We are fond today of the alliterative “four B’s” as a succinct statement of Milton’s industries, past and present: Boats, Beans, Buttons and Beer. Unfortunately, this nifty mnemonic doesn’t include an industry that was a year-round employer of Milton’s people, especially young women, and contributed a great deal to the local economy: the garment industry.
The first of several garment manufacturers that set up operations in Milton was the Douglass & White Shirt Factory, established by two local men – Thomas H. Douglass and N. Wallace White – around 1895. In 1904 or 1905, Josiah Culver, the former station agent at the railroad depot, joined the founders as a partner in the enterprise. It was built by contractor Isaac Nailor for $800, was 25 x 50 ft and two stories high, and was considered very attractive in appearance.
By 1905, the economic importance of this industry to the town was huge. In his Milton News letter published in the July 28, 1905 edition of the Milford Chronicle, David A. Conner spells it out unambiguously: In a town of 1200 people, the factory in 1905 employed 70 workers year-round, with a total payroll of $14,800, or nearly $400,000 in today’s dollars. This was a very respectable amount of money, and all of it was earned by locals, most of whom were young women. More importantly, this money was all pumped back into the local economy, being entirely spent within Milton. Conner believed that the money earned by the women “operatives” sustained middle class living standards for many Milton families.
Three or four garment factories would continue to operate in Milton until the mid-twentieth century, and eventually at least some of the shops were unionized by the I. L. G. W. U.
Consider this: by 1905, boat building was well into a steep, terminal decline; bean (and other vegetable) canning was seasonal and its workers were mostly transients from Baltimore and elsewhere; button making was about two decades into the future, and beer making was about a century down the road. I would suggest that “Four B’s and a G” would be a better summation of Milton’s economic mainstays in the twentieth century.