Moses Herman Cone (1856-1908)

A second-generation German-American, Moses Cone began his career as a travelling salesman, or “drummer,” for his father’s Baltimore dry goods business. His customers included Southern mill owners who taught him much about the textile industry. Moses Cone eventually used this knowledge to break into the industry himself, first by securing ownerships stakes in various Southern mills, then by founding Cone Export & Commission Co., and finally by building his own mills in Greensboro, North Carolina. By 1908, the year of his death, Moses Cone and his brother Ceasar led the world in denim production.

Updated: February 24, 2015


Together with his younger brother Ceasar, Moses Herman Cone (born June 29, 1856 in Jonesborough, TN; died December 8, 1908 in Baltimore, MD) built up a thriving textile business over the course of the Gilded Age. A second-generation German-American, Moses Cone started his career in a customary way – by working for his father, Herman Cone, a Bavarian-Jewish immigrant who owned and operated a successful dry goods store in Baltimore. Among other responsibilities, the young Moses travelled through the South to sell his father’s merchandise. His customers included many Southern mill owners, who purchased dry goods to stock their factory stores. Since these owners were often strapped for cash, Moses accepted cloth as payment for dry goods and then sold the cloth, usually plaids, to other customers along his route. Through his dealings with mill owners, Moses Cone learned much about the Southern textile industry. After Herman Cone retired, his two oldest sons, Moses and Ceasar, liquidated the family dry goods business and used the proceeds to found Cone Export and Commission Company in 1890. Based in New York City, the commission house aimed to market the output of Southern textile manufacturers and, in the process, bring greater order and diversity to the region’s textile industry. Cone Export turned a profit immediately, and its success encouraged the brothers to delve deeper into the textile business. In 1893, after acquiring ownership stakes in a variety of Southern mills, the Cone brothers founded their own textile finishing plant in Greensboro, North Carolina. The establishment of this plant marked the beginning of the brothers’ long relationship with the fledgling city. In the two decades that followed, they opened three more mills in Greensboro: Proximity (1895), Revolution (1900), and White Oak (1905). In 1896, the Cone brothers started producing denim at Proximity Mills. By 1908, the year of Moses Cone’s death, they led the world in denim production.

As the Cones’ business expanded and grew, so too did the city of Greensboro. The history of the Cone mills and that of early Greensboro are inextricable. The brothers were proponents of the New South, and as such, they advocated a move away from agriculture and toward industry. In their view, industry offered the South the best path to economic recovery in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction. By founding three textile mills and a finishing plant in Greensboro – and by investing in mills throughout the region – they offered employment to thousands of workers. Like many industrialists of the era, Moses Cone engaged in paternalistic practices that could be viewed, variously, as attempts to either aid or control his workforce. In the final analysis, the Cone brothers expanded the range of resources and services available to both their workers and the residents of Greensboro, more generally. Given their German-Jewish heritage, they were influential members of Greensboro’s Jewish community and did much to support the city’s Jewish immigrant population.

Family Background

Moses Herman Cone’s paternal grandfather, Moses Kahn (1781-1853), came from the Bavarian town of Altenstadt-am-Iller, where he worked as a merchant.[1] He and his wife, Klara (Marx) Kahn, had ten children, eight girls and two boys.[2] Their youngest child, Herman Kahn (1828-1897), was Moses and Ceasar’s father. Unfortunately, Klara Kahn suffered complications after Herman’s birth and died when he was about a year old.[3] Relatively little information exists on the circumstances of the Kahn family. Moses Kahn seems to have been successful enough to support his growing family, but not affluent enough to provide his children with secure livelihoods in Bavaria, where a mixture of economic and social problems hindered their aspirations. From 1834 to 1841, Herman attended both the Weekday School and the Israelitic Religious Weekday School in the Illerereichen district of Altenstadt. He appears to have excelled in both his secular and religious studies, as most of his final grades were either “very good” or “excellent.”[4] After completing his studies in May 1841, fifteen-year-old Herman moved to the nearby town of Buttenhausen, where he lived with his older sister Nanette, who was sixteen years his senior, and her husband, Josef Rosengart, until November 1844, if not longer.[5] At some point, Kahn must have applied for permission to pursue an apprenticeship abroad, for in December 1844, a Bavarian court approved his request.[6] Unfortunately, his plans for the apprenticeship cannot be reconstructed, and it is impossible to determine whether he realized them or even attempted to do so.

The facts surrounding his emigration are somewhat easier to establish. By age seventeen, Herman Kahn could no longer envision a future for himself in his home country, and in the spring of 1846, he sought a new life in the United States. In his case, the push factors behind immigration must have included an awareness of the limited opportunities available to him in his homeland. Part of the problem was that Herman, as the second-born son of Moses Kahn, did not stand to take over his father’s business – with that responsibility eventually falling to his older brother Samson.[7] Additionally, Herman must have been eager to evade Bavarian conscription laws. At the time, Bavaria required military service from all males eighteen years of age or older. Military service was particularly hard on Jews, since no allowances were made for their customs, religious practices, or dietary laws. The fact that Kahn departed before his eighteenth birthday suggests that avoidance of the conscription law was a strong push factor.  

Herman Kahn was not the first of Moses Kahn’s children to seek better prospects in America.[8] By 1846, his older sister Elise was already well established in Richmond, Virginia, where she had married Abraham Hirsh, another immigrant from Altenstadt, some years earlier. According to family records, the two already had three children.[9] Before Kahn left home, Joseph Rosengart wrote him a heartfelt letter in which he offered advice and guidance. It is likely that many young emigrants were given similar counsel by friends and relatives. Among other recommendations, Rosengart urged Kahn to seek support from the Hirsh family, writing: “Your sister and Brother-in-law will surely receive you into their home with loving care. Consider their home as your Father’s house, and be respectful and modest toward them, show them your filial devotion, and be attached and faithful to them, as you have always been toward us.”[10] At various points, Rosengart’s advice pushed Kahn toward maintaining his German identity and relying on his Jewish heritage. The letter eventually became a treasured part of Cone family history, and over the years it served as an important reminder of the family’s immigrant heritage.

