Carpet Mill, Bloomsburg, Pa.

Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

The Magee Carpet Company in Bloomsburg, Columbia County, was an outgrowth of James Magee and Company, a small factory of twenty-five looms founded in Philadelphia by James Magee at the close of the American Civil War. Magee’s son and namesake, James Magee II, began working in his father’s mill by sweeping floors. He eventually worked in a number of departments and earned the position of plant superintendent. He spent a year in the West and, upon his return to Philadelphia in 1885, realized that the prospect of further advancement in his father’s company was nonexistent and established a partnership with a yarn spinner to manufacture ingrain carpets.

Magee oversaw his company in Philadelphia for several years, but he believed that a small, rural community might be better for his company. He visited several towns and cities before deciding on Bloomsburg. He set up thirty-five looms and manufactured ingrain carpets. In 1896, Magee foresaw the decline of ingrain carpets and erected tapestry and spinning mills. The Magee Carpet Company’s popular brand, Bar None Tapestry, was distributed widely. The prescient Magee later added velvet carpets and seamed rugs to his company’s growing product lines.

In 1913, the company erected one of the largest mills in the nation, with a half-million feet of floor space and enough looms to produce three hundred rugs a day. At the time, the company imported wool from Russia, China, and Turkey. In 1915, the mill employed more than seven hundred workers,burned 6,000 tons of coal annually, used 500,000 gallons of water daily, and processed 6,000,000 pounds of wool and yarn each year.

Under the leadership of Harry L. Magee, the second generation to run the mill, the company became one of the largest manufacturers of carpeting in the world and was known for most of the twentieth century as “The Mill of Two Thousand Dinner Pails.” After flooding by Tropical Storm Agnes in June 1972 and the death of Harry L. Magee, the firm reorganized as Magee Industrial Enterprises under his son, James A. Magee. Now known as Magee Reiter Automotive Systems, it manufactures carpeting, insulation, and mats for automobiles and trucks.

“This is the Mill where I work and the cross shows which part I work in,” wrote one of the company’s several hundred employees on a postcard dated May 6, 1909. Unfortunately, both the writer’s and the recipient’s names have been erased and their identities are unknown.