All Roads Lead: From Ancient Silk Road to Multinational Synthetic Fibers Industry in a Southern Appalachian Town

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Simpson, Lydia Bodine
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Middle Tennessee State University
In the late nineteenth century, the silk industry came under threat, inspiring chemists to seek out alternative means of production. The pursuit of “artificial silk” ultimately gave rise to a whole new category of textiles – man-made synthetics. Synthetics entered the market just as the shape of global industry shifted east and south, and became a significant feature in the industrialization of twentieth century southern Appalachia. As a multinational, technologically advanced industry, synthetics initially struggled to find their place in the market among more trusted natural fibers, but with the rebranding of artificial silk to “rayon” in the 1920s, manufacturers soon prospered and began expanding into American markets just as the textile industry began concentrating in the South. The junction of the “fabric of the future” and the modern industrial design philosophies developing at the time left behind a unique landscape of which few examples survive. The Milan-based rayon mill constructed near Rome, Georgia in 1928 provides an ideal, intact landscape for understanding the industry, its impact, its place within the larger context of global industrial development, and the creation of public memory and collective identity in an era of environmental regulation and economic destabilization.
Cultural Landscape, Globalization, Industrialization, Rayon, Rome, Georgia, Southern Appalachia