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Interview with Harvie C. Jordan, Sr.

Jordan, Sr., Harvie C.
Perzel, Edward
Perzel, Edward
Date of Interview: 
Early Charlotte; Depressions 1929; Printing industry; Graphic arts; World War II
>Harvie Jordan, Sr. gives a detailed look at the printing business and graphic arts business in Charlotte and surrounding areas. Mr. Jordan briefly talks about the Great Depression and World War II.
Charlotte 1920s - 1940s
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The WSOC-TV Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
Interview Audio: 
EP (Edward Perzel): We've been having technical problems all morning.
HJ (Harvie Jordan): Oh well. I hate to tell you ( ).
EP: You see that, it's not going to work.
HJ: I used to take the dictating equipment home on the weekends and dictate letters ( ). RECORDING INTERUPTED RECORDING RESUMED
EP: This one's not going to roll, we'll have to go to the other one over there. [long pause]
HJ: ( ) dictating on old Edison wax sewing machine.
EP: Is that, did they dictate on wax?
HJ: Yeah, ( ) reason a dictating machine had wax was so it ( ) about that long-
EP: Did you re-use those things?
HJ: Yes. You could re-use them. ( ). [laughter]
EP: This is Ed Perzel on October 23, 1979 interviewing Harvie C. Jordan, Sr. Mr. Jordan tell me a little bit about your early background. Were you a native Charlottean?
HJ: No. I'm not a native. I'm like all the good folks in the Charlotte area. I come from South Carolina.
EP: Where were you born?
HJ: Born and raised in Dillon, South Carolina. My father was in the newspaper and banking and real estate and industrial business down in that area. He was one of the few men that saw the crash coming since we mentioned it awhile ago. And I went to Myrtle Beach with him in 1929, July of 1929 and both carried, he carried a sawed off double-barrel shotgun with him, and I drove the car. I was nineteen years old then. I carried a pistol in a shoulder holster and another one on my hip. And we drove all through the woods and things until we got to the Myrtle Beach area. And I didn't question or care or note particularly what he was doing. We stopped boarding house there. There was only, there wasn't but half a dozen houses within sight for miles. But everything had been marked off in lots and everything and that. And I didn't know until several months later that he had sold, he stayed down there, and I stayed with him and messed around in the surf bored stiff with the whole deal. But he contacted a lot of business with a lot of people. And we brought back several hundred pounds of solid gold. He wouldn't take even a treasury note or a government note or a mortgage or a check or anything. He required, he sold considerable part of what is now Myrtle Beach for pure gold coins that we brought back. Couldn't even lift them except in parts. And we didn't, he was president of the local bank, and he didn't even put the money in his own bank. He carried it to his home safe. [laughter] So when '29, when the crash came, he'd, he'd unloaded everything a long time ahead of time.
EP: He, so he had a lot of gold.
HJ: Solid gold.
EP: What did he do with the gold in the Depression?
HJ: Well, he turned around and he and I and everything bought property for five cents on the dollar and bought, [pause] bought farms, real estate and buildings, cotton mills and every durn thing you can think of. Gold was gold.
EP: So does that mean he had faith this we were coming out of this depression so he was going to be ready when we did?
HJ: Well, it seemed to be very astute. [laughter]
EP: I guess so.
HJ: He was wealthy to start with and he wound up wealthier in the Depression. And fortunately for him and me and all of them, both my parents and all my brothers and sisters have always been healthy, intelligent, well educated, and moderately religious. And fortunately wealthy. So I was saying. I'm a very fortunate person. All my life. I'm nearly seventy now.
EP: Well, you were nineteen in 1929. What happened after that what happened in the thirties in your life?
HJ: Well I went on, I'd been to college at the Citadel in Charleston for two, one se--, year, and I went back in '29 and '30 and '31 I believe. And I decided that I wasn't learning anything in college. I was, [pause] [laugther] well I was a drop out, if you want to call it, I quit or decided I wanted to do something else. I was already twenty-one, just turned twenty-one, and the bottom of the depression was rapidly approaching. I don't call '29 crash as the bottom of the depression or even '30 or '31. The bottom of the depression, to me, was on March 5, no March 4, 1933. I had been working at odd jobs doing this, that, and the other. I started out as a salesman for a tag manufacturer, a paper tag manufacturing outfit, which was somewhat of an oddity. Very quite commonly used all over the area. That your tape? [pause]
EP: I was just watching it.
