The Families Behind the Names of Winston-Salem

Learning the history of my hometown has always been fascinating to me. Winston-Salem is a city with a longstanding history and familiar historic family names. When you hear the names RJ Reynolds, Hanes, and Bowman Gray, certain businesses and legacies pop into your mind. You connect the Reynolds name with tobacco, Bowman Gray with racing, and Hanes with clothing. While driving through the Old Salem graveyard around Easter time, I started to wonder who were the families behind the names I saw on the prominent stones. Do you know the stories behind these connections and how these names appeared in the Camel City? Let’s take a look together at the history of the famous Winston-Salem families.

The Reynolds Family

While 1906 to 1924 may be known as the “Reynolds Era” to many, Richard Joshua Reynolds actually started in the tobacco industry in 1875. Reynolds’ small tobacco factory grew and was incorporated as The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1888, paving the way for industrialization in the south. In 1905, Reynolds married Katharine Smith, who had previously worked as his private secretary. Once married, they moved into a house on West Fifth Street in Winston and had four children, Dick, Mary, Nancy, and Smith. Katharine became a partner to R.J. in many ways, not just as his wife. She gave him advice on business matters, as well as private matters. The creation of the Reynolda House came from Katharine’s efforts and determination. After R.J. purchased the land, 1,067 acres to be exact, Katharine took on the task of building a self-sufficient country estate. Her ideas came from the American Country House movement. Katharine hired an architect and landscape engineers to design a large-scale bungalow, village, and farm. Today, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company are just two of the legacies honoring the family’s wealth, name, and contributions to Winston-Salem. In fact, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is the second-largest tobacco company in the United States.

The Gray Family

The Gray family’s name is also connected to the Reynolds family. Bowman Gray, Sr was a former president and chairman of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and a major benefactor of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Bowman Gray, Sr was the son of James Gray, one of the founders of Wachovia Bank, and had two sons, Bowman Gray, Jr and Gordon Gray. His sons both turned into philanthropists and built upon the Gray family legacy. Bowman Gray, Jr was a tobacco executive who started as a salesman at R.J. Reynolds when his father was president. During his time at the company, he was promoted to many different positions, eventually becoming the president of the company from 1957 to 1959 and then chairman of the board and chief executive officer. Under his leadership, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company grew, contributed to cancer research, and expanded employee benefits. Bowman Gray, Jr gave back to numerous nonprofits during his life and was involved with many fundraising projects, cementing his and his family’s name into Winston-Salem history.

The Hanes Family

Born in Davie County, John Wesley Hanes is one of the main patriarchs of the Hanes family. In 1738, Philip Hohns (Hanes is the phonetic spelling) and his son Marcus first arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany. About 10 years later, Marcus and his wife joined the Moravian church in Lancaster, PA. In 1774, Marcus, his wife, and their 10 children moved to Friedberg, an area near the Moravian settlement of Salem in North Carolina. Over a hundred years later and after the Civil War, Marcus’ great, great grandson, John Wesley Hanes, joined forces with his brother, Pleasant Henderson Hanes, as well as a friend, and created P.H. Hanes and Company. The company’s purpose was to manufacture and establish a wagon trade in tobacco. The idea proved to be successful and they partnered with Dulin and Booe in Mocksville. The company eventually sold their business to James B. Duke’s American Tobacco Company trust through R.J. Reynolds. Once out of the world of tobacco, John Wesley Hanes and Pleasant Henderson Hanes went into knitwear. Pleasant and his sons established P.H. Hanes Knitting Company and John Wesley formed the Shamrock Hosiery Mill. In 1914, the company became known as Hanes Hosiery Mill and was the world’s largest producer of women’s seamless nylon hosiery. To date, the Hanes brands are still the world’s largest apparel brand.

When looking at three of the most well-known families of Winston-Salem, one can’t help but think they all have one thing in common – a connection to R.J. Reynolds. Our city’s history is filled with many more famous families, however, the names Bowman Gray, Reynolds, and Hanes will always ring a bell with people throughout the world.


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