Stock Certificate, specimenLate 1900'sJeffries Bank Note CompanyThe item shown is representative of the piece you will receive
At the age of 24, Benjamin C. Russell founded the Citizens Bank (now part of Alliant Bank) of Alexander City, Alabama. After a fire gutted the city's business district in 1902, Russell rebuilt his bank and also set out in a new direction by founding Russell Manufacturing Company. The company began operations in a small wooden building with six knitting machines and 10 sewing machines operated by a dozen employees. In the first year of its operation, the company produced ladies' knitted undershirts at the rate of 150 garments a day. The building did not even have electricity until 1912, relying on steam for power until that time.
The outbreak of World War I brought increased demands for cloth and yarn, and Russell's company thrived. By 1925, the company had expanded its production to include long underwear, sweaters, athletic shirts, and ladies' bloomers. Russell continued to add to its line of products in the 1930s and established an athletics division named the Southern Manufacturing Company to manufacture team apparel.
Providing football jerseys to a sporting goods distributor in New York was the company's first venture in this regard. It also began producing pants for football, baseball, and basketball teams. Although the company reportedly suffered losses during the Great Depression, Russell nevertheless decided to expand the business. In 1932, the company acquired full finishing operations; making the company one of the most fully in control of all stages of production in the world, according to one company historian. In 1938, Russell developed a screen-printing method that enabled it to print names, numbers, and designs on athletic uniforms.
During the 1940s, civilian textile manufacturing was curtailed to meet the company's obligations under massive government wartime contracts, causing sales losses and financial hardships. By the end of World War II, the company's machinery was in poor condition owing to shortages of replacement parts caused by the war. More damaging to the company during this decade was the death of Benjamin C. Russell on December 16, 1941.
Russell's son, also named Benjamin, assumed the reins of the company until his death in 1945, and brother Thomas D. Russell took the helm. The company saw very little growth in the 1950s as the result of two economic recessions. The 1960s brought better times, and the company expanded and underwent other important changes. In 1962, its name changed to Russell Mills, Inc. and in 1963 it became a publicly traded company. The rising popularity of T-shirts sparked the construction of a new sewing plant in Montgomery in 1966.
Plant expansion continued during the 1970s under president Eugene C. Gwaltney, who took over upon Thomas Russell's retirement in 1968. The company enlarged its screen-printing facilities, obtained a yarn manufacturing plant in northeast Georgia, and opened a new distribution center in Alexander City. In 1973, it became known as Russell Corporation.
In 1992, the company's success continued when it signed a five-year contract with Major League Baseball teams to be the exclusive provider of uniforms. In 1995, the company's sales reached $1 billion.
The late 1990s saw a decline in Russell's successes as a result of more competition from an increasing number of companies in an overcrowded market. Under CEO and president John "Jack" Ward, the company underwent a major three-year restructuring. The company also opened a second headquarters in Atlanta in 1999. By the time the reorganization was completed, Russell had cut more than 6,000 jobs and moved nearly all of its manufacturing operations to other countries, primarily Mexico and Honduras.
The twenty-first century saw numerous ups and downs in Russell's fortunes. In 2002, Russell celebrated its centennial by acquiring Moving Comfort, a manufacturer of women's activewear. The next year, the company acquired Jagged Edge, a manufacturer of mountaineering and outdoor equipment, Bike Athletic Company, and Spalding Sports Worldwide Inc. In 2005, rising costs and declining sales caused financial setbacks that were exacerbated by damage to transported goods from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The company underwent another restructuring that resulted in a loss of another 2,300 jobs and the shifting of even more of its manufacturing outside the United States.
In 2006, Russell Corporation was purchased in 2006 by multinational corporation Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for $600 million and was made a subsidiary of the company's Fruit of the Loom
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