Rosengart’s letter was dated April 16, 1846, and it is likely that Herman Kahn set sail for America shortly thereafter. At the very latest, he would have left by June 29, 1846, his eighteenth birthday. In any event, Herman Kahn arrived in Richmond in August 1846.[11] Having relatives who had already settled in America lowered the risk associated with immigration and eased Herman’s transition into a new life. By relying on established networks and utilizing existing connections, Kahn participated in family and chain migration, a well-documented trend in nineteenth-century America.[12]

Shortly after arriving in the United States, Kahn changed his name to Cone, in an attempt to Anglicize himself and better adapt to his new circumstances. With Elise’s aid, he established himself as a dry goods peddler, a common first occupation for new German-Jewish immigrants. As a peddler, Herman Cone travelled regularly throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, but he seemed to favor a circuit that ranged from Richmond up to Baltimore. Despite the presence of family, he did not stay in Richmond for long. By 1850, he had moved to Lunenburg County, Virginia, where he lived in a boardinghouse and continued to work as a peddler.[13] In September 1851, Herman Cone provided evidence of his intentions to become a U.S. citizen, a step that apparently entitled him to “certain rights and privileges and advantages of a citizen.” He was eventually granted citizenship five years later in Tennessee.[14]

During Herman Cone’s stay in Lunenburg, his sister Sofie was preparing to come to America. Her long-time fiancée, Jakob Adler (1825-1916), had emigrated two years earlier, in the wake of the Revolution of 1848, and she was eager to reconnect with him. Adler was living in Richmond, and the two reunited there. They were subsequently married in January 1851.[15] At the time of Adler’s marriage, he and Herman Cone were co-owners of a dry goods store in Lunenburg County. Since sales were slow, they decided to move their store to Richmond, but had no luck there either.[16] It appears that Cone and Adler had trouble fitting into the Richmond community, which included a sizeable contingent of established Jews who looked down on the “Old World” ways of these two relatively recent arrivals.[17]

Their cool reception in Richmond hindered both their business and social prospects, so Cone and Adler sought out better opportunities in other, less established, areas. In 1853, they moved to Jonesborough, Tennessee, where they opened Cone & Adler, a dry goods business on Main Street. Apparently, Cone and Adler found Jonesborough a more welcoming place. Eastern Tennessee retained a rural feeling that offered the opportunities of the frontier, and Jonesborough was home to a community of Pennsylvania Dutch settlers who spoke German. According to Jakob’s son Sam, the two were “good merchants” and the business was “very profitable.” As he recalled, “They were well received by the people [of Jonesborough] and made many fast friends in their new home and to this day all of the older residents of this section speak of the Adlers and the Cones in the highest terms of respect.”[18]    

As Sam Adler explained, Jakob Adler and Herman Cone took turns minding the store and peddling. This being the case, Cone continued to travel extensively, making sales trips throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. His account books from the time include receipts from merchants and suppliers as far north as New York and Philadelphia, and for customers throughout Virginia.[19] On the whole, Cone demonstrated a strong preference for patronizing businesses owned by family members or members of the German immigrant population. In particular, Cone’s account book records several transactions with his brother-in-law Abraham Hirsh.[20] Cone’s preference for family members and compatriots was fairly common among new immigrants, who tended to rely on ethnic and family networks in their attempts to attain greater wealth and social standing.[21] In addition, immigrants frequently looked for support from associations or even segregated communities, though segregation was often chosen for – rather than by – the immigrants themselves. Ethnic enclaves provided a useful haven from the disapproving members of the majority society; they also offered immigrants the opportunity to combine wealth and work, giving them greater economic potential as a community than as individuals.[22]

By working together, Cone and Adler were able to leverage their meager resources and slowly grow their business. Moreover, they were able to expand more efficiently by having one partner tend the store while the other took to the road. During one of his many sales trips, Herman Cone met Helen Guggenheimer (1838-1902) in a small town just west of Lynchburg, Virginia. Helen’s parents, Ceasar Guggenheimer (1806-1856) and Henrietta Obermayer, were German-Jewish immigrants.[23] Herman and Helen got married on September 25, 1856, in Richmond. They settled in Jonesborough, where they lived in a large house next to the dry goods store and immediately started a family. Moses Cone, their first child, was born in June of the following year. In accordance with the Jewish custom of naming the first-born son after the father’s father, their baby was named after Moses Kahn. Their second son, Ceasar, was born in April 1859, and was named, also according to custom, after his mother’s father.[24]    

By 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, Herman and Helen Cone had a growing family and real estate and property worth $29,365 (approximately $820,000 in 2011).[25] Prospects for the immediate future were far from favorable, however. At the outset of the war, Cone and Adler sold their store and merchandise and used the proceeds to buy adjoining farms just outside of town. At the time, it made more sense to convert the family’s wealth into non-moveable land than to keep it invested in a highly lootable dry goods store. Cone and Adler took to farming well enough, and even purchased a few slaves in 1863.

Their purchase of slaves may seem surprising given their Bavarian-Jewish immigrant background – not to mention the fact that slave-owning was far from common in East Tennessee, where Jonesborough was located. (The mountains there made for poor growing conditions for the dominant cash crops of the South.) Though most East Tennessee residents were Union sympathizers, Cone and Adler joined a home guard unit that was aligned with the Confederacy.[26] Their procurement of slaves evidently did not go unnoticed by other members of the community. In 1867, Judith Lee accused Cone and Adler of stealing three slaves from her and brought suit against them. After Cone and Adler produced a bill of sale, a court ruled that the slaves had been stolen by a third party. Rather than fining Cone and Adler for the cost of the slaves, authorities fined them for the “value of hire.”[27]

Herman Cone emerged from the Civil War and Reconstruction in a much better position than most Southern entrepreneurs. To be sure, East Tennessee suffered its share of destruction during the war. On the whole, however, the area weathered the hostilities and the subsequent Reconstruction far better than many other parts of the South. In retrospect, it became clear that Cone’s decision to transfer his wealth into real estate had been a good one. After the war, he seems to have managed, for the most part, to tread a path of neutrality. Nonetheless, Cone and Adler were still regarded as “rebels” by many of their Union neighbors, and when they reopened their dry goods store, they had to take on a third partner, Shelby Shipley. A prominent Union supporter, Shipley was also the Washington County sheriff, and his participation in the business brought both legitimacy and the promise of actual protection.[28] A store advertisement published in The Union Flag (Jonesborough) on May 24, 1867, emphasized that the men purchased their merchandise in Northern cities and boasted that the store offered “the most complete and select assortment of dry goods ever brought to this Market.” Indeed, the advertisement did promise a vast array of goods from clothing, household items, and even farm equipment, to foodstuffs including coffee and sugar.   

