THE BLOCK SHIRT FACTORY was once a manufacturing giant with a global reach. The Wilmington-based
business near Greenfield Lake employed hundreds of workers who made quality garments sold in stores like Belk,
Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Gimbel’s, The Broadway, and Hudson’s.
Nathan Block — son of William Block, a Latvian Jew who immigrated to Baltimore at the age of 13 — founded
the factory in 1923. William was a partner in a company making undergarments in Baltimore, and sent Nathan to
Wilmington to open a second location based on the recommendation of a salesman who touted the city because of its
beauty and the presence of two cotton mills. Nathan arrived with 25 used sewing machines.
By 1937, the Block family’s Southland Manufacturing Corporation was the largest shirt company in the South,
making 24,000 garments a week that were sold in 1,500 retail outlets in the United States, the West Indies and Canada.
It employed 350 workers and 14 traveling salesmen. No joke. The shirts were made locally by locals — 98 percent of
the employees were Wilmington residents, the Wilmington Morning Star reported in February 1937.
An original factory floor, wall and a warehouse entryway remind South Front II residents of the building’s origins. A wire
mural by Wilmington artist Michael Van Hout depicts the history of the Block Shirt Factory. Inset: Nesbitt Courts.