Filed Under Mills

Berkshire Hathaway (Partially demolished)

Warren Buffet’s empire started with a fit of pique. In 1964, Buffet acquired shares in a failing New Bedford textile mill known as Berkshire Hathaway. His intent was to sell the shares back to the owners and make a tidy profit. His good business sense did not fail him. The owners of the mill, the Stanton family, agreed to buy back the shares from Buffet at $11.50 a share (Buffet had paid $7.50). However, when the Stantons sent Buffet a formal offer, they attempted to undersell him to $11.37½ per share. This was a miniscule amount, but Buffet responded angrily by acquiring enough shares to seize ownership from the Stantons. By 1965, he controlled Berkshire Hathaway, and its cash and assets became the foundation of his investment empire. 

Berkshire and Hathaway began as separate textile enterprises. Berkshire was based in Adams, Massachusetts, and Hathaway in New Bedford. In 1912, The Plunkett family controlled Berkshire, with its 130,000 spindles and 6,500 looms. The Hathaway family still presided over their textile concern of 108,000 spindles and 3,400 looms, but Seabury Stanton ran the company. Both companies survived the Great Depression, and in 1955 decided to merge, though which company initiated the merger seems to be a matter of dispute.

Buffet’s investments, funded by Berkshire Hathaway’s assets, thrived and grew into a multinational conglomerate that still carries the name of his original purchase. However, the textile mills became the victims of a fading industry, and Buffet closed them in 1985. He later told the Wall Street Journal that "One of the dumbest things was to make a textile company the base of other things we bought or invested in."

Although Buffet retained the name Berkshire Hathaway for his conglomerate, he seems to have little emotional attachment to the place where it began. In 2014, Jon Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford, attempted to stall the demolition of part of the Berkshire Hathaway mills and to interest Buffet or another investor in restoring the buildings. He failed, with Buffett saying, "I don't know what you'd do with that place."  Part of the mill complex was destroyed in favor of a parking lot. The rest of Berkshire Hathaway could soon face a similar fate.

Video

Video: Cotton Textile Manufacture, Hathaway Mill, ca. 1950 Cotton textile manufacture as it waned in the 1950's in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was captured through the lens of Norman Fortier, a remarkable photographer, artist and chronicler of life in Southeastern Massachusetts during the mid 20th century. Here is a glimpse of his work in the city's Hathaway Mill. Shown here are only a few of the thousands of his photographs now in the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Source:
Whaling Museum. Cotton Textile Manufacturing in New Bedford, 1950s, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4eyIinakuA.
Creator: Norman Fortier

Images

Boy outside the Hathaway Mill offices, 1912 Lewis Hine photographed 14 year-old Lewis Grace, who lived at 68 Acushnet Avenue, not far from the mill. Although Berkshire Hathaway has been demolished, Lewis' tenement still stands. Source: Hine, Lewis Wickes. Lewis Grace, 68 Acushnet Ave. Probably 14. Works in Drawing-in Room. Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts. 1911, //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ncl2004002986/PP/. Date: 1912
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of New Bedford, 1906 (detail) From this large complex depicted in the 1906 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map only the three spinning mills remain. Source:
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts.” Image. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn03803_003/.
Date: 1906
Berkshire Hathaway Clock Tower Berkshire Hathaway’s clock tower rises above Cove Street in this 1975 photograph. Source:
Plowden, David. New Bedford, Massachusetts. Made 1975. Gelatin silver print, 26.6 × 28.6 cm (image); 27.9 × 35.2 cm (paper). https://www.artic.edu/artworks/125899/new-bedford-massachusetts.
Date: 1975

Location

1 Harbor St New Bedford, MA 02744

Metadata

Lena Bohman, “Berkshire Hathaway (Partially demolished),” Rhode Tour, accessed December 2, 2022, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/74.