After the war, cash was exceptionally tight in East Tennessee, so the store, now known as Adler, Cone, & Shipley, engaged in barter, extended credit, and often made cash loans. As a result, the three men occasionally foreclosed on local farmers. Additionally, Herman Cone acted as a trustee for Samuel Guggenheim, the owner of a bankrupt dry goods store in Leesburg, Tennessee.[29] In this capacity, Cone was sued by several merchants, who accused him of effectively acquiring Guggenheim’s merchandise without paying off any of his debts. Cone lost the case and was required to offer remuneration. Despite these legal skirmishes, Cone acquired substantial wealth from his court foreclosures and lost comparatively little in the Guggenheim bankruptcy.

In 1870, Cone decided to move to Baltimore. At the time, he and Helen had seven children, with six more to follow.[30] The decision was prompted by reasons both financial and personal: first, in the wake of the Civil War, Baltimore had emerged as a major hub for Southern commerce, and second, the city boasted a substantial German-Jewish community, along with the attendant social, religious, educational, and cultural offerings.[31] The two oldest Cone children, Moses and Ceasar, were then thirteen and eleven. They were put into the public school system upon arrival.[32]

The family settled in relatively quickly. By the 1870 U.S. Census, the Cones were already registered as residents of the city’s eighteenth ward, where they lived with Herman’s widowed sister Fanny Weil as well as two domestic servants.[33] Herman Cone went into business with some of his wife’s relatives and established a wholesale cigar and grocery business called Guggenheimer, Cone, and Company.[34] By 1871, the Baltimore City Directory listed Cone as a proprietor of the firm, which was located at 278 Hollins Street. In 1873, Jakob Adler and his family left Jonesborough and moved to Baltimore as well. Herman Cone immediately took him on as a business partner and renamed the firm Cone & Adler. The two were in business together until 1878, at which point Cone bought out Adler and started a new firm with his sons Moses and Ceasar, both of whom had reached adulthood.[35] The new firm was called H. Cone and Sons. Likewise, Jakob Adler started a new firm with his adult sons.[36]

Moses Cone entered his adult life as a drummer (i.e. travelling salesman) for H. Cone and Sons. It was Moses’ task to travel through the rural South and “drum up” business for his father’s shop. Moses managed this task exceptionally well: he was remembered for being easy to talk to and very friendly. During his travels, he often stayed with customers, rather than in hotels. To be sure, the cordial nature of these relationships depended in no small measure on Cone’s willingness to accept in-kind exchanges for his grocery dry goods.[37] Moses and his brother Ceasar found that many of their best customers were mill owners who needed to stock their factory stores.[38] The mill owners often had little cash on hand, and in these instances, they gave the brothers bales of cloth, usually plaids, as payment. (Plaids tended to be brightly colored, relatively durable, and fairly cheap to produce since they did not require shipping to a finishing plant before retail sale.[39]) The brothers then sold this cloth to other customers during the course of their travels.

Moses and Ceasar Cone gained control of their father’s business at his retirement in 1884.[40] Although H. Cone and Sons was successful and well established, the brothers faced substantial challenges. More and more, they had to compete with grocery wholesalers farther south who could offer much cheaper freight rates, and thus much cheaper goods. In response, the brothers sought out new business options. During their time as drummers, the Cones had acquired a substantial knowledge of the South and a good understanding of the textile industry. Additionally, they had also built up a network of contacts. The brothers decided to capitalize on their expertise and connections. They liquidated the family grocery business and entered into a new business venture with one of their North Carolina contacts, C.E. Graham. A textile mill owner and former customer of H. Cone and Sons, Graham had approached the brothers with a request for financial backing. The Cone brothers agreed on the condition that Moses be made an officer in the C.E. Graham Manufacturing Company.[41] Graham accepted the deal, and the brothers invested $50,000 in the mill, which was located in Asheville, North Carolina.[42] This investment represented the Cone brothers’ first foray into the textile industry. It was quickly followed by substantial investments in two other North Carolina enterprises: the Minneola Manufacturing Company of Gibsonville and the Salisbury Cotton Mills. By investing in these concerns, the Cone brothers became advocates of the so-called New South as it had been envisioned by Atlanta editor and orator Henry Grady, who viewed the transition to an industrial economy as the key to the South’s recovery. The brothers sought to develop the industrial capacity of the South, and, in the process, they managed to control an increasing portion of the textile industry in North Carolina.[43]

Business Development: Moses and Ceasar Cone and the Move from Dry Goods to Textiles

These investments in the mills of North Carolina represented a remarkable dedication of resources. Still, the brothers had an even larger business venture in mind as they entered the Southern textile market. During their earlier travels through the South, Moses and Ceasar Cone had noticed that textile production there lacked coherent organization. As a result, Southern textile mills often cannibalized each other’s markets. For instance, when one mill printed a popular plaid pattern, other mills quickly followed suit. Typically, this meant that the price of that particular plaid would fall due to overproduction. In the late nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for industrialists to seek out chaotic markets in the hopes of introducing order and eventually realizing regularized profits. In the chaos of the Southern plaid market the Cones saw a ripe opportunity, and they set about to forge an agreement between Southern mill owners regarding the production and marketing of their wares. In November 1890, Ceasar and Moses founded a new company, the Cone Export and Commission Company. It began operations in May 1891.[44] To help fund the new company, which was based in New York City, the brothers liquidated H. Cone & Sons, ending their involvement in the dry goods business.[45] According to a Cone family history, H. Cone & Sons provided “most of the capital” for Cone Export and Commission Company.[46]

The mandate of new company was broad, and the brothers’ stated goal was to bring order to the Southern textile market by unifying the mills’ cloth marketing efforts. To achieve this, they planned to assign pattern production to specific mills and to export surplus production overseas. They believed that textile prices would eventually stabilize as a result and then rise over time.[47] As the great-grandson of one small North Carolina textile producer recalled:

In 1891 Moses Cone and his brother, who had been selling goods for the Ashville [sic] cotton Mills in Durham, made a proposition to the various mills that they allow the Cones to sell their out-put of plaids, guaranteeing the accounts for a five percent commission, the mills [were] to give them the exclusive sale for five years. After considerable delay and discussion, most of the colored goods mills of North Carolina signed this contract with the Cone Export & Commission Company, and thus was born the “Plaid Trust,” so named by the politicians in the early nineties.[48]

This new business venture eventually expanded to include forty mill owners, many of whom were former customers of H. Cone & Sons.[49] Participating mill owners signed five-year contracts with the Cones, who agreed to market their textiles for a five-percent commission. Members of the trust agreed to sell exclusively to Cones; in turn, the brothers told them which patterns to produce (e.g. chambray, ginghams, flannels, etc.), in what quantity, and according to what standard[50] – all in an effort to limit competition between the mills and to ensure each mill’s profitability. Additionally, the Cones offered mill owners the opportunity to purchase stock in Cone Export, giving them an additional incentive to sell exclusively to Cone.

