I’ve just gone through a stack of Joseph Gearhart’s instruction manuals and am pretty sure I have discovered the first instruction manual ever written. The year was 1890. Two years earlier, Joseph had started his company and submitted his patent application #427,877 for a wooden Circular Knitting Machine. He had now been granted the patent, and was working on an idea for an injection mold in order to cast a metal version of the same machine. This mold was later to become patent #468,171. Things were going well, and trial runs with the mold had produced an acceptable cylinder with only a few imperfections.
Today, as I examine the collection of early metal cylinders, they are indeed very nice. There are just a few sprinkles of small pits and some uneven cooling spots along some of the ribs. He made three different diameters but eventually settled on a diameter that we see in all the cylinders manufactured after 1892.
He was also building his house on Nichols Street in Clearfield as well as a factory in the back yard, and was raising his family of eight children with his first wife, Mary Middleton. Emory, the youngest child, was two just years old. I have a special interest in Emory. Little Emory would have no way of knowing that he would later become my grandfather and president of the company his father was just now starting. It is fortunate for me that things worked out that way. Yes, it was a pretty busy time at the new Gearhart house.
In those early days, Joseph relied on local talent to make sales. William Irvin Betts was 20 years old at the time, and just entered his father’s office, becoming interested with his father in his many business enterprises. Based on available chronology, either Joseph contacted William, or visa versa, with an interest in establishing William as the first Agent for the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. According to what we know about later Agent arrangements, William would sell the machines and in return retain some of the profit. In a unique aspect to this first arrangement, William would also have his name printed on the first instruction manual. Not bad at all for a 20-year-old in his first job. William later went on to a very successful career, including president and director of the Clearfield Colliery Company, director in the Clearfield National Bank, vice president and member of the Board of Governors of Clearfield-Curwensville Country Club, director in the Y. M. C. A. of Clearfield, trustee of the Presbyterian church of Clearfield, and he also served one term as burgess of Clearfield.
But make no mistake, Joseph wrote the first instruction manual. His diction is unmistakable. I think though, he must have realized over time that the wording may have been too technical, since later manuals were written with a more casual and friendly flair. Nevertheless, Joseph assured the reader that, with some practice, the People’s Knitting Machine would knit socks, gloves, and scarfs just fine. Below is the first and last page of the manual. If you’d like to see a complete copy, let me know and I’ll put together a pdf file.
Notice the fold marks. The folds come out to exactly the same size as my shirt pocket. This makes you wonder if Joseph kept this particular copy of the manual in his shirt pocket and pulled it out every so often for a demonstration of his machine. Also, notice the small stains. Machine oil stains? I’d definitely have to take it to a lab to verify this.
As a footnote, I have seen one reference (and only one reference) that says there were two knitting machine companies in Clearfield at that time. I suspect this assertion is based on the use of the name People’s Knitting Machine rather than Gearhart Knitting Machine. I can find no evidence that there were two companies. In fact, the patent date on the cover page of this manual is exactly the same patent date as Joseph Gearhart’s first patent #424,877, and the illustration of the machine matches his machine. And, the terminology of this manual uses some of the same terminology as the patent. Therefore, based on this evidence I would say that there was only one company, and this manual was the very first manual.