From the archives, there are several photos of Joseph E. Gearhart. As founder of the company and inventor of the Gearhart Knitting Machine, he naturally maintained a dignified appearance throughout his life. This photo is typical. I chose it as the first photo to be published in the archives because I believe this is the only copy in existance. Several portrait photos have been taken and widely reproduced, but this appears to be one of the more spontaneous photos which was never reproduced.
He is in his very late 70’s in this photo. He could be somewhere in Pennsylvania, or possibly in St. Petersburg Florida where he wintered. Back in the early twentieth century, St. Petersburg was a brand new resort city which attracted many winter vacationers from the snowy north. I am not sure if he ever had a house there, but later on, two of his children would live there.
I think a formal suit of clothes such as this, for church or for traveling, for an older man, would have been normal. Joseph was also a minister, so this photo could have been taken when he was at church. I remember photos of President Kennedy wearing a top-hat in the 1960’s, so it would certainly not have been unusual to see this kind of attire in the 1920’s. Joseph would have been a young man of draft age during the Civil War, and so people his age and older would have been comfortable with this very conservative style of clothes. I don’t know if this style has a name, but it surely reminds me of something Abraham Lincoln would have worn.
Politically, Joseph was a very active member of the Prohibitionist Party, so he would also have to maintain a certain appearance for the Party. This Party was an important force in US politics in the late 19th and the early years of the 20th century, and was best known for its historic opposition to the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages. This socially conservative party eventually dissappeared from the political scene after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, although it does still exist to some extent even today. [ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_Party].