The Plaid Trust never managed to monopolize Southern textile production, but the Cones still achieved a great deal – by having more mills in its network than any other commission house, Cone Export achieved instant profitability. Cone Export also offered favorable credit terms to mill owners, which meant that the company earned both commissions on textile sales and interest on loans. In their first year of operation, 1890-91, the Cones earned more than $72,000 in commissions (equivalent to roughly $1.84 million in 2011), and this, together with their interest earnings, gave them a profit of about $34,000 (approximately $867,000 in 2011).[51] Profits continued to grow dramatically: in 1894, the company earned $166,000 in commissions ($4.48 million in 2011).[52]

The Cones sold off portions of the export company when they needed to raise capital, but they always retained at least an 80% stake in the enterprise. The resulting profits allowed the family to explore new industrial ventures. In 1893, Moses and Ceasar Cone built the Southern Finishing and Warehouse Company in Greensboro, North Carolina. Again, like Cone Export, this new undertaking was a response to a perceived lack in the Southern textile industry. Through their involvement in the industry, the Cones realized that few Southern textile mills had the capacity to finish textiles, which meant doing any or all of the following: bleaching, softening, starching, or altering the color and texture of the raw cloth. The technical processes involved in finishing cloth were not terribly advanced, nor were finishing plants prohibitively expensive.[53] Still, finishing operations were generally beyond the reach of most Southern mills, and none of the existing mills produced enough raw fabric to justify the integration of a finishing operation (it only took a day for a finishing plant to process what a typical mill produced in a week). Since the Cones, however, had either partial or full stakes in several mills[54] at the time – in addition to exclusive rights to the production of numerous other mills – it made sense for them to enter into the finishing business. On account of their market share, the Cone brothers were able to make a profit with their Greensboro finishing plant. Here, they had an advantage over other Southern industrialists, for whom the risks associated with such a plant would have been prohibitive.[55]

In the final analysis, the Southern Finishing and Warehouse Company represented an important milestone in the Cone brothers’ history not because it turned a profit, but rather because it connected Cone Export, which was based in New York, to the city of Greensboro in an inextricable way.[56] In 1893, the same year in which they built the finishing plant, the Cones moved their main office to Greensboro (their New York office, however, still remained the general sales headquarters).[57] By choosing Greensboro as the new center of their business operations, the Cone brothers secured a number of financial and social advantages for themselves and their firm. The South, in general, had much lower labor costs than other parts of the nation. Likewise, land was comparably affordable. Moreover, when the Cone brothers founded the finishing plant (and the mills that followed), Greensboro offered cheaper freight costs than cities farther north. Additionally, Greensboro was well connected to the South’s railroad network: no fewer than seven separate lines converged there.[58]

The Cone Export and Commission Company made substantial profits, but the Cones had trouble re-signing client mills after the expiration of their original five-year contracts. Most mill owners were reluctant to extend their contracts, since they saw better profit opportunities outside of the trust. In some respects, the brothers were victims of their own success – their efforts to diversify and coordinate the Southern textile industry increased the demand for Southern textiles in both the North and on the international market, particularly in South America. The increased demand convinced many Southern mill owners that they no longer needed the Cones’ assistance. As mill owners began turning their backs on the so-called Plaid Trust, Moses and Ceasar Cone started exploring new ways to ensure a steady supply of cloth for their export company. The solution, as they saw it, was to open their own mill.

In 1895, the Cone brothers purchased a plot of land and opened the Proximity Cotton Mill in Greensboro. (Plans for the mill dated back to 1893, but the financial panic of that year had delayed their implementation.[59]) The mill’s proximity to the cotton fields was not just the source of its name; rather, it was also an important feature that would greatly reduce freight expenses. Unlike the other mills in which the brothers had previously invested, Proximity was the first mill that they founded, owned, and operated themselves. The brothers poured all of their economic resources into the construction of the mill, but they still needed additional financing. To secure additional funds, the brothers took out loans from other Southern industrialists, including members of the Duke family, who had become rich from their growing tobacco monopoly.

When it opened, Proximity occupied a two-story building; its outline was 380 by 80 feet, and it contained 250 looms and 7,600 spindles.[60] In addition to building top-notch facilities, the brothers recruited the best talent to staff and manage the mill. The recruits came from North and South alike and represented a variety of ethnic and religious groups. The Cone brothers’ plan was to manufacture denim at Proximity Cotton Mill. From their experience with Cone Export, they knew that the denim market was growing steadily. Over time, the brothers had learned about denim production, and they already knew how to avoid certain mistakes. For example, since denim was heavier than the more customary cotton plaids, it required unique settings and extra steps in the manufacturing process. Problems, as the brothers had learned, often surfaced in the weaving process, since warps had to be woven into the fabric in order to reinforce it. Given the additional complexity of the process, weaving errors were not uncommon in denim production, and they greatly reduced the quality and value of the final product. The Cones realized that denim manufacturing entailed substantial risk; still, they also knew that success promised tremendous economic benefits.[61]

In 1896, the first denim came off their looms. According to a company history, the Cones produced not only indigo denim, but also brown denims as well as gold backs and red backs. “Before the end of the first year of operation,” the company history explains, “a significant step forward had been taken towards the mass production and mass merchandising of America’s great work clothing fabric.”[62] Proximity turned an immediate profit, and the Cones began to expand rapidly. By 1902, the mill contained 18,000 spindles and nearly 1,000 looms. Operating a mill of this size required thousands of employees. Plans were quickly drawn to house the employees in the company town built alongside Proximity.[63]

The mill’s success inspired the Cones to found another mill, Revolution Cotton Mills, which opened in early 1900. Situated next to Proximity, the new mill specialized in flannels. At first, it produced brown cotton flannels; over time, however, it expanded to produce a variety of flannel products. Revolution never attained the kind of success that Proximity achieved, but it turned a profit and allowed the Cones to diversify their product line. Shortly after the turn of the century, the Cones began focusing their energies on gaining a larger share of the denim market.[64] At the time, the primary consumers of denim were working-class Americans. The Cones realized that by producing a more durable fabric, they could provide greater value to consumers, who would presumably reward them with loyalty and a larger customer base. The brothers also knew that handsome profits would result from occupying the largest market position, so they set about to attain this goal. They envisioned several modes of distribution: some of the fabric would be sold to dry goods merchants across America, some on international markets. Through their experiences with the Plaid Trust, they already had the capacity to market their cloth broadly. Part of this marketing, in fact, would occur through Cone Export, which was still based in New York. Moses and Ceasar Cone also planned to make wholesale shipments to producers of finished denim garments, including Levi Strauss, who, like their father Herman Cone, was a German-Jewish immigrant from Bavaria.  

