The History of DeKalb County, AL - The History of the
The hosiery industry has surpassed the century old mark and up
until recent years, provided economic stability for the town since
the first mill came into operation in 1907. It was that year, October 16 at 6:30 a.m. that
the doors to the Florence Knitting Company opened for business. It housed 30 machines that
knitted the socks. The building they began operations in once housed a Hardware
Manufacturing Company in the late 1800s during the discovery days of coal and iron
ore in the hills and ridges of DeKalb County. It would later, and to this day, become
known as the W.B. Davis Hosiery Mill, when March 15, 1915, Davis decided to increased his
10% share and be the major company stockholder.
Before its downturn, the hosiery industry had
countless machines operating in over 100 plants around the county. Those plants combined
employed more than 5,800, shipped out over 3 million dozen pairs of socks
each week, and had a payroll in excess of $1 million each week.
Every year the hosiery
industry celebrated their success with National Hosiery Week festivities. This event
started as a one-week celebration and spread out over a three-week period. The events all coincided with National
Hosiery Week and contestants competed in skeet shoots, archery, a fishing tournament,
horseshoes and a host of other activities. A welcomed addition to the downtown Fort Payne area
was the Hosiery Museum. A lot of hard work and determination went into this project. The
end result was a wonderful addition to the things to see and do while in the DeKalb County
area plus the preservation of the rich history of the hosiery industry.
W.B. Davis &
Son Hosiery Mill
The W.B. Davis and Son Hosiery
Mill could probably be deemed the single most important manufacturing plant impacting the
post 1890 boom economy of Fort Payne. It was the progenitor of an industry, which now
makes Fort Payne the largest single location of hosiery manufacturing in America.
The mill was the largest industry
in DeKalb County for many years, its payroll providing the principal cash flow for the
area. Since boom days, DeKalb County had been dependent on agriculture, with cotton as the
Davis acquired the old industrial
building in 1915. Built in 1889 by the Alabama Builders Hardware Manufacturing
Company it was intended to produce an extensive line of all grades of builders
hardware. But the business failed to materialize before the boom era ended.
W.B. Davis was half owner of the
United Hosiery Mills in Chattanooga during the first decade of the century. That mill was
referred to as "Buster Brown Mill No. One," after the trade name of its
products. The Fort Payne mill began operation in 1913 under the name Buster Brown Mill No.
Two, with Davis brother-in-law, James H. Witherspoon in charge. Davis later traded
his stock in the Chattanooga mill for complete ownership of the one in Fort Payne. Coming
to this city on January 1, 1915, he changed the name of the mill to the Davis name and
began operating it with his son Robert E. Davis.
During World War II, the Davis
mill played an important role in supplying socks for the military. Robert E. Davis
perfected the cushion sole sock, and during the war produced and delivered over eight
million pairs to the army alone.
In 1944 the Army-Navy Production
Award was presented to the men and women of the W.B. Davis and Son Hosiery Mill in a
memorable ceremony on October 28. Lunch was served to the employees and a program featured
speeches and music by the DeKalb County High School Band and the Fort McClellan WAC bands.
During the peak of operation, W.B.
Davis employed approximately 1,100 people. They were paid from $.10 to $.17 per hour in
the early days. Although a dime an hour seems extremely low at this time, there were no
other industrial jobs in Fort Payne and men working on farms were paid as little as 50
cents a day. Money was so scarce that employment at the mill was often considered a great
The W.B. Davis Hosiery Mill now houses an