Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time with today’s dollars, and place an order like this? I count 668 Gearhart Knitting Machine crates, plus a stack of what looks to be 46 smaller shipments in the left background. It looks like the shipping addresses are printed on the side of the crates, but I can’t quite make them out. There is a calendar on the wall, but its just a bit too fuzzy to make out the month and year.

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Back then, everything was shipped by rail. By the time the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, the concept of moving goods and people by rail was firmly ingrained in the American way. By the early 1900’s, the period of this photo, approximately 2.1 million freight cars were in service, and the idea of reliable, scheduled transportation out of a railroad town like Clearfield Pennyslvania was easy to imagine. In fact, even as far back as the late 1800’s, at the beginning of the company, I find notes and locations related to rail shipments to small towns all across the U.S.

The impact of published rail schedules was so great by the turn of the century that some cite the schedules as being the primary influence on the concept of punctuality in America. Perhaps the last vestiges of the country’s agrarian past – using the sun to tell time and arriving at appointments within an hour of the scheduled time – quickly gave way to a modern age when timeliness was of the essense, and pocket watches made adherence to schedules the norm.

I have two theories about this photo. First, this shipment most likely accumulated over some interval. In my estimation, the volume of machines here would represent about one month’s accumulation or orders during, say, and average month in the early 1920’s. Alternately, this could be a single large order worthy of a photograph, for a customer such as the American Red Cross about 1918. Either way, the shipment is on its way to the railroad loading platform for a scheduled delivery.

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