In 1902, a rumor spread through Greensboro that the Cone brothers were investigating an industrial tract of land at Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.[65] Shortly thereafter, a story began spreading that the brothers had been collecting options on land north of the Proximity plant in Greensboro. They had been stymied, however, by at least four owners who were asking exorbitant figures for their land. At this point, the local newspapers, which were clearly on the side of the Cones, pressured the holdouts, who eventually relented and sold their land to the Cones at a price they were willing to pay.[66] This marked the beginning of the White Oak Mill, the Cones’ most ambitious undertaking to date.

Moses Cone had a very clear goal: he sought nothing less than the monopolization of the American denim market. To one of his corporate officers, he remarked, “we Ceasar and I, are to build another Denim Mill [having] 1,000 looms, the idea being to give us a denim business of say $2,500,000 – and to Control that business in the U.S.”[67] Accordingly, construction on White Oak began in the second half of 1902 and lasted until 1905. The building, which upon its completion boasted 60,000 spindles and 2,000 looms, cost an estimated $1.25 million (roughly $33 million in 2011). In addition to ten different cotton warehouses, the mill had its own power plant.[68] It began manufacturing indigo blue denim in 1905, and by 1907, it employed a staggering 1,000 workers.[69] By 1908, three years after White Oak opened, the Cone Brothers were producing more denim than any other company in the world. While their business never achieved monopoly status, it represented a prodigious accomplishment nonetheless. Within two decades the brothers had become the most significant industrial interest in Greensboro.

As the Cones’ business grew, so too did the city of Greensboro. In 1890, three years before the brothers founded the finishing plant there, Greensboro had 3,000 residents. In 1925, when the company celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Proximity Mills, the city had 50,000 residents, and according to a company history was “adding two new families, two new homes, per day.”[70] Obviously, these decades witnessed tremendous demographic growth. More than that, however, they also saw a shift in the whole landscape of Southern life, as the vision of the New South, which had gone largely unrealized during Reconstruction, started to become a reality. Throughout the nation, the general trend was for rural citizens to move to urban centers in search of greater economic mobility.[71] Indeed, recently transplanted farmers who wanted to escape tenant farming and rural poverty constituted the Cones’ primary labor source. Like other mill owners, the Cones established on-site workers’ villages to provide housing and services to people in their employ.[72] In addition to accommodations for workers and their entire families, these villages eventually included company stores (precisely like the ones to which the Cone brothers had previously sold their father’s dry goods), schools, churches, post offices, and various recreational facilities.

On the one hand, it could be argued that the Cones’ brand of paternalism, which was perfectly typical for Gilded Age industrials, was born out of a concern for their workers’ well-being. On the other hand, it could also be suggested, perhaps even more persuasively, that the Cones provided for their workers’ materials needs in the expectation of loyalty, submission, and hard work.[73] Historians such as Bryant Simon have argued that Moses and Ceasar Cone engaged in a theatre of paternalist invention to control their workers. For Simon, the brothers’ establishment of social organizations like the YMCA, their Fourth of July celebrations, their distribution of Christmas hams, etc., was a means of maintaining a loyal and docile workforce. Likewise, in his view, the Cones’ evening walks through the workers’ village and their interactions with workers reinforced a paternalistic system that kept the workers in place, kept the factories humming, and kept the profits flowing. Though valid, this interpretation may also be slightly one-dimensional: perhaps the paternalism of the Cones was also an attempt to emulate other Gilded Age industrialists and thereby affirm their American identities.[74]   

In 1908, Moses Cone died unexpectedly of heart problems; he left no will. At the time of his death, he was a resident of North Carolina, so the state divided his estate in half between his widow, Bertha (née Lindau) Cone, and his siblings (since the Cones had no children).[75] Additionally, Ceasar inherited sole control of the mills and related ventures, which he continued to operate until his own death in 1917. The nine-year period in which Ceasar led the company saw continued growth. In 1914, he opened a fourth mill, Proximity Print Works, which “finished” or printed cotton with multiple colors.[76] A year later, Cone began producing denim for Levi’s jeans, opening up a huge new opportunity for profit. Whereas many enterprises owned and operated by German-Americans foundered during World War I, on account of anti-German prejudice, Cone mills actually benefited from the war, which brought an increased demand for their denim, both from Allies overseas, and then, after 1917, from the American armed forces.[77] After Ceasar Cone’s death, the company leadership passed on to his younger brothers Julius and Bernard, and then to his sons Hermann, Benjamin, and Ceasar II.

The 1920s represented a decade of cautious expansion in which the Cone family acquired a variety of mills. The stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression of the 1930s put a stop to their expansion plans, however. Likewise, the beginning of the Second World War complicated matters, as the company had to implement wartime production goals. In addition to producing more denim at a faster rate, the company had to begin producing new and unfamiliar items such as camouflage cloth, tent cloth, and osnaburg, for use in sandbags.[78] In 1945, when peace returned, the Cones united all of their mills and enterprises under one single entity, the Proximity Manufacturing Company; three years later, they renamed it Cone Mills Corporation.

The next major milestone occurred in 1951, when Cone Mills Corporation went public and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Over the subsequent decades, the corporation issued several public stock offerings. In 1983, to avoid a takeover bid from Western Pacific Industries, the company’s officers and managers (which still included Cone family members) organized a leveraged buyout and returned the corporation to private ownership. For historian and Cone family biographer Philip Noblitt, this move represented the culminating event in the Cone family’s “remarkable rise … from social and economic obscurity to conspicuous affluence and industrial prominence.”[79] At the time of the buyout, Cone Mills Corporation operated twenty-one plants and employed upwards of 10,000 employees.

Today, Cone Mills Corporation still manufactures denim at its White Oak mill in Greensboro, which now holds the title of America’s oldest working denim mill.[80] The White Oak mill and its 300 employees currently specialize in the production of high-end vintage denim, which is produced on old-fashioned Draper fly-shuttle looms that create a continuous, uncut edge.[81] Cone denim, which is now prized for its idiosyncratic, old-fashioned look, is used by a variety of companies, including True Religion Apparel and Levi Strauss, the latter of which uses the fabric in its vintage collection.

