History, as it pertains to this part of the story, begins with a boy and three spools of thread. . .
History, as it pertains to this part of the story, begins with a boy and three spools of thread. . .
Fuller was eight years old when he got hold of a nickel, for working as a water boy at a barn raising. He never before had a piece of money of his own. With the nickel in his pocket, he walked to LaGrange and, passing up the toys and candy, he bought three spools of thread and returned home, making the 16-mile walk in one day.
Next morning, he started over the country roads, going from farm to farm, looking for a lady who needed thread. He found one and sold her a spool for a nickel. He found another lady out of thread and another, and he ended up with 15�. One of the greatest salesmen of our era made a dime on his first deal! With his profit and original investment, he then bought nine spools of thread and took them into the country and sold them.
Later he added needles and then scissors. He increased his stock until he had a pack on his back, an eight-year old peddler going from farm to farm.
In four years, until he was 12, the peddler saved $60.00. So he rented some land, bought a plow, a mule, and wagon, and started farming. That first year, and with help from no one, he doubled his money.
The farm, though, couldn't hold him and at age 14 he moved into LaGrange and went to work at Bradfield's Clothing Store. Within four years, when he was 18, he had saved $500.00 and was ready to go into business for himself. That was in 1888.
At that time in LaGrange, as in most small towns in the South, the ordinary home was like a miniature farm. Near the house was a plot for a garden and behind it, or off to one side, there probably was an orchard. A fenced-in place took care of the chickens and hogs, a cow or two, and possibly a team of horses.
Wells and springs were the sources of water, and there was no sewerage, no paving. The streets were muddy in the rainy season and powdery dust in the dry. For light, the people used kerosene lamps.
Horses and mules pulled the wagons and buggies, and sometimes oxen were used. Court Square in LaGrange, now known as Lafayette Square, the center of the town, and all the principal streets were lined with hitching posts and watering troughs. The blacksmith's hammer clanged from before day until after dark.
The few stores were of the general merchandise variety, carrying small stocks of essentials that customers did not raise in their gardens and could not make in their toolsheds or on their home forges. Dollars were hard to come-by and their purchasing power was immense.
This was the community in which Fuller Callaway started as a merchant. He rented a place with a 20-foot front, a cubbyhole, and he hung out his sign: "Callaway's Famous Five and Ten Cent Store."
His business grew and he moved to a corner position on the Square. Before long this place couldn't hold him and he rented the store adjoining, knocking out the wall between and opening the first department store in West Georgia - "Callaway's Mammoth Department Stores." He was 23.
The department store was still not enough, and Fuller went into the wholesale business, then the mail order business. When he was 25 years old, he was doing business out of LaGrange, Georgia, in 36 states.
He held big sales and shipped in whole carloads of tin pans, towels, black pepper, baking soda. He ran so many ads and kept up so much talk about pans and pepper that people came from miles around just to buy some, whether they needed it or not. He ran "specials" and women stood in line for blocks, holding coupons cut from his advertisements and waiting to get into his store and buy his specials and clean out his shelves of most everything else.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Fuller and the other small town merchants in LaGrange realized that the town needed an industry - with industry resulting payrolls - to improve the standard of living of the impoverished people. The merchants and local town people were therefore "right" for a group of out of state promoters who came to LaGrange to sell the idea of building a cotton mill. Local merchants and citizens were asked to put up the money, and Fuller Callaway invested $10,000 of his hard earned capital.
The promoters built the mill, moved in machinery, started the mill, and left. It wasn't long before the people of LaGrange were troubled.
Fuller soon realized that the mill, with its old, broken-down machinery, was headed for the rocks. He got hold of a list of the stockholders and wrote them a letter, saying that if they would send him their proxies, he would try to see what could be done. The proxies came in; he held a stockholders' meeting and took charge of the operation.
Fuller caught the next train North, bought new machinery on credit, engaged a selling agent, reorganized the operation, and within two years, brought the mill back to a profitable operation. He notified the stockholders that he had an offer to sell the mill to an out of state group and recommended acceptance. The sale went through. Fuller and the other stockholders pocketed the investments which they had almost lost and said a prayer of thanksgiving. Fuller thought he had washed his hands of cotton mills and resumed giving full time to his store, relieved to be with his dry goods, groceries, hardware, and crockery once more.
