May 2009


daysintrenchesWhen you are stuck in a cold, muddy trench in the mountains of Serbia with no way out, and incoming shells are falling all around you, there is nothing like a nice warm pair of 5 ply socks. During World War I, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company issued a special supplement to their instruction manual which gave a step-by-step procedure for making medium sized socks with 4 and 5 Ply Worsted yarns.

Back in the old days, 4 and 5 ply yarns were used to produce bulky things, like afghans, sweaters, and in this case, socks. Unlike today, where ply yarns come in all different weights, the original 4 and 5 ply yarn was real heavy stuff. And so, it took some extra instructions to produce these very heavy socks needed by the soldiers. These instructions were recently sent in by Adele, one of the CSM newsgroup members. Thank you very much Adele. You can click here to load the instructions.

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I have come across several references in the form of telegraphs and letters which describe the business travel conducted by the company. For the most part, these were trips to arrange for the manufacture of machine parts, as well as sales and marketing trips.

In 1916, during World War I, machine sales to the American Red Cross were a major focus for the company. Records indicate that Joseph and Emory were on the road quite a bit. Emory kept a letter dated March 23, 1916, in which John relays information to him from Clearfield, Pennsylvania, in order to schedule a trip to New York City, to meet with Mrs. Maultre of the Vacation War Relief Committee, and to Boston, to meet with the Serbian Distress Fund, and possibly to Providence if it could be arranged.

These two relief organization figure prominently in the increase of machine sales during World War I. I am just now researching the archives of the New York Times, and have found several key articles relating these organizations to the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. I hope to publish my findings as more facts emerge.

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Anyway, the letter goes on to advise Emory to hop on a boat for New York as soon as possible, and John encloses $50.00 spending money for Emory and Joseph, their father. “Father” has been traveling on this trip also, first to St. Petersburg, Florida, and then at least as far as Jacksonville, Florida, so it must be one of the bigger trips taken in 1916. The nice thing about this letter, other than its upbeat tone, are the references to efforts at selling machines, having Emory give demonstrations of the machine, and insights into what must have been a very productive and busy time for the company. We also see the courteous business relationship between John, the older brother, and Emory, the younger brother. It is interesting to note that this letter is addressed to Emory, not Joseph, even though Joseph was with him. Emory had been given operational control (but not ownership) of the company in 1913, so by 1916 he had obviously demonstrated the proficiency necessary to earn the respect and trust of his brothers and father.

The letter, as well as a follow-up letter, are shown below. I’m not sure if you can read it, so if the image is too small then let me know so I can try some better ways to post things. John calls Emory “Em” for short. I didn’t know that. I always called him granddad. In the letter, I especially like the fishing story:

Papa sent a few pictures. I see by one of them that you gathered up all the fish you could find around St. Petersburg and had your picture taken with them. Since writing the last sentence, I showed the picture to Scott Adams. He said you would come back with some of the greatest fish stories ever told. He had a card in his pocket just gotten from you.

The letterhead is very interesting. I have not seen this illustration before or since.

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It also contains a reference to 100,000 machines sold. Since total sales over the life of the company exceeded 200,000 machines, this means that 100,000 machines were sold between 1888 and 1916, and another 100,000 machines were sold between 1917 and 1925. Therefore, in the last eight years of the company, 12,500 machines were sold on average each year. At about $70 per machine, this would produce $875,000 income each year. Adjusted for inflation, this would be $8,750,000 per year in today’s dollars. More on this later. In fact, I have an entire file filled with financial data waiting to be analyzed.

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I haven’t found any Inspected By or Calibrated tags in the archive yet, but perhaps that’s just a recent development in the way the world has evolved. Nevertheless, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company did put each machine through an assembly, quality control, and calibration process prior to shipment.

Each machine was bench-tested and shipped with a properly knitted sample in the cylinder. In this photo, we see inspectors doing just that.

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It sure is nice to see shiny new machines. The polished surface of the Cam Shell looks almost like a mirror. With those old-style Thomas Edison light bulbs hanging overhead, and a nice solid wooden workbench, this photo looks like an image right out of the history books. Judging by the type of machine, it was taken sometime after 1922. Hmmm. I just zoomed in to the oil can. I think I have that can sitting on the self in the workshop right now!

