J. L. Stifel & Sons, founded in Wheeling by German immigrant Johann Ludwig Stifel in 1835, was an important calico printing operation and one of West Virginia’s longest-lived businesses, operated by four generations of the family until its closing in December 1957. For most of its history Stifel & Sons produced indigo-dyed prints and drills for clothing manufacturers. The company took as its trademark a boot (the literal meaning of the German word ‘‘stiefel’’), and the Stifel boot was found on products sold throughout the world. At its peak, the plant in North Wheeling produced 3.5 million yards of cloth per month. The company helped introduce the process of Sanforizing (a method to prevent shrinkage) to the textile industry.
During World War II, Stifel & Sons earned the coveted Army-Navy Production Award (the ‘‘E’’ Award) for its role in making fatigue and battle dress for the armed forces. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Edward E. Stifel, the grandson of Johann Ludwig, spearheaded a movement to build the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, which opened on November 1, 1946.
By the mid-1950s, foreign competition and a domestic recession drove Stifel into the red. The company merged with Indian Head Mills, but the merger could not forestall the closing of the plant on December 17, 1957. Company President W. Flaccus Stifel wrote: ‘‘The dyeing, printing, and finishing of cotton goods just could not be done economically and competitively under present conditions.’’
Written by David T. Javersak
Javersak, David T. Stifel: An Historical Perspective of the Stifel Family in Wheeling. Wheeling: J. L. Stifel & Sons, 1988.