HJ: By cotton gins and cotton farmers and cotton warehouses and cotton mills and everything. It was essential to their operations as a inventory control system. And I was the only guy selling them. Had a monopoly in a way. Nobody else had enough money to travel on or go about soliciting business. Of course, you worked strictly on a commission. You didn't have a drawing account. You didn't have an expense account. You didn't have a salary. You didn't anything else. You worked straightly on a commission. You sold it, collected the money, and kept part of it, and sent part of it to the company you were working for, which was a Pennsylvania firm at that time. I was all in South Carolina and parts of North Carolina. Had all the territory I could cover or wanted to. I could go anywhere I wanted to. And like I said, I was just, just a rare animal.
EP: How did you end up coming to Charlotte?
HJ: Well, I got interested in manufacturing them for myself. There wasn't a manufacturer, I realized, south of Philadelphia or east of St. Louis. So I decided on my own that the Carolinas area needed a manufacturing plant. I tried to prevail upon the other manufacturers of the North to move down here which they wasn't interested in doing, so I came to Charlotte looking for venture capital. And I found it. And formed, along with a couple of partners and some financial backers and things, formed something called the Dixie Tag and Envelope Manufacturing Company. There were no paper tags or no envelopes of any kind manufactured in North and South Carolina. Just think of all the millions that are used.
EP: Um-hum.
HJ: So we did get it off the ground and got it going just before World War II broke out. I moved to Charlotte in 1938. And, and we were, in what most people didn't try to disabuse their mind but they called considered we were in the printing business, but we were in highly specialized field of it. We had machinery and equipment that most people just wouldn't believe. I had acquired knowledge over the years between the time that I was twenty-one and twenty-seven, twenty-eight I was a, rose to be a nationwide top ranking salesman in the whole industry. Although, I say I was representing a Pennsylvania firm in the South. And, but I won so many honors and so many prizes and so many bonuses and everything else. I just said, heck there must be more money in this than just a straight out commissions, which were generous enough. But I would get into making them, which I did. I found a fella that was looki--, knew how to make them that was looking for someone who knew how to sell them, and we were both looking for someone who knew how to finance it. So we all three got together.
EP: Who were the other people that helped you?
HJ: Well, they all dead and gone now, unfortunately, and the corporations have been all merged and conglomerated out of existence this and that and the other. But a man from St. Louis named Allan Fulk was charge of--, knew how to manufacture and run a factory. And another fella named Jacob Bender who had, knew how to finance end of it. And I knew how to sales and distribution and all. And we got it under way just as World War II was breaking loose and demand was unlimited that we ran, employed sometimes as high as seven, eight hundred people. And three shifts a day for five years.
EP: Where was your plant?
HJ: In Charlotte at what's now is called Radiator Specialty Company. It was the old Elizabeth Mill Building.
EP: Uh-huh. You bought the mill building?
HJ: No, we just rented space and all there. And we I was coming back from, we'd opened a branch plant in Louisville, Kentucky, and the war come along and we decided to close it. I was, had been up there to make, close out that plant, and I was driving back through the woods of Tennessee. And came across a place where there was a tremendous amount of activity going on. It looked to me like I said, "Damn", of course there was a lot of it going on everywhere on the account of war efforts. You know war camps and mills and factories and that. I said, " Damn, they're building something here as big as Charlotte." There was people everywhere. I best stop in here and see what's going on. So I stopped there in a little ol"town called Oak Ridge, Tennessee. And so I being experienced in how to find the purchasing department and this and that and the other, I went in to the purchasing department, thousands of people coming and going running around all over the durn place, and I told them what ( ) bought the printing and the paper specialties. And I says, told him what I could do and showed him what we could do ( ). And he said, he was a little bit younger than I was and I wasn't dry behind the ears, [laughter] anyway, he says, "You go on back to Charlotte, and we'll be in touch with you. We're going to need a lot of stuff." So I took it like a grain of salt and I said well I'm going to go on, I've done what I can do. And it wasn't about a week that I had been home and everything before the telephone started ringing. And I'll tell you what. So help me. We started getting orders of any quantities of any price ( ), the highest priority in the world. I had, was given a number as chief executive officer, I had become president of the company then, and was given a code number. And if I needed machinery that didn't exist, that you couldn't buy for love nor money, all I had to do was quote this code number and it would be loaded on an airplane in forty-eight to seventy-two hours with majors and colonels unloading it down here in the Charlotte airport. If I wanted paper that the paper mills said was just don't exist, we can't give, send you anymore, we sold up for the next five or six years. I'd quote this code number, and they'd say, "Yes, sir, Mr. Jordan it'll be there day after tomorrow. I wanted to go to the bank and I wanted quarter of a million, half million dollars to meet the payrolls or meet expenses and this and that and the other. They'd say, " Mr. Jordan, we can't do business with a damn printer. Printers are the worst credit, bus--, rate in the world. You'll just have to struggle along the best you can. We got war work to do and everything else." So I, well, how 'bout doing it under this number. I'd quote the number verbally, it never was written down, I'd quote the number verbally and to the banker. And the banker would push the thing over and say, " Sign here. How much, many million you want?" [laughter] That's no joke. Well, we ran the plant twenty-four hours, seven days a week but on, basically on war work and a great deal of it was for what we learned later we hadn't the slightest idea until the day that the bomb, atom bomb was exploded we had no idea of the ( ) different constructions. We were very adept and very unusual at cre--, manufacturing stuff the other guys didn't make. Tag systems and ( ) production controls and this and that and the other. They knew it and we were making course for other places too. But this outfit, crazy bunch from, at Oak Ridge had the highest priority in the world. Average business man couldn't get a telephone call through for three or four or five days, I'd just quote that number and go straight to the White House office. [laughter] I didn't get suspicious. Hell, them guys got a good priority.
