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Carolina Stories weekly series highlights the rich cultural and historical landscape that is South Carolina. From the Upstate to the Lowcountry, the stories are as geographically diverse as their subject matter and they are all produced by ETV's production teams.

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Carolina Stories

Miss Springmaid

You’re a war hero, a flying ace in World War One, with a record number of enemy kills…

You’re a literary genius of the Jazz Age, alongside the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe…

You inherit several rundown cotton mills in the South Carolina Piedmont in 1931, which you incorporate and nurse back to health during the Great Depression… and to prosperity during the Second World War…

What do you do for an encore?

Colonel Elliot White Springs was just getting started.  In the  vibrant post-war economy, Springs Mills would manufacture  finished goods—primarily sheets and pillow cases—and sell them from its New York office. He just needed a way to draw national attention to his product. The Colonel found it… in spades.  The advertising campaign he dreamed up resonated with the popular culture and is still the textbook example for how to establish a successful brand.  Sales for “Springmaid” sheets blossomed and continued to increase every year until the year of Col. Springs’ death. 

In these historic magazine advertisements, Springs used sex to grab the reader’s attention and wrote clever copy in which he ridiculed the staid advertising traditions of his day.  At first he purchased artwork that had already appeared in print and adapted it to his purposes; later, he commissioned popular artists of the day to create images based on his vivid imagination and comic wit. 

Not everyone liked the Springmaid ads.  Letters poured in by the thousands saying they were a “threat to the sanctity of womanhood,” “crude, vulgar, and obscene,” doing “more harm than good.”  But other viewers of the ads, among them many women, looked forward eagerly to their next issue of Collier’s, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, etc. to check out the latest offering from the Colonel.

Some magazines refused to run the Springmaid advertisements.  And the Colonel was considered a pariah on Madison Avenue.  But Springs delighted in all the controversy, because in the final analysis, everyone was talking about his product!  

There’s really no way to know what effect the ads had on the business.  Profits may have gone up anyway, because of the efficiency of the mills and the economic boom.  Some think that Col. Springs may have been just amusing himself with the campaign, and he secretly thought advertising had very little effect on the market.

But look where advertising has progressed since then—from Noxzema to Maidenform to English Leather to “Virginia is for Lovers”…  The majority view seems to be that sex can sell anything! 

And it all came from the mind of a South Carolina native, Elliott White Springs… and the vision he dreamed up, “Miss Springmaid.”  Take a look, and see what you think!

Produced, directed, written and edited by Steve Folks. Narrated by Rick Sebak.



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