April 1963: Arrow Shirt opens in Jasper


The opening of Arrow Shirt Manufacturing Plant was the big news in Walker County in April 1963. 

Gov. George Wallace attended the grand opening on April 25. 

The Daily Mountain Eagle, which had only been a daily paper for three years, published its largest issue ever on April 24. Three sections were dedicated to telling the story of how Arrow came to Jasper.

"Before selecting Jasper, Cluett, Peabody & Company made a remarkably thorough investigation of this area. The city and the county were checked from every angle. We passed all the tests and it gives us a measure of confidence in Jasper's future to know that a company such as Arrow is willing to let part of its own future become tied to ours," the Eagle editors wrote.

W.D. Leake, president of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce, spelled out the 14-month story of bringing an Arrow plant to Jasper in an article for the special section.

In November 1961, the chamber prepared a brochure at the request of Alabama Power for an industrial prospect in the needle trades industry. 

At that time, Cluett, Peabody & Co. were looking in the Southeast for a suitable site. Company representatives came to Jasper on Feb. 20 for a five hour meeting with chamber officials.

A labor survey was conducted April 24-26 in 1962 with almost 4,500 women registering. The big annoncement was made shortly after the results were tabulated in May 1962.

Construction on the plant began in July 1962. Walter Will Bankhead also headed up a fundraising campaign to secure $30,000 for a training center to be used until the plant was completed. 

According to the first article of the section, the plant would be making 4,000 dozen white shirts for men a week once it reached peak capacity.

At the time of its opening, the plant employed approximately 220 people, but that number was expected to double quickly.

The Jasper Arrow facility was the 14th in the company. 

On the big day, Wallace flew into the Walker County Airport at 12:30 p.m. and was whisked away to luncheon in his honor sponsored at Holiday Inn by Cluett, Peabody & Co. 

Just before leaving Montgomery for Jasper, Wallace met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The topic of the meeting was not disclosed but an UPI story speculated that it was "an attempt to bring Alabama back to the Democratic party" in the midst of the civil rights movement.

At almost the same time back in Jasper, the Arrow company's board of directors took the unusual step of holding their monthly meeting at First National Bank — only the third time they had met outside of New York City.

Because of the meeting with Kennedy, Wallace arrived in Jasper an hour behind schedule. 

After cutting the ribbon, Wallace told Arrow officials that Alabama was the best state for free enterprise.

"My administration has done much to help Walker County and we are going to continue throughout my administration to help this area," Wallace said.

The opening ceremonies also included the dedication of a plaque in memory of the late Christie Summers, who had been the executive secretary of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce while most of the plans for the plant were taking shape.

"Summers was instrumental in bringing this Arrow Company Plant to Jasper, setting up a labor survey and a training school for plant workers. We are proud of the work done by the late Mr. Summers and are proud that we had the opportunity to work with him," regional manager J. W. Guffin said.

The new plant was open for tours on Friday, April 26. 

Though I don't have an exact date, it seems that the plant closed in the early 1990s, shortly after Cluett, Peabody & Co. was purchased by Biderman Industries. 

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.