Miscellany Related to the Bancroft Mills
Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
Finding aid prepared by Christopher T. Baer, May 2008
This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2013-02-21T16:23-0500
Finding aid prepared using best local practices and Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Cite items for this collection in the following format:
Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company was incorporated in Delaware on October 1, 1889 as the successor to the partnership of Joseph Bancroft & Sons. Joseph Bancroft (1803-1874), and English Quaker, had established at cotton textile factory on the Brandywine Creek at Rockford, in the northwestern corner of present-day Wilmington in 1831. The business remained in the Bancroft family for 130 years.
The company purchased the Kentmere Mills adjoining their property on the east in 1895 and concentrated manufacturing there, while the old Rockford property was devoted to bleaching, dyeing and finishing. In 1910, the Bancrofts purchased a third plant at Reading, Pa., and incorporated the Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company of Pennsylvania on May 28, 1911. Subsequently, all manufacture was concentrated at Reading, with the Wilmington facilities devoted to bleaching, dyeing and finishing. In the spring of 1925, the Bancrofts purchased a controlling interest in the Eddystone Manufacturing Company, another cotton manufacturer, and secured 100% control in 1929. The Eddystone Plant was converted entirely to the printing of cottons and linens, and a rayon finishing plant was installed there in 1930.
As new synthetic yarns came into use, Bancroft expanded into those fields. In 1936, it established its Research Department at Wilmington under Dr. Arnold L. Lippert. Its first success was trademarked as “Everglaze,” originally the production of a durable finish on glazed chintz, but later used to create permanent-press fabrics. Bancroft began a program of licensing its patents and trademarks in 1938. In 1953, it purchased the rights to a process for crimping yarn from Alexander Smith, Inc. and successfully applied it to nylon to create “Ban-Lon,” which became popular for outerwear, swimsuits, sweaters and hose. “Ban-Lon” and “Everglaze” were the mainstays of the company in its later years.
Around 1947, Bancroft acquired two additional companies, Wm. Simpson, Sons & Co., a converter, and Albert D. Smith & Company, Inc., which had been Bancroft’s sales agent for book cloth, window shade cloth and industrial fabrics, which they also manufactured on their own account. However, Bancroft remained primarily a finishing company, and as such, found it harder to compete with large, vertically-integrated textile companies. It liquidated its manufacturing operations at Reading in 1957.
By 1960, the Research Department, which handled both research and licensing of products and trademarks developed by Bancroft, was the only viable part of the business. The company considered changing the name of the parent firm to Joseph Bancroft & Sons Research Company and spinning off the manufacturing units to a new subsidiary for a tax loss. When this proved too risky, the entire business was sold, and Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Indian Head Mills, Inc., of Massachusetts in September 1961. With continued erosion of the Northeastern textile industry, the plant became increasingly unprofitable. Indian Head Mills, Inc., became a conglomerate called Indian Head Inc. in 1966, and the finishing plant was put up for sale in 1972. It was purchased by the Wilmington Finishing Company, composed mostly of Bancroft department heads, on June 4, 1973. Indian Head Inc. sold the Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company, which by now was reduced to the licensing operation, to Beaunit Corporation in February 1975. Finishing at the Rockford site ended in 1981, and the plant was redeveloped as a condominium complex.
The records consist of a small batch of company documents preserved after the end of operations by the Wilmington Finishing Company. They include copies of the company’s charter and supplements, bylaws and amendments, and files of agreements covering water rights, easements for sewer, gas and water lines, and plant access for the Wilmington and Northern Railroad Company.
There are two important consultant’s reports on the condition of the company, one from the depression year of 1936, and the other from 1960, when it was clear that the manufacturing operation was no longer viable and a buyer was sought for the company’s assets. There are some notes on the sale to Indian Head Mills, Inc., and the subsequent fate of the property. Documents from the period of Wilmington Finishing Co. operation include periodic reports to the government on wastewater treatment and discharge into Brandywine Creek. There is also a large file on the use of Miss America winners to promote “Ban-Lon” with many samples of magazine advertising and publicity from 1964, another file on the donation of the main body of the company’s records to the then Eleutherian Mills Historical Library in 1964, and some sketches showing details of heavy –timber mill construction.
Brandywine Creek (Pa. and Del.)--Water-power.
Cotton textile industry--Delaware.
Eddystone Manufacturing Company--Stock certificates.
Heavy timber construction--Drawings.
Indian Head Mills, Inc.
Miss America in advertising.
Wilmington and Northern Railroad Company.
Wilmington finishing company.
Woodlawn Trustees, Incorporated.