Womble Bond Dickinson IP/Patent Partner Jack Hicks recently discussed historical innovations in the production of the American blue jean.  Over a century ago, ingenious workers at White Oak Cotton Mill located in Greensboro, NC, instituted changes that led to the wide-scale production and sale of the American blue jean. 

Hicks was interviewed as part of a video history project coordinated by the White Oak Legacy Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to the history of denim innovation, which continues to this day.   

The video was produced and developed by Chase Gardner, a student in the UNC-Greensboro Media Studies Department under the guidance of Professor Michael Frierson.  The 8-minute video features a narrative about early production of denim fabrics and features interviews with denim designer Carlyle Hanson, author Virginia Postrel and White Oak Legacy Foundation member Ralph Tharpe.  Click here to watch the video

The new innovation, called Cone Mill’s Touchstone Continuous Dyeing Process, was the subject of a 1921 patent. Benjamin Franklin Touchstone was the first named inventor of the patent.  Realizing that improvements were necessary to ensure consistent indigo dyeing and reduce yarn breakage, a new single line manufacturing process revolutionized production of this global staple of apparel.  

This 1921 innovation made Greensboro-based Cone Mills one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers. In turn, Greensboro became a global center for the denim industry, and remains so today as the headquarters of Kontoor Brands, Inc., the maker of Wrangler and Lee jeans. 

“The Touchstone patent shows a way to condense processes into a constant flow—an assembly line, so to speak, that brought all these processes into one line for tremendous efficiency and consistency of product,” Hicks said.

From left to right: Dr. Michael Frierson, Jack Hicks, Chase Gardner(L-R): Dr. Michael Frierson, Jack Hicks, Chase Gardner.

Patent for the Cone Mill’s Touchstone Continuous Dyeing Process

Illustration of Cone Mill’s Touchstone Continuous Dyeing Process