EP: Tell me about some of the changes you've seen in Charlotte since 1938.
HJ: Well, as I say, most of my interest has been in what was called the printing or now they refer to it as the graphic arts. I helped pioneer a whole lot of changes in manufacturing and distribution. We wound up with nationwide distribution, which was unheard of. Most printers didn't even go two blocks down the street. They waited for someone to come get bring them the order. In our operation, my instigation in a way, as I was responsible for sales and distribution and everything. Go get it! I didn't care where it was from one end of the world to the other. ( ) That's the way we operated and everybody said, "You're a bunch of nuts." We laughed all the way to the bank.
EP: Did you, were you ever involved in politics, political support of anybody?
HJ: Oh, yeah. I've always, well been born and raised in South Carolina I was thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-seven years old before I ever knew there was such a thing as a republican. We never had anything down there but a democrat. [laughter] But when I came to Charlotte and being somewhat unorthodox and everything I decided I'd be a republican. I just wanted to be different. I don't know. At that time, and I'm still a republican and I support republican party. I support all the republican candidates. I'm a party man as much as anything else. But I've personally never been interested in politics because my father was elected to an office when he was twenty-one years old and it was a sideline with him. He had so many other interests. But he held it for sixty consecutive years. Elected office every two years for sixty consecutive years.
EP: Is that right?
HJ: 'Til he died in office. He was eighty odd. But, he was also had an advantage he owned all the newspapers in that end of the country. He was a banker and an industrialist and ( ). He had it made on that score. But, but the political office was called master and equity. That's why and being the only, editor-in-chief of several weekly newspapers and all. ( ). He knew what the heck was always going on. I mean that's why he unloaded everything ninety days before the stock market crashed in 29. He had already written articles and made trips to Florida and made trips to Europe and he wrote syndicated articles for the New York Times on the financial situations in Germany and France and Italy and England and all during the 20's. And he just, he just, and I say he unloaded it for gold. He didn't, he wouldn't even take a twenty dollar federal, yellow back federal back, bank note.
EP: How much gold would you say he had?
HJ: I don't have no idea. It was what the value was and anything else like that. But cause some, his Myrtle Beach property is the one thing I remember because I drove him down there, and we stayed for several days. And I was bored to death moping around down there, and we went well armed all that time anyway. Everybody carried guns back in those days. Ordinary equipment like, like your express card and everything, don't leave home without it. [laughter] Born and raised with a gun in my hand. But I had seven years of military training before and was a second lieutenant in the 17th field artillery at Ft. Bragg when I was 18 years old long before I went to the military college and all. And I but I, during the war I kept trying to get into the army but every time I went to the draft board they say "You go home. We, we'll let you know when you're wanted." And I didn't know that I had been put on what you call essential industry. Although I held military, reserve military rank before, long before the war broke out.
EP: Um-hum.
HJ: And could fly an airplane when I was fourteen years old.
EP: Do you remember Pearl Harbor?
HJ: Oh, yeah. Everybody remembers that. On one Sunday afternoon just out of normal th--, I wasn't not hindsight at all. I wasn't that surprised. I, I was what I was surprised at was that they didn't it us before they did. But I didn't know the time of day or anything else but it wasn't unexpected as far as I'm concerned.
EP: What were you doing when you heard about that?