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This is Leonard Gearhart’s office. I think it would also compare accurately to the offices of Joseph, John, and Emory as well, although I suspect that Joseph’s office likely had framed pictures of patents, display cases of machines and the other furnishings appropriate to his stature as an inventor and founder of the company. I do know that this particular photo shows Leonard’s office because I flipped it and zoomed in to the name on the door at the far right of the photo. Sure enough, it says L. A. Gearhart.

There is not much business information about Leonard, because several of the otherwise useful references about the business do not include him, and other references note that he was “away”. However, I can definitely confirm that he worked at the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company between 1919 and 1921. According to the Articles of Agreement written by Joseph on Febrary 10, 1919, John, Leonard, and Emory were each given specific responsibilities for running various parts of the company during that time. The term of the agreement ran for three years. On February 1, 1921, Leonard ended his Agreement.

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Based on information provided by Dinah Dague, Leonard’s granddaughter, he apparently led a very long and adventurous life. She writes the following:

Leonard A. Gearhart was born in 1874 in Clearfield, Pa. He was the oldest son of Joseph E. and Mary (Middleton) Gearhart. He was at least six feet tall, slender, with blue eyes. He had a great personality and an impish grin. When Emory and Leonard were young, they dug a tunnel from their house to the river. Before Leonard, John, and Emory were married, they were considered three of the most eligible bachelors in the area.

Leonard was a wanderer. He traveled quite extensively when he was younger. One of the stories told to me by my mother was that Leonard’s family arranged for him to attend Williamsport Seminary College. Instead, he took a tramp steamer to China or Japan, my mother wasn’t sure which. He had to wire home to his father for money to come home. Another time, he was supposed to go to school but never made it. He was in the west, while it was still the “wild west”.

He was a very hard worker, and tried his hand at many different jobs in the Clearfield area. He worked at the Harbison Walker Refinery, the American Mons Nickel Mill and the Gearhart Knitting Machine Factory. Leonard and each one of his brothers got a chance to run the Gearhart Knitting Machine Factory.

He was athletic. He loved walking, hiking, and many other pursuits. He loved the woods.

He was 44 years old when he married 18 year old Rilla A. Hooven. I have been told by people who knew my grandparents that Rilla was one of the most beautiful women in this area. In her youth and in later years, she was quite a nice looking woman. Rilla was petite, weighing 98 pounds, with black hair and snapping brown eyes. She was very intelligent, despite limited schooling. She was quite a talented artist. She worked at Kurtz Brothers as a bookbinder.

Leonard was affectionately known to his grandchildren as “granddaddy”. His wife Rilla was known affectionately as “granny”. When he started to tell a story, or say something, he began with “I mind the time”.

My Note: I do not have evidence to indicate that Leonard ran the company in a position such as General Manager or Vice President, but I do have letters which show that John was Vice President and that Emory was General Manager. Leonard, however, did have a position which would justify a very nice private office. I would be very interesting in further information regarding the roles of John and Leonard within the company.

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On January 11, 1918, Emory Gearhart recieved his draft notice for service in World War I. How do I know? Well, believe it or not, Emory kept his draft card on file for the rest of his life. I’m holding it right now. Its paper-clipped to another card which we’ll get to in a moment.

trenches1917_200pxDraft registration was likely a huge event back then (maybe even now also) because it was only a year earlier, on May 18, 1917, that Congress passed the Selective Service Act authorizing the President to draft men into military service. So, receipt of a draft card would have been significant, and especially worrisome since the war in Europe had by now turned into trench warfare, complete with mustard gas and machine guns.

Emory was 30 years old. Too old you think? Not so, according to World War I statistics. During World War I, there were three registrations. The first was on June 5, 1917, registering men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second was on June 5, 1918, registering men who had turned 21 since June 5, 1917 (A supplemental registration on Aug. 24, 1918, registered those becoming 21 since June 5, 1918.). The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, and registered men 18 through 45. So, all men born between 1872 and September 1900 who were not in active military service by June 1917 filled out draft registration cards, whether they were native born, naturalized, or alien.

Emory was classified as A1 – Fit For Service, No Restrictions. He then filed for a deferred classification. 24 million draft cards were issued during World War I, so I think this was not as unusual as it might seem at first.