Social Standing

During Reconstruction and the Jim Crow period, the American South was not typically welcoming to immigrants and other newcomers.[82] As a second-generation German Jew and a New South industrialist, Moses Cone must have found it especially difficult to fit in. He at least had the benefit of an American accent, and he seems to have made some effort to make himself less “foreign.”[83] Adaptations aside, Moses remained connected to his heritage in a number of ways. As the first-born son of two first-generation immigrants, Moses presumably spoke some German. The fact that Ceasar Cone knew enough German to use it, albeit humorously, in correspondence with his wife makes it all the more likely that Moses had at least basic German proficiency.[84] Moreover, it should be emphasized that German was commonly spoken in Baltimore during the time in which the Cone brothers grew up.

In some respects, Moses’ marriage can be viewed as an affirmation of his German-Jewish roots. During his tenure at his father’s dry goods business, he had met and wooed Bertha Lindau (1858-1947), who, like himself, was the eldest child of two first-generation German-Jewish immigrants. Her father, Max Lindauer, had emigrated from Germany in the 1840s and settled in Chicago, where he changed his name to Lindau. Bertha’s mother, Henrietta Ullman, was born in Ulm.[85] The two met and married in Chicago. After the Civil War, they relocated to Baltimore, where they moved in the same German-Jewish circles as the Cone family.  

The process of courting Bertha Lindau was not a simple matter for Moses. It took four years of effort before the two were married, and Moses had to fend off various other suitors in the process. At one point, the competitors included his brother and business partner Ceasar.  Moses and Bertha finally wed on February 15, 1888. They settled in Baltimore only a few blocks away from the rest of the family. Although large families were typical, Bertha and Moses never had children. The reasons for this are unclear.

In Baltimore, the Cone family learned that much could be gained from seeking out culturally similar friends and neighbors. Indeed, Baltimore’s well-established German-Jewish community afforded them ample social and economic opportunities. Herman Cone’s ability to succeed in business, for instance, was attributable in no small measure to family and ethnic networks. At various times, he benefitted from business partnerships with members of his wife’s family, the Guggenheimers, and he profited from a longstanding business relationship with his sister’s husband, Jakob Adler. 

In many ways, Herman Cone’s experience in Baltimore provided the template for Moses and Ceasar’s approach to business and life in Greensboro. Like their father, who sought support from relatives and friends, Moses and Ceasar always worked together; moreover, they regularly employed their siblings (and, in Ceasar’s case, children) in their mills and other enterprises. Lastly, they happily offered small portions of their companies to investors, many of whom were immigrants themselves.

The Cones provided substantial support to the Jewish community of Greensboro. At times, they intentionally recruited Jewish employees and helped resettle families in the comparatively comfortable factory towns surrounding Greensboro. On the whole, the Cone-operated mills and the adjoining factory towns offered German-Jewish immigrants a degree of economic stability and social acceptance that was difficult to find elsewhere. In turn, the growth of Greensboro’s Jewish community eventually benefited the Cones by making them appear less outstanding, less “different,” and by allowing them to acquire greater social standing through their role as the benevolent protectors of a potentially marginalized minority.

The Cones’ business and personal success was at least partially attributable to the city of Greensboro, which was distinctively a product of the New South. The social relations and economic opportunities that existed there would not have been present – or, at the very least, would not have emerged so readily – in other places in the South, mostly because other Southern cities carried so much historical baggage. Greensboro, in contrast, was a city that reimagined itself after the Civil War, and its residents were rewarded with a relatively diverse range of social and economic options. Whereas much of the South continued to produce cotton on a monocrop basis, cities such as Greensboro, Atlanta, and Nashville looked to create a basis for industrial growth. Generally speaking, these New South cities were more accepting of diverse populations, and the Cones benefitted from this tendency. The community that emerged in Greensboro encompassed people of diverse and mixed origins. Many Jewish residents came from the German lands, but the community included many Eastern European Jews as well. The Jewish community, to which the Cone family both belonged and contributed, formed a visible part of Greensboro throughout the twentieth century.[86]

Flat Top Manor, a colossal country estate located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, about 120 miles due west of Greensboro, still stands as a physical testimony to the wealth, influence, and standing of Moses Cone and his family. Like many Gilded Age industrialists, Moses Cone wanted to build a stately mansion where he and his wife Bertha could relax and get back to nature. Construction on the twenty-three room mansion started in 1899 and was completed in 1901. The inspiration for Flat Top Manor (also known as Blowing Rock Manor) supposedly came from George Vanderbilt and his Biltmore Estate, a sprawling French-style chateau built in Asheville, North Carolina, between 1889 and 1895. But whereas Vanderbilt styled his estate on European models, Cone borrowed from the American past and built a comparatively modest Colonial Revival home. The architectural style of Flat Top Manor, it has been argued, was a conscious expression of the family’s identification with American values, culture, and history.[87]

After its completion, the manor boasted 3,600 acres of carefully landscaped grounds, which accommodated carriage roads, lakes, flower gardens, and vast orchards. The estate also maintained a herd of sheep and dairy cows, in keeping with Cone’s wish for it to be productive. Unlike many of his wealthy contemporaries, Cone opened up the grounds to members of the public, who were free to walk the carriage roads or explore the gardens. His only request was that visitors refrain from hunting or picking the flowers. This hospitable gesture won Cone the good will of the local population, and it established a precedent that would be followed after his death.

As mentioned previously, in 1908, Moses Cone died unexpectedly at age fifty-two; he left behind no will. In the absence of such, the state divided his estate in half: one half went to Bertha, the other to his siblings. Additionally, under the terms of the settlement, Bertha agreed to the establishment of an irrevocable trust that would provide for the maintenance of Flat Top Manor as a public park and for the eventual establishment of the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro. According to the conditions of the trust, the hospital was to be constructed and operated with Bertha’s portion of the estate upon her death.[88] Bertha, however, outlived Moses by almost forty years. When she died in 1947, the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital was finally founded, but the hospital’s trustees declined any involvement in the maintenance of Flat Top Manor, which was both expensive and far away from Greensboro. That being the case, the trustees transferred the manor to the National Park Service for absorption into the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Moses Cone was a second-generation German-Jewish immigrant, who, like many sons of former Jewish peddlers, started his career in his father’s dry goods business. Over the years, Moses Cone relied on familial, religious, and ethnic bonds to develop and expand his textile business – he partnered with family members, primarily his younger brother Ceasar, and looked for support from the German-Jewish community. This was only half of the story, however. For all of his reliance on immigrant networks, Moses Cone was careful to craft an American persona. While certain aspects of his experience aligned him with immigrant entrepreneurs, others placed him firmly in the camp of America’s Gilded Age industrialists. Like many of his elite contemporaries, Cone sought out industries in disarray in the hopes of bringing order to them and eventually establishing a profitable monopoly. In this respect, his efforts to set up the Plaid Trust were typical for his day and age. So, too, was his plan to lead the world in denim production – here, Moses Cone’s goal was not just to manufacture denim, but to dominate the global market. By his death in 1908, he had managed to do exactly that.