Fuller Callaway had been back running his store only a short time when once more men approached him and made him an offer. While he had been getting the distressed mill going again, he made friends with a number of textile men in New York, particularly with members of the firm of J. H. Lane & Company.
In 1899 a member of the Lane firm traveled to LaGrange and told Fuller he was the most natural-born cotton mill man any of them had ever met, and it was foolish for him to stay out of the mill business. They offered to put up some money if Fuller would raise the balance and build a new mill in LaGrange - if Fuller would run it. He debated his successful store against an unbuilt mill, and decided he would tackle the mill. He put up his $10,000 again, sold stock to other merchants and people of LaGrange, and with the money out of New York, he applied for a charter for the Unity Cotton Mills. It was granted May 9, 1900. Fuller Callaway was 29 years old.
Unity was the beginning. The business was successful and grew into what became Callaway Mills, employing thousands of people and becoming a major cotton textile producer.
Behind every great man, there is a woman. The French writer, Joseph Fouche, said it when he said, "Cherchez la femme." Old timers who knew Fuller Callaway say that he would have sniffed at such "hifalutin" language for he was a man of plain words. He always attributed very much of his success to his wife, the former Miss Ida Cason of Jewell, Georgia, who was willing to live on "Cash" Street in LaGrange for years after they could have lived on "Mortgage" Avenue.
He was 20 and she was 18 at the time of their marriage in 1891 and Fuller Callaway insisted that their marriage was one of the momentous steps in his life. He knew her qualities and loved her devotedly for them. She placed all else secondary to her love and admiration for her husband.
Mrs. Callaway kept their home without ever questioning her husband's long work hours or his habit of bringing home unexpected guests.
She shared his love for "Ferrell Gardens" which became the site of their last home known as "Hills and Dales," which later became the home of their younger son, Fuller E. Callaway, Jr., and his wife, Alice. The gardens, famous throughout the area, were planted in 1841 by Mrs. Sarah Coleman Ferrell with the help of an itinerant Italian gardener. Barefoot, young Fuller used to visit the gardens when Mrs. Ferrell was tending them. She later expressed the wish that he could have them some day. Fuller Callaway purchased them and built his and Mrs. Callaway's home there in 1916.
[For more information on Ferrell Gardens and the Hills & Dales Estate visit www.hillsanddalesestate.org.]
What was the secret of Fuller Callaway's success? Perhaps it would be more correct to ask what WERE the secrets? They were his love of work and his constant awareness of the needs of the people he worked with, his ability to see an opportunity as soon as it appeared on the horizon, the wish to make room for others in his ambitions, and an invincible will to see every undertaking through to a successful conclusion, regardless of the effort required. In addition, he had the ability to choose men and delegate authority. "Pick a good horse and let him run," Fuller Callaway said.
Among the stories told is one that illustrates Fuller Callaway's habit of placing responsibility. His brother, Ely, had been made Credit Manager of Callaway's Department Store, located on the west side of town square in LaGrange. Soon after, the speaking tube whistled between the store office and the basement grocery store. A salesman said: "Mr. ______ wants a bag of feed and wants it charged." The applicant had not earned a good reputation as a credit risk, and Ely felt doubtful. So, he asked the salesman to wait a minute, ran to Fuller Callaway's office, and told him of the request. Mr. Callaway listened quietly, then rose from his seat, smiling all the while, and inquired: "Who is the Credit Manager of Callaway's Department Store?" Then he sat down and returned to his work.
Another oft-repeated illustration of his that reflects his homely wisdom is that life is like a ball of yarn. "You begin winding, and it's mighty hard to get the ball shaped at first," he said. "It runs all askew and crooked, seemingly. But, after a bit, if you keep on winding, you find you have something that begins to look as if it might sometime be a ball. Then, as you wind, it gets bigger and bigger, and you begin to wind faster. Soon, it is not so much trouble as it was at first. Then it gets so big you hardly know you have been winding, and you've got your ball."
Fuller Callaway also said: "People have the notion that most men who have succeeded at something, sat down and reckoned it out. I didn't see cotton mills when I opened a five-and-ten-cent store. You generally see just a little ahead and that's all you need to see. Most of the big men in this country never stopped to think where they intended to wind up. They were too busy winding."