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Cone Denim: Exclusive Greensboro Depression Era Footage

While at Denim by Premiere Vision in Paris the other week, we met our friends at Cone Denim who were displaying an inspiring film of 1930’s Greensboro in North Carolina, the birthplace of Cone. Cone have very kindly sent us a 5 min edited version of the film for us to show our subscribers on the DDD blog.

The piece is part of a collection of films from 12 towns shot in depression era America: 11 in North Carolina and one in Virginia. Duke University has received national support in its efforts to restore the Depression-era films by North Carolina itinerant filmmaker H. Lee Waters.

Looking for a way to supplement his income during the Great Depression, Waters made more than 100 films of small town life from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s as he traveled through the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee. When Waters arrived at a town, he typically set up a camera in at least three locations: in front of the local textile mill, outside the public grade school and at the intersection of the town’s main streets. A few weeks later, after editing the footage, Waters would return to the town and screen his films at a local movie house, charging residents a nickel or dime admission to see themselves on screen. These beautifully photographed films provide a rare glimpse of what it was like to live in the Piedmont region of the U.S. during the Great Depression. For denim lovers, they provide a rare chance to see true American workwear in its original glory.

Cone is one of the oldest denim mills in the world and has a history that dates back to 1891 when founders Moses and Ceasar Cone formed Cone Export and Commission Company to represent textile mills in the South. The Cone brothers called their first denim mill in 1896 Proximity Cotton Mills for its close location to the cotton fields and gins. Almost ten years later, White Oak was built. Named after a 200-year-old giant oak tree on the grounds of the mill, White Oak would supply a third of the world’s denim by 1910. If you watch the excerpt of the video below, you’ll see the White Oak sign behind the mill workers in their coveralls.

Follow Cone’s blog here and find out more about the famous mill on their website here

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  • Sharon Graubard

    beautiful! so perfect — better than a hollywood version!

  • Fred Starling

    My brother has the 30 minute video this excerpt came from. In the long version, my mother walks across Fairview St. at age 16. She just turned 90. My whole family worked there. I love it. It saddens me to go by that wonderful giant mill that is hanging on by a thread (no pun intended). Please look to see where the goods, especially clothes, are made. White Oak is down to 300-400 employees from 2500 +. Sad. Thanks for putting this out for the world to see.
    Fred Starling

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