HJ: We were home on a Sunday afternoon. And this, actually a nephew of mine had gotten married the day before and came by. The town was full of soldiers, Charlotte at Camp Sutton, Fort Bragg and all these other camps around. Around the weekends you couldn't get motels, well they didn't have motels. You couldn't get hotel rooms or nothing else like that. Even people would take soldier boys in during the weekends off they would get leave and let them take bath and give them a place, a square meal and a place to sleep or something like that. That's all they wanted. ( ) Go back to camp. Anyway, this boy as I said it Pearl Harbor day. It was a funny thing I remarked to him years later. That he, he got married December 6th, and came by our house to spend the night because on his honeymoon. Of course my wife and I gave him the best room in house and all this and that and the other. And everything they got up the next day morning and had a lunch, an early dinner or something and took on off for the mountains going on their honeymoon. Well, I accused him for years later of, of being on his honeymoon for about a couple of weeks before he ever knew the war was on. [laughter] I've got copies of the Charlotte News the special edition that came out and all like that. I had them plasticized to keep for the grandchildren.
EP: What were some of the company's you were involved with? Did the company's that you say was the Dixie?
HJ: Well, the original one was one from Charlotte. Of course, McCullough was in the printing business and newspaper business and had nationwide distribution long before I ever came to Charlotte out of South Carolina. South Carolina plant had was so modern and up to date and so far advanced ahead of everything else in the South that the bulk of our business came out of New York and Chicago and places like that to the South Carolina country town printer. Well, it was more than that. That was what everybody around thought. But it was a South Carolina country town printer but it had sales offices in most all the principal cities and still does. And sells most of the other printers. That's how advanced my father's thinking, his equipment and printing and all like that. He was so far ahead everything on that. Ended the deal and I and my brothers followed him along the same steps. We all went into the printing and graphic arts fields of different things. None of us, we still own the newspapers in the family and all like that, but we, we hire ( ) we have our outside editors since dad died. Matter of fact, on the occasion of his 100th birthday a few years ago, we went to a ceremony at the University of South Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame. And he was elected to the Hall of Fame and his portrait was put in there as the most outstanding newspaper editor in the last 100 years of South Carolina history.
EP: Who was that?
HJ: My father.
EP: What, what was his name?
HJ: A. B. Jordan, Sr.
EP: A-B. What did that stand for?
HJ: Aurther Buste whatever that's worth. ( ). Our family has a habit there's an A. B. 4th that's running everything now. A.B. III, A. B. Jr, my oldest brother died about a month or more ago at seventy-seven years old. But, not, not unexpected. ( ) But everybody in our family has a Jr. and a, and a II and a III. I have a Harvie. I use the word Senior and I have a Junior here in town and another, a grandson, Harvie III. He goes to St. Andrews College at Laurinburg. Just to keep things straight. My other brother's have George Jr., George, Sr. and George, III. I don't know whether there's a fourth or not. Then there's John Jr.--, John Sr., John Jr., John III. [laughter] We believe in ( ).
EP: Are you connected in any way to the Jordan business form company is that?
HJ: No, we sold that. That, I started that as a hobby some twenty odd years ago after retiring from thirty years. Voluntarily retiring. I retired one time when I was thirty-seven years old and retired again when I was about forty-eight and retired again when I was about fifty-eight, fifty-eight well I really retired when I was about sixty-two. And, but I had sold out all interest and everything.
EP: That Jordan Business Forms is from your name?
HJ: That was just a left handed hobby.
EP: But it is from your name?
HJ: Well, yeah, I guess I'm responsible for it. But I had been manufacturing business forms for years and years and years by the what's called by the way of a rotary process. Radical ideas behind the manufacturing paper tags and tickets those that you run from a set of sheet to sheet like most printers still do. It's an archaic way of doing things. Most all your business forms are ( ) and anything else like that, computer forms, are done from rolls and high speed machines that move where on average the sheet to sheet presses used to run five maybe 10,000 impressions an hour, well, back even thirty and forty years ago when I was instrumental in bringing that type of rotary web-fed equipment to this area, I was called a radical and a nut and this and that and the other. But I kept putting it in and kept expanding all the time. But everything ran from rolls back into sheets. Because all the papers come from off the mill machine in a roll anyway. So you got a reduction in cost there. It's basic I mean you hire a production. Your, your web-fed machines will run say 100,000 units an hour against 5 or 6000 for rotary presses. They run in multicolors. This machines now run ten colors ( ) five different colors of ink on each side and move so fast you can't even see your paper.
EP: Um-hum.
HJ: I mean stuff like this. I just pioneered a lot of that stuff in this area. I didn't invent anything--.
EP: You brought the techniques in.
HJ: I brought it out of Pennsylvania and New York and to them I still wasn't anything but a South Carolina country boy. They said, "You're nuts trying to get into, break into it. We've been in it fifty years or sixty years. And we've monopolized. ( )" I know a way to split into a business you've never heard of.
EP: I've enjoyed talking to you. It was very fascinating.
HJ: I'm retired. Don't do anything but artwork.