In 1860, Leskovac was the second largest town after Belgrade in the territory of what is nowadays Serbia. Hemp, konoplja in Serbian, traditionally grows very well in this region. In the 19th century, the town of Leskovac was famous across the Balkans for its workshops which turned hemp into rope. In the 1870s, there were thousands of hemp-processors in Leskovac, producing 150,000 cartloads per year.
In 1878, the Leskovac region passed from the Ottoman Empire to Serbia. This cut it off from much of the trade to the Ottoman Balkans. The City History Museum relates what happened next: crafty Leskovac entrepreneurs stole machinery for the production of lace from Bulgaria. This was the beginning of its textile industry.
Soon there were three watermill-driven lace producers in the region. In 1896, the founders of these companies pooled their resources and bought factory equipment for the production of woollen cloth from Germany. This was the first factory on the outskirts of Leskovac town. In 1903, a factory for hemp processing was built on the riverbank north of the old town centre. In 1922, the Teokarevic family opened a wool cloth factory in the small town of Vucje near Leskovac. By 1938, the private textile factories of Leskovac town employed 2,560 workers.1
The early days of communist rule in Leskovac destroyed the capitalist middle class.2 The trading elite of the town had its assets expropriated, while people's courts tried and executed many entrepreneurs. As one local author noted in a recent book on his youth in Leskovac:
"Old Leskovac is gone. Was it destroyed by the enemy? No, by the allies and the communists! […] The peasants were backward, illiterate, uneducated. The towndwellers were dressed in coats, moneylenders, bloodsuckers […] The men from Pusta Reka, from Jablanica, from Porecje […] destroyed the "bourgeosie" (for them the bourgoisie was the trader, the coffeehouse owner, the industrialist, the shopkeeper, the intellectual). They destroyed the middle class and took their place."3
1 Milivoje Perovic, Leskovac, trgovacki i industriski grad – ekonomska monografija, Leskovac 1954, page 38.