In October 1860, a Scottish immigrant named James Thompson opened his doors for business in Valley Falls, NY. We at Thompson today are amazed and proud to be a part of this story of success and longevity! In 1860, the Industrial Revolution was at its peak in the United States. The growing Textile industry was centered in New England and New York. Cotton grown in the South was shipped to Mills here for processing into fabrics. Valley Falls, an attractive little town on the Hoosic River, north of Albany and just west of the Massachusetts state line, was the ideal location for Thompson to build his Mill. Our 1st Mill was completely “vertical”, from spinning of yarns to weaving and finishing. Thompson concentrated on 3 main products: Buckram, Netting and Twine. The #1 fabric at the time was Buckram, as the fashion and social mores of that era dictated that everyone, men and women, wore a hat.
The centers of production for apparel and hats were New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago. Thompson had established a NYC office and distribution warehouse at 129 W. Broadway for daily deliveries-by horse and wagon-of various styles of Buckram. We also have records of our Chicago connection as early as 1892, with a warehouse on Kinzie St.
In addition to Buckram, Mosquito Netting was a Thompson specialty. In fact, part of our oral history is that Thompson Netting was provided to the Union Army in the Civil War! In 1993, Thompson won an award from exhibiting at the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Chicago’s World Fair, in the Palace of Manufacturers, for Buckram and Twine. Here is a quote from that document:
“The Buckram is well made and a good product for the purposes of which they are used. The filling and finish in bringing the desired effect, it constitutes a good material for the use of Milliners, always keeping its shape after being pressed into shapes for bonnets.”
Today, New York is the world center for finance, advertising and fashion, but in the early 1900’s, it was the country’s largest manufacturing center for all types of apparel and sewn consumer products. Thompson was thriving as a quality supplier to the trade. In a 1905 book called “New York’s Great Industries” we found this entry:
“James Thompson & Co. manufactures every description of Twin, Mosquito Nets, Buckram and Screen Cloth which are unsurpassed for quality and excellence”
By 1910, the Valley Falls Mill had 1,600 spindles for yarn and twine, 200 weaving looms, 2 dyeing systems and 2 water-wheels. We employed 200 people at the Mill. Our office and warehouse in NYC was now at 16 Greene St.
Sometime in the 1910’s, Thompson sold his business the the Buchman family. Son-In-Law Arthur Judell eventually took sole ownership of Thompson. The company survived and prospered through some tough times-World War 1 and the Great Depression-adapting and adding new products. At some point around this time, Thompson Packaging Novelties was created, offering finished sewn fabric items. Since we made various net fabrics, we built up a great business with finished net products such as Christmas Stockings, marble bags and Ping-Pong nets. Our new home in New York became a 5 story plant and offices on Prince St., in the heart of Greenwich Village.
In the 50’s, Thompson added the growing Home-Sewing market to its mix of customers with new basic Cotton fabrics. In the early 60’s, we started importing raw Jute, dyeing it at the Mill into Burlap. Robert B. Judell took over the reigns as President from his father-and continues to this day as our energetic Captain!
By 1970, the company was thriving with 3 distinct divisions: Cotton, Twine and Packaging Novelties. The Valley Falls Mill could no longer handle all this production-that is when we opened our new Mill in Greenwood, Delaware in 1972. We also opened a sewing operation in Jersey City, NJ. The Valley Falls Mill continued to operate, specializing in Twine and fabrics for the fast-growing new market for Craft fabrics and mesh. We became industry leaders in making rug-hooking canvas. We also had a Midwest operation in Franklin Park, Illinois, in the shadows of O’Hare Airport, which did sewing, specialty cutting and warehousing. The company’s corporate headquarters was moved to Avenue of the Americas in the Kodak Building.
The 80’s decade was full of new product innovation and introduction. We developed sewn products for the Hotel, Food Service and Audio sectors. Flannel shoe mitts, Lemon Wraps and Speaker mesh covers continue to be vital Thompson products! In the fabrics area, we added Flannel, Duck & Canvas constructions and are now industry leaders with these fabrics.
By 1992, our original Mill at Valley Falls, now over 100 years old, had to be closed. In 1993 we opened our Sewing operation in Hermosillo Mexico. Our New York offices moved to the lovely Murray Hill section of Manhattan, where we are today.
Today, we continue to change and grow, determined to move forward another 150 years as a true American Textile company! And yes, old James Thompson would be proud to know that you can still buy Buckram at his company today.
Robert Judell, our company President died on March 18th, 2016 at the age of 92. Throughout his 70 years of service at James Thompson & Co., Inc. he was greatly respected and admired for his loyalty, humanity, charm and keen business insight. He treated all his employees with respect and gave us all opportunities to grow in our careers. We will miss him dearly.
Nick Griseto, formerly of Bradford Mills, took over the reigns as President in April of 2016.