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Jim Thompson – And His Legacy Of Thai Silk

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Jim Thompson – And His Legacy Of Thai Silk

Jim Thompson, (1906 – 1967) an American and an architect by profession, first came to Bangkok as a member of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA) in September 1945, just as World War II ended.

Jim Thompson – And His Legacy Of Thai Silk

Author: Bangkok Travelbug
Category: Travel & Leisure | Destinations
Keyword: Jim Thompson, Thompson, Thai silk, Jim Thompson House, Jim Thompson outlets in Bangkok,
Source: articledashboard.com
Post Data: 01/09/2008 00:00:00
Word: 844

Jim Thompson, (1906 – 1967) an American and an architect by profession, first came to Bangkok as a member of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA) in September 1945, just as World War II ended.

It was originally planned for Thompson to parachute into Thailand to link up with the Seri Thai or Free Thai underground. But the abrupt end of the war gave him the luxury of landing in Bangkok Airport.

He was briefly the OSS station chief in Bangkok and reestablished the US Embassy after which he returned home for his military discharge. In 1946, Jim Thompson returned to Bangkok. This was to be the start of an adventure that was to leave a legacy in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand.

There was another American OSS officer, a Naval Lieutenant, who was to parachute in with Thompson. His name was Alexander MacDonald. Like Thompson, MacDonald returned to Thailand after his military service. Being a journalist by professional before the war, MacDonald started the Bangkok Post, the leading English daily in Thailand.

Thompson’s connection to Thailand went back a long way. His maternal grandfather, General James Harrison Wilson met the Crown Prince Vajiravudh (who later became Rama VI) in England during the wedding of King George V. When Crown Prince Vajiravudh visited the USA, he requested for General Wilson be his guide.

As a child, Jim was exposed to the old photographs and stories of his grandfather hosting a garden party for the Crown Prince Vajiravudh. That was his first exposure to faraway Thailand.

On his return to Bangkok, Thompson was briefly involved in the reorganisation of the legendary Oriental Hotel. Later, he took an interest in the ailing Thai silk industry which was largely a small-scale cottage industry.

He toured the silk producing regions extensively to learn about the source of the raw silk, studied the silk weaving process, the finished products and examined the prevailing state of the industry.

In 1947, the Thai silk industry was in the doldrums. Over the last 40 years, it was battered by the competition from the textiles mills of the developed West, the economic depression and later, World War II. Most of the weavers had given up on the trade and switched to other means of living.

Thompson persevered and finally found a Muslim community of weavers living in the village of Ban Krue by the Saan Saab Canal. This discovery had two fortunate consequents. Firstly, it helped revived Thai silk weaving. Secondly, through his frequent visits to Ban Krue, he noticed a piece of land across the canal from the village. This was to be the birth of another brilliant idea, as we shall see later.

Thompson managed to persuade some of these weavers to start weaving some samples for him. In 1947, he brought the completed samples to America and convinced Vogue the fashion magazine to publish an article, which took the fashion world by storm.

Subsequently, the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company was started in 1948 and the weaving of Thai silk commenced in earnest. In time the outlets expanded and today there are Thai silk outlets in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pataya, Phuket and Samui.

Internationally, Thai silk is available in every continent in the world. There are outlets in Athens, Auckland, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Manila, Santiago, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Zurich and the list goes on. Soon the name Jim Thompson became a household word for Thai silk and fashion.

For his untiring efforts in reviving the Thai silk industry, Jim Thompson was awarded the Order of the White Elephant, an award to foreigners for exceptional service to Thailand.

Inspired by the scenic beauty of the land across the canal in Ban Krue, Thompson developed the idea of building a traditional Thai house on that land by the canal. He had such houses from various parts of Thailand brought to Bangkok and reassembled into a showpiece in traditional Thai architecture. As soon as he moved in, the Jim Thompson House quickly became a center of social activity for the gregarious American from Delaware.

In 1967, Thompson went for a holiday in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. While he was out on a jungle walk, he vanished without a trace and all efforts to find him were in vain. His disappearance remained an unsolved mystery to this day.

In the aftermath of his disappearance, many theories were advanced to explain the circumstances of his disappearance. His former connections with the OSS fueled further speculation in conspiracies. Some were sensational enough to claim to have
solved the mystery of his disappearance. It would be fruitless to dwell on such theories without any verification.