Each draft board used a set of standard “principles” to place men in the deferred classes, including dependency, sundry specific vocations, necessary agricultural and industrial workers, or moral disqualification. Alien citizens, termed alienage by the SSS, were placed in class 5. Enemy aliens were also classified 5s. The rest of registered “noncombatant” and “neutral” aliens were dispersed across Class 1 and other deferred classes. Dependency deferment was based on family support needs, if someone else was able to support family members, and if the man had children or how recently he had married.

Emory fell into two deferment classes. A registrant found to be a necessary highly specialized technical or mechanical expert of a necessary industrial enterprise was assigned to Class 3. A registrant found to be a necessary sole managing, controlling, or directing head of a necessary industrial enterprise was assigned to Class 4. Emory was assigned to Class 4.

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If you were Class 1, you were on your way to the war. The remaining classes 2-5 were the deferment classes, but that did not mean they could not be drafted. The report states, “After exhausting class 1, men would be called from the first registration from Class 2, 3, and 4, with practically accurate knowledge that they were being called in direct order of their availability and in inverse order of their need for the social and economic life of the country.” Class 5 was the only class not subject to induction.

With this, we can fill in a little bit more of the history of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company during World War I. As noted in the lower left corner of his deferment card, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was considered a Necessary War Industry. By the way, that’s his future wife’s (my grandmother’s) handwriting. She must have been relieved.

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It is nice to run across stories about life during the times when the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was in operation, and I hope to eventually collect a series of articles for the archives about small town life during late 19th and early 20th century.

Recently, Bonnie Gearhart Hubert sent a photo of the Joseph Gearhart house as well as an interior photo of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. I hope to publish these shortly, pending some more fact-finding. Bonnie is the granddaughter of Leonard Alfred Gearhart (1874-1963). Leonard was one of Joseph’s three sons, and like Joseph’s other two sons John and Emory, he too had a position within the company. The facts concerning Leonard and John are a bit sketchy so far, since most of the personal information in the archive deals with Emory, my grandfather.

Bonnie put together the following story for the archives about life back during Leonard’s time, when things were much closer to the natural order than they are today. Thank you very much Bonnie.

The Leonard Alfred Gearhart, Sr. home is located in the section of Clearfield called “Paradise”. Leonard, Sr. and Rilla lived there from around 1930-1965. When my dad, Leonard, Jr. was growing up, fishing in the nearby creeks (pronounced “cricks”) and exploring the woods were favorite pastimes. For the perfect lunch, you clean, gut, and cut off the head of a native brook trout, then fry it in bacon fat in a cast iron skillet. Leonard, Jr. attended 1st through 8th grade at Paradise School. Playing marbles was popular in the 1930s. He served as a radioman during WWII and married Eva Jene Mohney in Hagerstown, MD, after the war. They bought a house in Clearfield on South Fifth Street for $4,000 dollars and lived there until 1998. He was a furrier for Clearfield Furs for 52 years.

My mother says she has never seen any pictures of Leonard and Rilla and the kids when they were growing up. During the 1950s, we often went to Granny’s and Granddaddy’s (Leonard’s and Rilla’s) on Sunday evenings, sometimes for supper. The house and yards were lovely. Granny had a beautiful rock garden on the hillside, with trailing arbutus and teaberries. In the front yard, Granddaddy had built a roomy, chunky, wooden merry-go-round. My cousins and I had a grand time getting dizzy. Granny’s enclosed sun porch was filled with African violets. We sat at her cane desk and looked at pictures through the view-master. Granddaddy, then in his seventies, sat on the front porch and smoked his pipe. He smiled as I passed by. In 1963, I looked out the window of my sixth grade classroom to see Granddaddy’s funeral procession on the way to Hillcrest Cemetery.

In the breakfast room, there was a built-in oak icebox that took up most of one wall. The ice for it was delivered. Out back, to the left, built into the bank, was an aboveground, stone, covered well. A tin long-handled ladle hung on the right. It was the sweetest, tastiest, coolest water on God’s green earth! Moss grew on the rocks on the inside and on a hot, humid summer day you would lean in to scoop up your water and feel nature’s air-conditioning.

