Digging into the History of the Former Dixie Shirt Textile Business in SpartanburgHistorians in the News
tags: Jewish history, South Carolina, labor history, World War 2, War Production, Textile Industry
Not much was known about the site or the Cohen brothers who owned the plant until a retired history professor at Furman University began writing a book about the history of Jewish entrepreneurs in the Upstate.
"Dixie Shirt Company was the largest and most successful clothing manufacturing company founded in Spartanburg," retired professor Diane Vecchio said.
During her research, Vecchio found that the former Dixie Shirt Company was originally operated by a Jewish immigrant named Max Cohn, who migrated to Spartanburg from New York City around 1910 and operated a clothing store before founding Dixie Shirt several years later in Spartanburg and Greenville.
In 1941, a War Department contract called for Dixie Shirt to produce 105,000 khaki cotton shirts and that's how the plant ended up producing 7,000 shirts a day for the Army, Vecchio said. She said the Greenville plant also produced shirts for the war effort.
During World War II, Dixie Shirt won government contracts and ramped up production with a workforce of 600 at its peak – nearly all women, Vecchio said.
In 1941, a War Department contract called for Dixie Shirt to produce 105,000 khaki cotton shirts. Through 1945, the Spartanburg plant produced 7,000 shirts a day for the Army, Vecchio said. The Greenville plant also produced shirts for the war effort.
By that time, the spelling of the family's name had changed from Cohn to Cohen, with Jack Cohen serving as president from 1931 to 1946.
Vecchio said Cohen's brother Harold then operated the Spartanburg plant of Dixie Shirt after he returned home from the war. Harold Cohen fought in France under Gen. George S. Patton's Army and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism.
"The Cohen history is really a rich one," Vecchio said. "They really had an impact on Spartanburg and Greenville from the 1920s through the 1950s as a garment manufacturer."