War's Impact: Changes -- Good and Bad:
"Duck Mill Raises Wages -- 1,500 operatives will benefit."
-- On Columbia Mill, Charleston News and Courier, May 9, 1917
The Palmetto State contributed land and men to the war effort and gained significant financial benefits. Farmers who had struggled almost since the Civil War began to show profits. Whereas the farm economy's annual average production (1912-16) was $121 million, it increased significantly to $446 million in 1918. Similarly, the textile industry benefited from the war years. In 1916, the value of production had been $168 million, but two years later it more than doubled to $326 million.
Unfortunately, the war-time boom proved temporary. As the war came to an end farmers began to confront a new menace to their major cash crop, cotton. An insect, the boll weevil, had slowly worked its way north from Texas, reaching the southern corner of the Palmetto State in late 1917. By the following winter, it had penetrated much further north into the state. This pest consumed most of the next several crops, significantly reducing the yields. Even though the shortage this caused helped keep the price high, 40 cents per pound at its peak during the war, by the mid-1920s the price had dropped to less than 5 cents per pound.
War production in the textile industry led to an oversupply soon after the Armistice. With peace returning to Europe, South Carolina fabrics were no longer needed. Mills across the state cut back production, reduced their work forces, and tried to increase the work load of those remaining by instituting "stretching outs." Each worker was usually assigned to complete twice as much work as he or she had done before the slow down.