Stone Manufacturing Company

plain brick factor building facing the street
Stone Manufacturing Company

Photograph by Jane Campbell, courtesy of South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
3452 North Main St. Columbia, South Carolina
Listed in the National Register – Reference number 100005610
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2020, The Stone Manufacturing Company is a locally significant example of a garment manufacturing facility and an important element of the diversified industrial growth in postwar Columbia, South Carolina. The history of the building represents the growth of undergarment manufacturing in the city and the rise of Stone Manufacturing from a small, South Carolina business to an international manufacturer. Beginning as a five-person operation in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1933, Stone Manufacturing expanded rapidly across the state in the postwar period, beginning in Columbia and eventually adding ten additional plants in the southeast. Eugene E. Stone III and his wife, Allene “Linky” Wyman Stone, were integral to the development of the mid-twentieth century garment industry and its success in South Carolina. By inventing the clipper foot, a device used to cut thread via foot pedal, Stone was able to increase the rate of production and generate garments more quickly than his competitors. Stone Manufacturing became one of the most successful apparel companies in the world. Its presence in Columbia reflects the industrial growth of the city in the immediate postwar period when the city’s Industrial Service Bureau worked to attract diverse businesses from across the nation to establish facilities in the area. 

The company’s founder, Eugene E. Stone III, originally worked in a small clothing factory where he was inspired from there to begin his own company. Eugene alongside his wife, purchased five sewing machines and opened Stone Manufacturing Company on River Street in Greenville with five seamstresses. By the end of the 1930s, Stone Manufacturing’s profits were growing, as was its operation. The company added to its product line, now manufacturing slips, panties, dresses, aprons, dustcaps, and sunsuits in addition to their original line of bloomers. By 1940, their sales had continuously grown at an annual rate of one-third, proving that their low cost, yet high-quality products were incredibly profitable. With the United States’ entrance into World War II came allotments on production for the war effort, but also diversification of products. While Stone Manufacturing had to allocate twenty-five percent of its business for contracts with the government, the company began manufacturing items they had never made before, such as mattress covers. The production of materials for the war effort certainly buoyed the company’s success, but the changes in clothing preference among veterans set up Stone Manufacturing for further achievement. While serving their country overseas, soldiers wore government-issued boxer shorts, a new style of undergarment. Eugene Stone correctly surmised returning veterans would drive demand for commercially produced boxers. It was the introduction of men’s undergarments that led Stone to purchase the Columbia facility in 1948. 

Following Stone Manufacturing’s expansion to Columbia and the addition of the men’s underwear line to the business, the company began rapidly expanding. The building grew multiple times to accommodate the surge in demand for men’s undergarments. The increase in manufacturing space in 1949 and 1950 allowed the plant to become one of the largest producers of underwear in the world, while the 1960 office space additions provided space for logistics and distribution. After expanding to Columbia, Stone Manufacturing brought plants to the towns of North, Norris, and Johnston, South Carolina, and Fair Bluff, North Carolina. The company also constructed a new plant and headquarters in Greenville at Cherrydale. The Cherrydale plant continued to grow and in 1956 became the world’s largest apparel plant. While Cherrydale served as the firm’s headquarters, the Columbia plant was the company’s most important satellite location. As the company’s first expansion and its second largest producer, Columbia ranked highly in the firm’s hierarchy. The Columbia plant’s role in coordinating company logistics also made it critical to Stone Manufacturing’s success. Stone Manufacturing created an inventory of more than six million seasonal garments. The largest known in the United States and a clear indicator of the company’s sustained growth. The company eventually became the largest manufacturer of men’s and boys’ underwear in the world. The company ties into both Columbia and South Carolina’s earlier textile industry and its shift to garment production with synthetic fibers. It is a testament to the progression of Columbia’s textile-based manufacturing throughout the twentieth century.

Last updated: July 29, 2021