Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/Ed Rutledge

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Ed Rutledge
BornAugust 18th, 1912
Fort Worth, Texas
DiedUnknown
OccupationKnitter

Overview[edit | edit source]

In 1938 Ed Rutledge was interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project. He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and found a career in knitting during the Great Depression. When last interviewed he had a wife and one child.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life and Misfortunes[edit | edit source]

Ed Rutledge was an only child born on August 18th, 1912. He grew up on a humble cotton farm in Fort Worth, Texas. At the age of 12, his mother died due to illness and his father died 5 years later. After his father’s death, Rutledge lived at the farmhouse working as a waiter at a local café. Unfortunately, months after his father’s death, the house burned downed and the café he worked at went out of business.[1]

Unemployment and Job Search[edit | edit source]

Rutledge struggled to find a job for several months. He and a few friends searched for a new job but was he unable to due to the great depression. He traveled to many different cities such as Dallas, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Birmingham, Alabama however there were no openings anywhere. Along his journey he came across many other people living in shantytowns and poor conditions. He met many other homeless people traveling across the country trying to find a job just like him.[2]

Employment and Success[edit | edit source]

After about 5 months being unemployed, Rutledge found a job as a grease monkey, or car washer, in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was good at his job as a grease monkey. He proposed a business idea to advertise for a local café near the car wash to help them bring in more business at the café. The owners of the café were delighted by the extra customers he brought in and offered 3 free meals a day for the advertising.[3]

One day while talking to a customer, he learned about the knitting business and how the pay was much better than his job then. He decided to leave his job as a grease monkey and moved to Burlington, North Carolina to learn how to knit. He underwent training for 3 months for which he earned no money while learning. On January 1st, 1931 Rutledge completed his training and received a knitting machine and started to earn a decent amount of money.[4]

He continued to work as a knitter for a while and eventually married his wife in 1935. They had a baby and rented a house out in the country.[5] The details of his life after this point are unknown.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Long-term Unemployment and the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression occurred due to the stock market crash in 1929. It shattered the U.S economy and led to many businesses closing down and people being laid off.[6] Unemployment rose from about 3% to 25% in just a few years.[7] Due to inaction from the government and large numbers of migration to major cities, many people struggled to find a job for months and became homeless. Businesses did not want to hire people and potential jobs became scarce.[8]

Life for unemployed people during the Great Depression was extremely difficult. Many people went hungry and people slept wherever they could. Many shantytowns, or Hoovervilles, developed on the outskirts of large cities. The term “Hooverville” got its name to show that the American people felt President Hoover was responsible for the Great Depression. Life in a Hooverville was not much better than life without a home. Hoovervilles typically were very unsanitary and were health risks to those living in and near one. Most Hoovervilles were constructed by various materials like metal scraps and cardboard and often had a small stove for cooking. In the 1940s, when the Great Depression ended and the economy recovered, the government removed all the Hoovervilles.[9]

Textile Industry and Burlington Mills[edit | edit source]

Despite the decline in many other industries, the textile industry expanded and offered a significant job market to the American people. There was a high demand for textile labor as many people needed cheap fabrics and were not able to afford expensive ones.[10] The Burlington mills in particular, found success during and after the Great Depression. Founded by Spencer Love in 1923, the mill grew from 200 employees in 1924 to 11,000 by 1939. The explosive growth of the mill owed its success to the increase in demand of rayon or “artificial silk.” The price of rayon had decreased significantly in the years leading up to the Great Depression and Love’s decision to manufacture higher amounts of rayon than silk allowed the mill to expand rapidly. This growth opened a job market that was not previously available until the Great Depression.[11] Many people found jobs in the textile industry at the Burlington Mills such as knitting. Potential knitters would be trained without pay for several months before starting paid work. Experienced knitters would train the new ones creating an efficient system for growing jobs at the mill.[12]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Boustan, Leah Platt, et al. “The Effect of Internal Migration on Local Labor Markets: American Cities during the Great Depression.” Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 28, no. 4, 2010, pp. 719–746., doi:10.1086/653488.

Gregory, James. Hoovervilles and Homelessness, 2009, depts.washington.edu/depress/hooverville.shtml.

History.com Editors. “Great Depression History.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/great-depression/great-depression-history.

hiyahiyaeurope. “HiyaHiya's History of Knitting – The Great Depression and the Growth of the Yarn Industry.” Welcome to HiyaHiya Europe, 3 Jan. 2018, hiyahiyaeurope.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/hiyahiyas-history-of-knitting-the-great-depression-and-the-growth-of-the-yarn-industry/.

Margo, Robert A. “Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 7, no. 2, 1993, pp. 41–59., doi:10.1257/jep.7.2.41.

Rutledge, Ed. “The Knitter.” Interview by Abner, John H., Massengill, Edwin, and Sadler, W.J., December 18, 1938, Folder 280, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

Wright, Annette C. “Strategy and Structure in the Textile Industry: Spencer Love and Burlington Mills, 1923-1962.” Business History Review, vol. 69, no. 1, 1995, pp. 42–79., doi:10.2307/3117120.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Rutledge, Ed. “The Knitter.” Interview by Abner, John H., Massengill, Edwin, and Sadler, W.J., December 18, 1938, Folder 280, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  2. Rutledge, Ed. “The Knitter.” Interview by Abner, John H., Massengill, Edwin, and Sadler, W.J., December 18, 1938, Folder 280, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  3. Rutledge, Ed. “The Knitter.” Interview by Abner, John H., Massengill, Edwin, and Sadler, W.J., December 18, 1938, Folder 280, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  4. Rutledge, Ed. “The Knitter.” Interview by Abner, John H., Massengill, Edwin, and Sadler, W.J., December 18, 1938, Folder 280, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  5. Rutledge, Ed. “The Knitter.” Interview by Abner, John H., Massengill, Edwin, and Sadler, W.J., December 18, 1938, Folder 280, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  6. History.com Editors. “Great Depression History.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/great-depression/great-depression-history.
  7. Margo, Robert A. “Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 7, no. 2, 1993, pp. 41–59., doi:10.1257/jep.7.2.41.
  8. Boustan, Leah Platt, et al. “The Effect of Internal Migration on Local Labor Markets: American Cities during the Great Depression.” Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 28, no. 4, 2010, pp. 719–746., doi:10.1086/653488.
  9. Gregory, James. Hoovervilles and Homelessness, 2009, depts.washington.edu/depress/hooverville.shtml.
  10. hiyahiyaeurope. “HiyaHiya's History of Knitting – The Great Depression and the Growth of the Yarn Industry.” Welcome to HiyaHiya Europe, 3 Jan. 2018, hiyahiyaeurope.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/hiyahiyas-history-of-knitting-the-great-depression-and-the-growth-of-the-yarn-industry/.
  11. Wright, Annette C. “Strategy and Structure in the Textile Industry: Spencer Love and Burlington Mills, 1923-1962.” Business History Review, vol. 69, no. 1, 1995, pp. 42–79., doi:10.2307/3117120.
  12. Rutledge, Ed. “The Knitter.” Interview by Abner, John H., Massengill, Edwin, and Sadler, W.J., December 18, 1938, Folder 280, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.