Col. Elliot White Springs was what we would call today “a Renaissance man.”
He was born in Lancaster, S.C., in the late 19th century to his mother and industrialist father who owned Springs Cotton Mills in South Carolina.
He was a pilot during in World War I and was considered an “ace.” He was awarded the British Flying Cross and the American Distinguished Service Cross.
A graduate of Princeton, Springs said he always thought of himself as a writer and published nine books and many short stories – some of which were turned into plays and movie scripts (just check out his entry
in the Internet Movie Database.)
But the achievement that won him a spot in the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame was his running of Springs Cotton Mills from 1931, when the country was in the depths of the Great Depression, till his death in 1959, when the company was the world’s largest manufacturer of sheets and pillowcases.
How Springs managed to turn his father’s flagging company around is the subject of a wonderful exhibit at the South Carolina State Museum
“Between the Springmaid Sheets” opened April 26 at the museum and features art from the daring ad campaign that made Springmaid
sheets a household name. The ads were derided at the time as risqué and degrading. They are not politically correct by any means, but the fact that they were considered so racy points perhaps to the perceived innocence of the times.
One tagline was “A buck well spent on a Springmaid sheet” under artwork depicting an American Indian man obviously exhausted, lying on a sheet while an attractive Indian maid smiles at him mischievously. The phrase, for all its sexual innuendo and racial insensitivity, also was play on the cost of the sheets – $1.
People may have hooted and hollered over the impropriety of the ad campaigns, but the word spread and the sheets sold.
According to his entry in the Business Hall of Fame, Springs Cotton Mills saw its assets grow to $138.5 million in 1958 from $13 million when Springs took over the company. Sales were $184 million, growing 20 fold under his leadership.
“These illustrations and their slogans have become part of the visual culture of our state and beyond,” said Paul Matheny, curator of art for the State Museum. “The artwork and its use in advertisements in nationally published magazines has become an important and influential part of our cultural history.”
The exhibit, originally curated by Karen Derksen, director of Winthrop University
Galleries, will be open through the summer.
The museum, located appropriately in a former textile mill, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission is $7 for visitors ages 13-61 with a $1 discount for seniors and military, $5 for children 3-12 and free for younger children. Admission is just $1 on the first Sunday of each month. The museum is open seven days a week during summer.