The Thomas Textile Company was founded by Thomas J. Swartz in 1921. For about nine years, the company mostly made diapers, manufactured in Orange, New Jersey. Having joined the business at some point during these years, Thomas’s brother, Herbert, moved to Whitehall, Georgia, in 1930, to set up new manufacturing operations. The company opened its own plant in Whitehall in 1934; a second floor was added to this facility in 1939. Thomas stayed in New York with the company’s sales and administrative offices.
The original Whitehall building served as the company’s main sewing plant until 1958, when it became a warehouse. Sewing operations at that point moved to the River Building complex, part of which is an historic landmark, proclaimed to be the site of the first cotton mill in Georgia. Indeed, the Thomas company had established operations at Whitehall because they purchased birdseye and flannel fabric from the Oconee Manufacturing Company that had previously owned the mill.
The Thomas Textile Company by that point had expanded its operations to include night gowns, kimonos, towels, and washcloths. In the 1940s, the company began producing chenille bathrobes. The first playwear garments were designed in 1952 by Polly Smith. Eventually the company began to focus much of its production on playwear for infants. They had three lines per year, Spring, Fall, and Holiday, and significantly expanded their sales force.
A separate shipping facility in Whitehall was built in 1953 and operated by Carl Zitzelman, brother-in-law to Herbert Swartz. After Herbert’s death in 1958, his son, Herbert Swartz, Jr., managed the plant in Whitehall until his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 40. The position of plant manager was then transferred to Elliot Messing. At the death of the company’s founder, Thomas J. Swartz, in 1977, management of the business passed to his son, Thomas J. Swartz, Jr. Herbert’s brother John managed the shipping operations after Carl Zitzelman’s retirement in the early 1980s.
Having reached a high of $10.5 million in 1984, sales totals decreased to over $5 million in 1988. Changes in the global economy, with manufacturing shifting in nations like the Philippines, put an end to much of the textile industry in the Southeast United States. The operations of the Thomas Textile Company ceased on Friday, December 16, 1988. Fred Horns, the former national sales manager of the company, continued to operate the Thomas Children’s Outlet Store locations in Whitehall and Atlanta, selling the company’s apparel until 1993. The old mill was sold to Miller-Gallman Developers in 1997 and became the Whitehall Mill Lofts.