Over the course of a century, Moses Cone’s enterprise went through a number of transformations: it responded to the demands of two World Wars, it was expanded, reorganized, and renamed; it went public and then reverted to private ownership. The company, which still exists today, has managed to stay current in a globalized economy by opening up manufacturing plants in Mexico and China. Still, the company stresses its “American heritage” in its self-presentation, and attributes to Moses and Ceasar Cone the values of authenticity and innovation, both of which are synonymous with idealized portrayals of America.[89]     

The Cone brothers’ White Oak mill still operates today. The mill, which employs about 300 people, specializes in the production of vintage denim. As the favored supplier of many high-end jeans manufacturers, Cone Mills has developed a loyal following among designers, hipsters, and fashion devotees. The White Oak mill still supplies denim to Levi Strauss, upholding a business relationship that has existed for approximately a century. As Jonathan Kirby, vice president of design for Levi Strauss put it, “Some mills make fabric; Cone makes history.”[90]   


[1] According to a document at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, Moses Kahn was a hay merchant. See “Abstract of the Certificate of the Jewish Believers Entitled to Protection in the Iller District of the Kingdom of Bavaria for Samson Kahn, at Altenstadt, Made out at Kempten, November 10, 1813,” in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1, 1-b.

[2] The information on Moses Kahn’s family comes from a Kahn (Cone) genealogy compiled by his descendant Sydney M. Cone and housed at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. See Kahn (Cone) Genealogy, 1, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 2. In a document published on the occasion of Cone Mills Corporation’s 75th anniversary, it was reported that Herman Kahn was the youngest of twelve (not ten) children. See Cone Mills Corporation 75th Anniversary, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, series 7.1.

[3] Ellen B. Hirschland and Nancy Hirschland Ramage, The Cone Sisters of Baltimore: Collecting at Full Tilt (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2008), 15.

[4] Translations of Herman Kahn’s school transcripts; see “Release Certificate” from the Weekday School” and “Release Certificate” from the Israelitic Weekday School (both from May 1, 1841), in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1, 1-c and 1-d, Leo Baeck Institute, New York.

[5] According to documentation by the town of Buttenhausen’s Bureau of Indenture, Herman Kahn resided with Josef Rosengart from September 1, 1841, until November 10, 1844. See letter from “Chief Bureau Maufingen, Buttenhausen” (November 10, 1844), in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1, 1-g. For the names and birthdates of Herman’s siblings, see the Kahn (Cone) Genealogy, 1, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 2.  

[6] Bavarian government correspondence (December 16, 1844), in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1, 1-h.

[7] See “The Cones from Bavaria,” 4, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[8] The Cone Family, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Series 7.1.

[9] See the Kahn (Cone) Genealogy, 2, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 2. 

[10] Cone Mills Corporation 75th Anniversary, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, series 7.1. Among other places, the letter is also reproduced in “The Cones from Bavaria,” 13-14, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[11] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 12, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[12] Typically, chain migration began with a shock (e.g. the Irish Potato Famine) that triggered an initial wave of immigrants, who opened the door for family, friends, and others who followed over the subsequent years or decades. See James M. Bergquist, Daily Life in Immigrant America, 1820-1870 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008), 21-22; Simone A. Wegge, “Chain Migration and Information Networks: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century Hesse-Cassel,” The Journal of Economic History 58 (1998): 957-86.

[13] Philip Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains: The Story of Moses and Bertha Cone and Their Blowing Rock Manor (Charlotte, NC: Catawba Publishing Company, 1996), 4. See also, 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1850, Place: Lunenburg, Virginia, Roll: M432_958; Page: 1; Image: 7; from [database online].

[14] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 15, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[15] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 28, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[16] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 4.

[17] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 5; “The Cones from Bavaria,” 10, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1. According to the family history, “Many Richmond Jews had been established for a generation by 1846 [i.e. the date when Herman Cone first arrived], had learned to speak English fluently and even without accent, and had acquired the customs of the country.”

[18] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 30, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[19] Herman Cone Account Book #5492, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[20] Ibid.; Cone Family: Genealogy, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Series 7.1, Folder 1877.

[21] Tony Waters, “Towards a Theory of Ethnic Identity and Migration: The Formation of Ethnic Enclaves by Migrant Germans in Russia and North America,” International Migration Review 29, no. 2 (1995): 515.

[22] While Cone’s Germanic heritage would have been comparatively acceptable, his Jewish faith could have easily isolated him from society in the Upper South. See Jason Kaufman, “Three Views of Associationalism in 19th‐Century America: An Empirical Examination,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 104, no. 5 (March 1999): 1296-1345; David R. Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic Books, 2005).

[23] According to Ellen B. Hirschland and Nancy Hirschland Ramage, the Guggenheimers had emigrated in 1848. See Hirschland and Ramage, The Cone Sisters of Baltimore, 17.  

[24] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 1, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[25] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 6.

[26] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 32, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1. Cone did not join the Union or the Confederate ranks. He did participate in a local home guard unit, however. His unit never left the vicinity of Jonesborough. Instead, it served only to protect the area against raiders and deserters.

[27] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 7; Stephen V. Ash, Middle Tennessee Society Transformed, 1860-1870: War And Peace in the Upper South (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1988)

[28] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 6; “The Cones from Bavaria,” 33, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[29] Samuel Guggenheim was not related to Cone’s wife Helen Guggenheimer.

[30] They also had a son, Albert (b. 1866), who died during infancy. See the Kahn (Cone) Genealogy, 3, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 2. 

[31] Hirschland and Ramage, The Cone Sisters of Baltimore, 20; see also Mary Gabriel, The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of Etta and Claribel Cone (Baltimore, MD: Bancroft Press, 2002), 4.

[32] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 43, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[33] 1870 U.S. Census, Year: 1870; Census Place: Baltimore Ward 18, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: M593_579; Page: 81A; Image: 456; Family History Library, Film: 552078; from [database online].

[34] Hirschland and Ramage, The Cone Sisters of Baltimore, 21.

[35] The Cone Mills in North Carolina: An Intimate Study and History of an Outstanding Textile Organization, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Series 7.1.

[36] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 44, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1

[37] “Cone Mill: Old King Denim,” Fortune, January 1952, 86.

