History

Pictured left to right: Jimbo Thornton, Rosalind Gilbert, and Clay Gilbert

In 1939, as our nation struggled to pull itself from the Great Depression, three men in Athens started a small paper distributorship, and began a tradition of excellence that continues to grow.

Mr. Frank C. Thornton, and sons Charles and James, began selling and delivering paper bags, rolled Kraft and butcher paper, and various sundry items primarily to local grocery stores.

Thornton Brothers Paper Co. steadily grew from these humble beginnings into the premier distributor of paper goods, janitorial supplies and industrial packaging for Northeast and Central Georgia and the Western Carolinas. The company's success is a result of solid relationships with its customers, built on trust and dependable service.

In the beginning, the brothers built these relationships. James spent most of his time calling on customers while Charles managed the office, as well as establishing a route in the mountains of North Georgia and Western North Carolina.

In the mid-1940's, the company established its first sales force because of increased volume of business. Mr. Ben Eubank was Thornton Brothers' first commissioned sales representative. The sales force expanded quickly in the late 40's and early 50's with the arrival of J. Lewis Smith, Lamar Downs, and A.P. Dickens, all of whom spent the remainder of their careers with Thornton Brothers.

A key to the success of Thornton Brothers was its adaptability. The company grew as its product line expanded to meet the changing needs of its clientele. The company sold tissue and towels during the war years (1941-45) when these items were scarce. Demand grew rapidly for these products, which remain staple items for Thornton Brothers today. In the late 50's janitorial supplies were added and quickly became one of our fastest growing product lines.

The late 50's also brought James (Jimbo) Thornton, Jr. to work in the family business, still under the direction of his father and uncle. Jimbo learned the business from the ground up for three years. He unloaded boxcars, loaded delivery trucks, delivered merchandise and waited on customers while learning all aspects of the business. In 1961, Jimbo became a salesman. Upon the death of his father in 1975, Jimbo moved into the office to run the business with "Mr. Charles."

The mid-60's brought two major changes to Thornton Brothers. In 1964, Thornton Brothers expanded its warehouse, moving from its original Foundry Street address (where the Classic Center parking deck is today) to Fulton Street in downtown Athens. Around the same time, Al Chambers came to Thornton Brothers to apprentice and eventually became General Manager until his retirement in 1995.

Beginning in 1969 and continuing through the 1970s, the company added five major players to the sales force. Two of these men, Lamar Duncan and J. A. Peck, are still with Thornton Brothers, giving the company invaluable experience and expertise.

The company faced a changing of the guard in the late 80's with the passing of "Mr. Charles," the last of the company's founders. Fortunately, Jimbo Thornton stood ready to assume the reins as President. He, with able assistance from Mr. Chambers, provided the necessary leadership to steer the company through this period and lead it dynamically into the nineties.

July of 1995 marked the beginning of a new era for Thornton Brothers. Jimbo Thornton's son-in-law, Clay Gilbert, joined the team as the new General Manager. In 2003, he became president of Thornton Brothers and the company moved to a modern new facility on Olympic Place, convenient to both its existing customers and the transportation network that allows its trucks to serve destinations across the region. Clay brought a fresh perspective to a company steeped in rich tradition. This blend of innovation and old-fashioned values has proven to be a powerful combination as Thornton Brothers sales continue to set records into the 21st Century.

For more than 70 years, the leaders of Thornton Brothers have taught another important lesson: that business success can also offer a platform to serve the community. Most recently, this philosophy has manifested itself in the service orientation of the company's employees, many of whom serve on community boards and lead other community activities. Each year, a minimum of 10 percent of the company's profits are given to charity, and the company is a frequent donor to community organizations in need. Visit our Community Involvement page for more information.

Thornton Brothers has been committed to adapting to the needs of a constantly changing market and delivering reliable products and services since 1939. Times and products may change, but our dedication to our customers is unwavering.

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