Charles A. Cannon was under thirty when his father, James W. Cannon, died in 1921 and he became Cannon Mills president. Over the next fifty years, Cannon led his business to prominence in the textile industry.
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Cannon, who found a machine to sew labels on towels, began marketing and advertising on an unprecedented scale. With the use of pastel colors and towel ensembles, Cannon Mills gained over fifty percent of the towel market and expanded into sheets, hosiery, bedspreads, and draperies. Cannon consolidated his mills, most within a twenty-mile radius, into a single corporation. He fought off unionization efforts by inspiring love, devotion, and fear in his employees, over 24,000 in Kannapolis alone. The company provided better benefits than most of the industry. In 1962 Cannon retired as president but remained active as chairman of the board until his death in 1971, when Cannon Mills had $305 million in annual sales. In 1982 financier David Murdock acquired Cannon Mills through a leveraged buyout. He cut retiree benefits in order to pay the loans and sold his interest to Fieldcrest in 1985. The new owners subsequently shuttered the facility and the property was razed in large part in 2006 and 2007.
Throughout his life Cannon, known widely as “Mr. Charlie,” assisted good causes with a particular interest in health care. He established tuberculosis clinics for his workers and in 1955 financed 100,000 Salk polio vaccines. In 1935 he helped establish Cabarrus Memorial Hospital and later founded a hospital in Banner Elk named for his son who died in World War II. The Cannon Foundation, formed in 1943, has continued the philanthropic efforts.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 310 – sketch by Marvin Krieger
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
James Lewis Moore and Thomas Herron Wingate, Cabarrus Reborn (1940)
Edward L. Rankin, A Century of Progress (1987)
Brent D. Glass, The Textile Industry in North Carolina (1992)
Peter R. Kaplan, The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County (1981)