instead, Madison’s war plant workers were, to coin a phrase, “Sewing Sallies” performing traditionally female apparel factory jobs but on a much larger scale than they had prior to the Pearl Harbor attack.

Stamco Uniform Corp. was established in Madison in 1937 by Guy Thurmond in conjunction with S. C. Chandler and P.H. Ponder.  The female sewing machine Stamco 1941operators supported by male cutters and mechanics produced uniforms for industrial applications.  The Madisonian reported in 1938 that the company was experiencing solid growth.

On the eve of World War II, the Stamco plant was located on the corner of First Street and High Street in the building now occupied by the Bank of Madison annex.  They were also using the building across the alley that now houses the accounting offices of Treadwell-Tamplin & Co. at 157 West Jefferson St. Interviews with former workers indicate that at various times during the war years, the company also operated upstairs in the building that is now J&K Fleas An’tiques at 184 South Main St.

tentThe company obtained war contracts to produce underwear for sailors and pup tents for soldiers in its Madison and Monticello factories.  The pup tents were actually made as “half-shelters” that buttoned together to make a full shelter.  That way a G.I. only had to carry the weight of half a tent; and when it came time to set up, he could find a fellow soldier with the other half.  (See the stock photo.)

As war-time production ramped up, Stamco advertised often for additional workers.  The company promised that this opportunity to make money off the farm and out of the home wouldn’t end with the war.  One advertisement declared, “Even though this job is considered essential to the war effort, it is not just a war time job and will be Stamco adpermanent employment after this war is over.”

True to its word, Thurmond Manufacturing Company (as Stamco had become) retained the ladies who wanted to continue to work after the war.  Just after the war ended, Guy Thurmond built a new factory and headquarters south of the city on the Eatonton Highway in the red brick building that is now the Madison Flea Market.

During the 1950s, Thurmond Manufacturing Company employed as many as 600 to 650 workers at facilities in Madison, Monticello, Rutledge, and Duluth.  The ladies sewed suits, shirts, and other sportswear that were sold to New York wholesalers and marketed under such well-known brands as Macy’s and Lord & Taylor.  One of the workers recalled that since most families in this period had only one car their husbands would have to drop them off at work and then come back to pick them up.  They called the men “go getters” because after work they would -- go get her.

Northern interests bought out the company in the late 1950s; and, like most southern garment factories, it soon succumbed to foreign competition.  However, from 1937 to his passing in 1960 Guy Thurmond’s success allowed him to become one of Madison’s best known citizens serving not only as factory owner but also as a bank director, city councilman, and owner of one of the city’s showcase antebellum homes, Snow Hill, which he purchased in 1943.  Unfortunately, the grand home on East Avenue burned to the ground just two years after Thurmond died.

You can read more about the company and its founder in the interview transcription booklet “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” which is on file at the Morgan County Archives. 

Madison Moments, a weekly blog highlighting Madison's rich history, is a creation of the Madison Historic Preservation Commission in collaboration with other City Boards and Departments. This installment was contributed by the Historic Preservation Commission and written by Brad Rice, HPC Member. This volunteer board protects the community's wealth of historic resources - most notably the Madison Historic District, first listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.


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