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Texan has witnessed cotton tech revolution

From 1940 through the 1960s, the U. S. cotton business changed from an industry dependent on manual labor to highly technical, mechanized manufacturing. Mechanical pickers and cotton wagons replaced hand labor with cotton sheets and scales set up on the edge of fields, and gin capacity exploded as technology replaced outdated, labor-intensive equipment.

Cliff Granberry, 85, of Dallas, played a role in that latter-day industrial revolution, bringing technology into cotton gins.

“He spent a career taking technology from other industries into the cotton business, primarily ginning,” says Granberry's son Jim, who now runs the Cotton Gin Supply Company, a business his father started in 1959.

“He listened to gin owners to discover what they needed, and he looked for solutions. He was close friends with five or six of the top ginners in the country, and they would try out his ideas and then others would buy it.”

Granberry began his career with Lummus Cotton Gin Company in 1939 and worked for the company until he went out on his own in 1959.

“When I worked for Lummus, they wanted me to set up an office in Fresno, Calif.,” Cliff Granberry says. “We agreed that I would stay for three years and give six-month notice before I left. I gave notice after two-and-a-half years and we came back to Texas when the three years were up.”

He says California was not an awful place to live but it wasn't Texas.

“I missed Dallas,” he said. “I moved here in 1937 and married my hometown sweetheart.”

He started his business as cotton ginning capacity was expanding.

“The period from the 1940s through the 1960s was the best era for cotton,” he said. “The industry was growing; gin capacity was expanding with new machinery and increased by 70 percent. Cotton changed from a labor-intensive industry to a mechanized one.”

He said cotton pickers and trailers and automatic feed equipment at gins revolutionized the industry.

“The textile industry was booming,” he said. “Gin capacity increased from about 3,000 bales to 18,000 to 25,000 bales through improved technology. I doubt that we will return to that kind of expansion again. We have too much competition. We've seen a lot of changes.”

He wanted to be his own boss, so he started his own company.

“I wanted to be independent, an entrepreneur in a related business,” he said. “Getting started was not that hard and I never looked back. I covered the entire Cotton Belt, often leaving on Monday morning and not returning until Saturday night. Cotton people from California to the Carolinas knew us and welcomed us into their gins.”

He began with three or four employees but later “had an office in Phoenix where we had as many as 60 employees.”

His son, Rod, now runs that company, Granberry Supply Corporation, with offices in Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Las Vegas, Reno and California. “Gin products are no more than 3 percent of that business, now,” Granberry said.

The Granberry Gin Supply Company marketed elevated seed houses and moisture monitoring equipment, among other products. And he said he was active during the “heyday of the cotton industry.”

Contacts he made while he worked for Lummus helped get him started, but he says trade shows provided opportunities to meet cotton industry leaders who were progressive and willing to try new technology.

“The year I started the Cotton Gin Supply Company I exhibited at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, and we haven't missed a year since,” Granberry says.

He retired from the gin product supply business in 1975 and turned it over to Jim, but he stays active with a real estate investment company. Jim, whose main business also is commercial real estate investment, continues to make the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis an important part of his marketing program each year.

“He'll be there again this year,” Granberry says.

For the Gin Company Supply business, the gin show is still THE place to be. “The contacts we made and continue to make there are crucial for our business. When we first started, we displayed our products and everyone got to know us. Everyone in the cotton industry came to Memphis.”

Granberry may be retired from the gin supply business, but he hasn't slowed down.

“In 1969 I started investing in commercial revenue-producing real estate,” he says. “In 1977, we moved to Granbury, Texas, and built two shopping centers. We moved back to Dallas in 1997.”

A Texas native, Granberry grew up in Celeste and he and his wife, Mary Helen, have always found their way back to Texas.

He stays busy with his investment company and his three children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. “We've been extremely fortunate,” he said.

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