I was thinking about the powered knitting machine that Emory mentioned in one of his 1917 telegrams to the Western Electric Company. This telegram is described in my posting titled Telegrams for August 1917 (click here). Out of curiosity I dug up a copy of the 1916 Western Electric Catalog. This catalog is huge, and has over 1500 pages of machinery, fittings, supplies, and just about anything you could wish for if you wanted to build a factory or manufacture appliances. They even had hair dryers and power tools that I wouldn’t have though existed back in 1916.
Starting on page 106 is the section on small A.C Motors. Now, these would be perfect to power a knitting machine. 60 cycle. Single Phase. 1/2 HP. The description reads:
The Western Electric Type KS single phase squirrel cage induction motor is expecially adapted for driving all geared or belted machinery requiring constant speed with a moderate starting torque. This motor is equipped with a clutch type armature. The motor can be mounted on the floor, wall or ceiling, and the bearing brackets are interchangeable.
Just as nice is the Sewing Machine Motor on page 587. The catalog description reads as follows:
This simple little wonder-worker changes any sewing machine, old or new, into an electric self-operated labor saver. It is mounted on a sewing machine and ready for work withoug removing any part of the mechanism of the sewing machine, except the belt, which may be readily slipped off. No matter what the make or style of your machine, or how old it is, the Western Electric Sewing Machine motor will relieve you of the treadmill grind of running it.
I’m sure that the Gearhart’s (Joseph, Emory, John, Leonard) had a copy of this same catalog. By 1917, they were in contact with the Western Electric company to manufacture a motor specifically designed to power the Gearhart Knitting Machine. It would probably have been close in design to either the Sewing Machine Motor or the Squirrel Cage Induction Motor. However, in August, 1917, Emory shut down development of the motor. The vast majority of purchasers of the Gearhart Knitting Machine lived on farms way out in the country. Electric power would have been a luxury to many of them, and the Electric Utility Industry was still getting off the ground. I would think this played a big part in opting to keep the Gearhart Knitting Machine as a hand-cranked machine.
In fact, my former employer, Alabama Power, didn’t really start to set up its power grid until the mid 1920′s, after the construction of two large hydroelectric dams. It wasn’t until the 1930′s and the projects sponsored by the WPA, that power became commonly available. If the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company had still been in business in the 1930′s, then I think the idea of a powered machine would have been well-received by all. I do not think that any of the Knitting Machine manufacturers at that time ever sold an electric machine with an attached motor. I have not found any evidence that would suggest otherwise, and the Gearhart Knitting Machine company probably evolved further than any other companies.