What we can be sure of is that Jim Thompson left behind a legacy in the Thai silk industry with the numerous silk outlets in Thailand and the world. The Jim Thompson House still stands today in memory of his efforts to preserve Thai architecture and art.

The Jim H W Thompson Foundation set up after his disappearance is dedicated to the preservation of Thai artistic and cultural legacies.

It was originally planned for Thompson to parachute into Thailand to link up with the Seri Thai or Free Thai underground. But the abrupt end of the war gave him the luxury of landing in Bangkok Airport.

He was briefly the OSS station chief in Bangkok and reestablished the US Embassy after which he returned home for his military discharge. In 1946, Jim Thompson returned to Bangkok. This was to be the start of an adventure that was to leave a legacy in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand.

There was another American OSS officer, a Naval Lieutenant, who was to parachute in with Thompson. His name was Alexander MacDonald. Like Thompson, MacDonald returned to Thailand after his military service. Being a journalist by professional before the war, MacDonald started the Bangkok Post, the leading English daily in Thailand.

Thompson’s connection to Thailand went back a long way. His maternal grandfather, General James Harrison Wilson met the Crown Prince Vajiravudh (who later became Rama VI) in England during the wedding of King George V. When Crown Prince Vajiravudh visited the USA, he requested for General Wilson be his guide.

As a child, Jim was exposed to the old photographs and stories of his grandfather hosting a garden party for the Crown Prince Vajiravudh. That was his first exposure to faraway Thailand.

On his return to Bangkok, Thompson was briefly involved in the reorganisation of the legendary Oriental Hotel. Later, he took an interest in the ailing Thai silk industry which was largely a small-scale cottage industry.

He toured the silk producing regions extensively to learn about the source of the raw silk, studied the silk weaving process, the finished products and examined the prevailing state of the industry.

In 1947, the Thai silk industry was in the doldrums. Over the last 40 years, it was battered by the competition from the textiles mills of the developed West, the economic depression and later, World War II. Most of the weavers had given up on the trade and switched to other means of living.

Thompson persevered and finally found a Muslim community of weavers living in the village of Ban Krue by the Saan Saab Canal. This discovery had two fortunate consequents. Firstly, it helped revived Thai silk weaving. Secondly, through his frequent visits to Ban Krue, he noticed a piece of land across the canal from the village. This was to be the birth of another brilliant idea, as we shall see later.

Thompson managed to persuade some of these weavers to start weaving some samples for him. In 1947, he brought the completed samples to America and convinced Vogue the fashion magazine to publish an article, which took the fashion world by storm.

Subsequently, the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company was started in 1948 and the weaving of Thai silk commenced in earnest. In time the outlets expanded and today there are Thai silk outlets in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pataya, Phuket and Samui.

Internationally, Thai silk is available in every continent in the world. There are outlets in Athens, Auckland, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Manila, Santiago, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Zurich and the list goes on. Soon the name Jim Thompson became a household word for Thai silk and fashion.

For his untiring efforts in reviving the Thai silk industry, Jim Thompson was awarded the Order of the White Elephant, an award to foreigners for exceptional service to Thailand.

Inspired by the scenic beauty of the land across the canal in Ban Krue, Thompson developed the idea of building a traditional Thai house on that land by the canal. He had such houses from various parts of Thailand brought to Bangkok and reassembled into a showpiece in traditional Thai architecture. As soon as he moved in, the Jim Thompson House quickly became a center of social activity for the gregarious American from Delaware.

In 1967, Thompson went for a holiday in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. While he was out on a jungle walk, he vanished without a trace and all efforts to find him were in vain. His disappearance remained an unsolved mystery to this day.

In the aftermath of his disappearance, many theories were advanced to explain the circumstances of his disappearance. His former connections with the OSS fueled further speculation in conspiracies. Some were sensational enough to claim to have
solved the mystery of his disappearance. It would be fruitless to dwell on such theories without any verification.

What we can be sure of is that Jim Thompson left behind a legacy in the Thai silk industry with the numerous silk outlets in Thailand and the world. The Jim Thompson House still stands today in memory of his efforts to preserve Thai architecture and art.

The Jim H W Thompson Foundation set up after his disappearance is dedicated to the preservation of Thai artistic and cultural legacies.

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