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Seams Sewn Long Ago: The Story of Coats the Threadmakers

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2-3 Weeks


Few people know much about the J&P Coats sewing thread business. Yet in 1910, it was the third largest Industrial company in the world, bigger than Shell and General Electric. It began in 1825 with a single Scottish family in a humble weaver’s cottage in Paisley, Scotland. When the company was formed in 1830, it was just one of over a dozen sewing thread concerns in the town. Yet they managed to break free from the pack because the family formed a superb management team, they offered a unique product from their highly efficient Paisley mill, and they placed unerring faith in the US market. Then the sewing machine appeared and their already dominant position allowed them to take full advantage of the huge volumes of thread required to keep these gadgets running. Their main competitors, the Clark family, had invented cotton sewing thread twenty years before the Coatses even started. They built their factory ten years later, and were the real pioneers and market leaders early on. But several family members formed opposing companies and became involved in bitter infighting. The proliferation of Clarks confused the customers in their main market in the UK, and their broad range of threads did not help their cost base. However, all the different Clark firms gradually amalgamated into one and became worthy adversaries to their rivals at the other end of town. Both families started to manufacture abroad, firstly in the US and then elsewhere, and after 70 years of epic struggle for supremacy, they and two other thread firms finally merged in 1896, led by the Coatses, who controlled the board. Most became millionaires, renowned for their philanthropy, and the newly named J. & P. Coats Ltd. dominated the thread industry and the UK stock market for the next 30 years. But that growth and prosperity couldn’t last forever. The second century was far less easy for what had become a huge multinational. The Coatses gradually relinquished control and the corporation struggled to maintain its growth through two World Wars and a period of radical change of fashion and technology. Yet it has adapted and survived. This was the first truly multinational industrial company. Their people went into regions of the world where others feared to tread, met inflation before anyone else knew what it was, and the organisation inspired the type of employee loyalty that would be the envy of businesses today. This is their story.

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