[38] It is difficult to know which brother led the way in crafting the business. Both were publicly loyal to each other, and very little of their correspondence survives. This situation is partially attributable to Moses’ wife Bertha, who, in 1940, announced her intention to destroy all of her husband’s letters and papers, as she did not wish to leave them behind. Bertha Cone to Bernard [Cone], October 10, 1940, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, series 5.1, folder 1182.

[39] Half Century Book, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Series 7.1, Folder 1870. H. Cone and Sons Ledger, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Series 7.1, SV-5427.

[40] See the biographical record for Herman Cone, Introduction – p. 2, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1. 

[41] Hirschland and Ramage, The Cone Sisters of Baltimore, 22.

[42] History of Cone Mills Corporation, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, series 7.1, Folder 1871, 7.

[43] Ibid., 8-10.

[44] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 91, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[45] See the history of Cone Mills LLC, (accessed on November 5, 2014), and Hirschland and Ramage, The Cone Sisters of Baltimore, 22.

[46] “The Cones from Bavaria,” 83, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[47] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 12-13. History of Cone Mills Corporation, 10-11. Cone Mills Half Century Book.

[48] Letter to W.P. Jacobs (circa 1934-35) from J. Harvey White, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[49] The Cones from Bavaria,” 83, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[50] The Cones from Bavaria,” 84, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[51] All current values (in 2011 USD) are based on Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2011, using the Consumer Price Index.

[52] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 13.

[53] Ibid., 14.

[54] By that time, they had bought out C.E. Graham’s stake in the Asheville mill, and they continued to invest in, and influence the production of, many other mills throughout North Carolina.

[55] History of the Cone Mills Corporation, 11-13.

[56] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 14.

[57] Carl J. Balliett, World Leadership in Denims Through Thirty Years of Progress; Dedicated to the Founders of the Cone Mills at Greensboro, North Carolina (Greensboro, NC: Proximity Print Works, 1925), n.p. (see “Men, Ideals, and Accomplishment”).

[58] History of the Cone Mills Corporation, 11-13, and Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 16-17.

[59] History of the Cone Mills Corporation, 16-17.

[60] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 16.

[61] For a discussion of the Cones’ denim production, see “Through a Yard of Denim,” in Balliett, World Leadership in Denims Through Thirty Years of Progress, n.p.

[62] Half Century Book, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Series 7.1, Folder 1870.

[63] “Forty Years of Textile Progress,” in Cotton: Serving the Textile Industry (Atlanta, 1938); Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 19; “To Lelah Nell,” in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Series 5.1, Folder 1182. “Letter to W.P. Jacobs (circa 1934-35) from J. Harvey White,” in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[64] “The Cone Mills in North Carolina”, 3-4.

[65] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 17

[66] Ibid.; History of the Cone Mills Corporation, 26.

[67] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 17.

[68] The history of Cone Mills LLC, (accessed on November 5, 2014).

[69] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 17-18.

[70] Balliett, World Leadership in Denims Through Thirty Years of Progress, n.p. (see “Ceasar Cone’s Task”).

[71] Across the South, this trend was extremely pronounced, especially after the agricultural blight brought on by the Cotton Boll Weevil.

[72] Housing in a workers’ village was, of course, dependent upon employment at one of the Cone mills. Interestingly, some of the Cone time books indicate that workers often left the mills with little notice or for unclear reasons. In some instances, names simply vanish for no discernible reason. Moreover, at least one worker disappeared and reappeared several times, suggesting that the variances in the time book may have reflected management’s efforts to regulate the factory output. Time Book 1900-1906, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Series 7.2, Volume SV-5247/148-149.

[73] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 18.

[74] Bryant Simons, “‘I Believed in the Strongest Kind of Religion’: James Evans and Working-Class Protest in the New South,” Labor's Heritage (Fall 1992): 60-77. Revised and published as “James Evans: Religion and Working-Class Protest in the New South,” in The Human Tradition in American Labor History, Eric Arnesen ed. (New York: Scholarly Resources Books, 2004).

[75] The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1, Introduction, 2. Among Moses Cone’s beneficiaries were his two younger unmarried sisters Claribel (1864-1929) and Etta Cone (1870-1949). The Cone sisters, both of whom were extremely cultured and well-educated (Claribel, in fact, had graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Baltimore), were active members of Baltimore’s literary, artistic, and intellectual elite. It was in these circles that they first became acquainted with Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo. The sisters’ connection with the Steins would eventually lead them to Paris and other European capitals, where they befriended, and then patronized, some of the leading avant-garde artists of the day, including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. With the help of Cone family money (which included, in addition to their inheritance from Moses, an inheritance from their father Herman and a yearly allowance from their brother Ceasar), Claribel and Etta Cone established an extensive and internationally renowned collection of art, whose core includes leading examples of European modernism. Upon Etta Cone’s death in 1949, the sisters’ collection was gifted to the Baltimore Museum of Art.      

[76] The history of Cone Mills LLC, (accessed on November 5, 2014).

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 3.

[80] Chris Burritt, “Cone Denim’s Old Factory is Back in Fashion,” Bloomberg Businessweek Companies & Industries, May 17, 2012 (accessed on November 12, 2014).

[81] Ibid.

[82] Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988), 213-14, 419-20.

[83] This took a variety of forms, from encouraging Christianity among his workers to observing American holidays. See Esso Oilways, June 1957, in the Cone Mills Corporation Records #5247, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 19.

[84] The Cones from Bavaria,” 48, in The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1.

[85] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 9.

[86] Roger L Ransom and Richard Sutch, One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Don Harrison Doyle, New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Harry Golden, Jewish Roots in the Carolinas: A Pattern of American Philo-Semitism (Charlotte, NC: The Carolina Israelite, 1955).

[87] Noblitt, Mansion in the Mountains, 27-40.

[88] The Cones of Bavaria, Box 1, Folder 1, Introduction, 2-3.

[89] See “About Us” on the company website, (accessed on November 14, 2014). 

[90] Burritt, “Cone Denim’s Old Factory is Back in Fashion.”


Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Moses Herman Cone." (2017) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved February 28, 2017, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship:

Chicago Style

Wedge, Lucius. "Moses Herman Cone." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified February 24, 2015.

MLA Style

"Moses Herman Cone," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2017, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 28 Feb 2017 <>

Portrait of Moses Cone, n.d.

  • Portrait of Ceasar Cone, n.d.
  • Portrait of Herman Cone, n.d.
  • Herman and Helen Cone in their Baltimore Home, 1895
  • Proximity Mill, Original Building, n.d.

See more images »