Tasty water abounded in the Clearfield area at that time. There was a hollowed-out log at Leitzinger Spring where motorists would stop for a drink on their way to Elliot Park or Parker Dam, or after a drive down the Four Mile Road to admire the mountain laurel. Lucky folks who walked a bit would discover the occasional honeysuckle and appreciate its intoxicating fragrance.

The sweet water is gone forever. My dad said sorrowfully that his dream of fishing during his retirement years was ruined by timbering, mining, and road building. When the diverse forest was harvested, scrub oak grew back. Oak leaves then fell into the creeks, discoloring and polluting them with tannic acid. Bituminous coal stripping draglines operated day and night, including the area above the Gearhart property. Mining ravaged the landscape, leaving mountains of shale and strip ponds of bad water. Pennsylvanians in the 21st century see a green Pennsylvania, but can’t experience the bio-diversity of the temperate rainforest that Leonard Gearhart and his ancestors fondly called “the woods”. The colorful amphibians and fabulous fungus living in the primordial under story were the inspiration for Leonard’s daughter’s Margaret and Mary’s artwork.

The environment slowly collapsed, but industry thrived. Clearfield was named an “All-American City” in 1955. All the men grew beards for the occasion. That was a testament to the small industries like Harbison-Walker Refractory and Caterpillar that came along after the cottage industry factories like the Gearhart Knitting Machine Factory of the early 1900s.

— Bonnie Gearhart Hubert

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In an application filed with the U.S. Patent office on June 22, 1891, Joseph Gearhart submitted his invention for a Mold for Casting Knitting-Machine Cylinders. This application would become Patent 468,171.

As the patent says, The object of my invention is to construct an apparatus for casting knitting-machine cylinders, having grooves running longitudinally in its outer surface for the needles to move in and a crown or cog wheel at its base by means of which the cylinder is rotated, which construction is shown in my patent, No. 457,643, dated August 11, 1891.

The modern die-casting process was not invented by Herman Doehler until 1906, so the introduction of this process to the American factory was still 15 years in the future. Therefore, Joseph’s choice was to invent his own mold. He did, however, later seek out Herman Doehler and ended up awarding the Doehler Die Casting Company of Toledo one of its first contracts, for the manfacture of the Gearhart Knitting Machine cylinder. To me, this is an amazing piece of history, for it not only demonstrates Joseph’s inventiveness, but it also ties him directly to the major technological achivements coming out of the big manufacturing cities of the early 20th century. I plan to expand on Herman Doehler and his relationship to the Gearhart Knitting Machine company, and this will be the subject of a future article for the archives.

But in 1891, Joseph was casting his own cylinders from his own small factory in Clearfield and having fairly good success with the effort. His first mold was for a 3.75″ diameter cylinder, which was larger than the 3.25″ diameter of the original wooden cylinder.

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He used a combination of zinc and lead for his cylinders. Due to the low melting point of this pot metal, sophisticated foundry equipment and high-pressure steel dies were not necessary. Therefore, his hand-operated mold was sufficient. However, pot metal could be prone to instability over time, as it had a tendency to bend, crack, and pit with age. The low boiling point of zinc and its fast cooling often allowed air bubbles to remain in the cast. Also, unless the mold was pressed under very high pressure, as was Herman Doehler’s die-castings, then the casting could have runs. Joseph’s first cylinders showed both runs and pits, but he eventually eliminated both entirely. I believe the 3.75″ cylinder in the archives might be the very first metal cylinder. This is significant in that it shows several large runs and was no doubt Joseph’s moment of discovery that he needed more pressure in the mold.

His next cylinder was a large one, measuring 5 inches in diameter. I am not sure why he constructed a cylinder this large, but I may discover the reason with some more investigation. In fact, if anyone has information which would explain the size chosen for all these cylinders, I would very much like to hear from you. From this point forward there were very few, if any, runs or pits.

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Joseph constructed three molds, for 3.75", 5", and 4.625" diameter cylinders. The 4.625" diameter cylinder was the final size, and became the standard size for all subsequent cylinders. The mold itself is shown in the patent illustrations.

It took six pages to describe the construction and operation of the mold, so this invention is not as simple as one might think. In fact, as I read over the text, I am left wondering how long it took him to figure all this out. Its good to know that he did finally figure it out, because all the Gearhart Knitting Machines manufactured from 1891 through 1915 [fact-check with Doehler] had their cylinders constructed from this mold.

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