Except for perhaps the Singer sewing machine company, few products have maintained their brand in the sewing industry as long as the Coats and Clark thread company. We can thank Napoleon for his blockade of England from European trade 1806 to 1812 which inspired the Coats and the Clark families to seek out alternatives to the silk trade with the east for fabric and supplies.
James and Patrick Clark ingeniously turned to the new world in the west to see what could be done with cotton. Their mill spun cotton thread from the imported bales, solving the dilemma. Having seen the success the Clarks had in selling their thread, other mills in the Paisley, Scotland area tried their hand at it. Peter and James Coats were very successful in their efforts. The thread was sold in skeins like embroidery thread today, but the Clarks later wound it onto a wooden spool (which could be recycled for a small fee).
All thread was for hand sewing before 1860. As sewing machines were introduced, thread needed a different twist and finish to survive the machinations of mechanical sewing. The Clarks, once again were the first innovators here. George developed a 6 cord twist which unlike hand sewing thread, had a soft flexible finish which would feed through the machines well. Have you ever seen ONT on antique thread spools? ONT stood for Our New Thread.
It revolutionized the industry and remained the penultimate in the industry until the turn of the century. By then many American companies were fully entrenched into the business of making thread and British and Scottish companies had a firm foothold in the United States as well as at home. Merger after merger ensued. The Spool Cotton Agency oversaw both the Clark and Coats brands by 1896 and they combined in 1931 to elect John B. Clark as their single president. However, the two companies never actually merged into one until 1952 to become Coats and Clarks Inc. 1961 saw another merger that for all intents and purposes eliminated the Clark name. The yarn company Paton and Baldwins merged with Coats and Clarks and became Coats Paton. 1986 another merger between Vantona Viyella and Coats Paton created Coats Viyella. Once again in 2003, the British company, The Guinness Peat Group, created a public limited company out of Coats Viyella and today we see only the name Coats on a spool of thread.
We know the significance of thread – without thread – no clothes. But some other interesting facts are: Coats thread is in one in five garments in the world, one billion teabags are used each week with Coats thread, every 3 hours Coats makes enough thread to go to the moon and back, their thread is in over 450 million shoes a year as well as feminine hygiene products, surgical supplies, tires, fibre optics and energy cables. This is quite an impressive development as the result of seeking an innovative solution to what seemed like a hopeless situation at the time!