Carpet mills go to war
By: Bob Cudmore
How the Amsterdam carpet mills went to war
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 02-04-17
When America entered World War II after the Japanese attack in 1941, the management of Mohawk Carpet Mills in Amsterdam shifted much of the firm’s production output from floor coverings to textiles needed for the war effort.
A similar transformation took place at Bigelow Sanford, Amsterdam’s other major carpet manufacturer. But Mohawk took the opportunity afforded by a War Department award in 1943 to explain their wartime manufacturing in a newspaper story.
Rugs is those days were made primarily from imported wool, domestic wool being “too delicate” according to the Recorder news account. The Amsterdam mills imported wool from 35 countries, mainly Argentina, India, Great Britain, Ireland and Iraq. The war hampered the wool trade.
Further, the American military did not need carpets. The armed forces did need cotton duck, also called canvas, and woolen blankets. Duck was used for tents, gun covers and sturdy work clothes.
The company’s yarn-spinning operation processed cotton and woolen yarn for Mohawk’s looms. Some carpet looms were converted to weaving duck while other looms wove 10,000 woolen blankets a week. The mills ran around the clock.
Mohawk also had a huge machine shop and iron foundry for building and maintaining its own equipment. These facilities filled subcontracts from gun and other war equipment manufacturers
The newspaper wrote, “Government contracts have made it possible for Mohawk to keep its skilled weavers during a time when they otherwise would be laid off because of lack of work.”
Mohawk president Howard Shuttleworth said it was “our privilege to serve the boys who are fighting this war for us.” Some 800 Mohawk workers fought with the armed forces.
The War Department presented Mohawk Carpet Mills two “E” for excellence pennants in March and November of 1943. The November award was low key but the March 5 award was made with great fanfare.
The event began with a luncheon at the Elks Lodge then on Division Street. Mayor Arthur Carter was master of ceremonies at the large outdoor gathering that followed at Mohawk’s McCleary Division, commonly called the Upper Mill, on Forest Avenue. Many of these buildings were destroyed in arson fires in the 1990s.
The Mohawk Mills War Bond Caravan, directed by musician and company official Reginald Harris, sang patriotic songs. The Caravan would become the Mohawk Mills Chorus after the war. A color guard attended from the Manlius military school near Syracuse.
Among those receiving “E” for excellence pins were four mill workers who had been chosen by fellow employees: Ralph Fabozzi, Mrs. Ruth Kaul, Arthur T. Walsh and Mrs. George (Anna) Eckelman
Lieutenant Thomas Kiely represented the Navy at the presentation. The Army sent a high-ranking former city resident, Brigadier General Allen R. Kimball, an Amsterdam High graduate.
General Kimball was born in Oneida, New York, but his family moved to Amsterdam when he was a boy. He married his high school sweetheart, Edna Heath. His mother, Mrs. Myron Kimball, and sister Bessie still lived on Stewart Street.
Kimball went to West Point and was an infantry captain in World War I. He stayed with the Army and in 1943 appropriately was commander of the Jeffersonville, Indiana, quartermaster depot, which was the Army’s main storage point for textiles, including blankets and cotton duck.
After the Normandy invasion, General Kimball headed the Army’s quartermaster corps in Europe, handling supplies and provisions. He was awarded two Bronze Stars by the U.S. and also was presented the French Croix de Guerre.
In 1946 he retired from the Army and became personnel manager at Mohawk Carpet Mills. He died in Amsterdam in 1951 and is buried at West Point’s cemetery.