June 2009


notgearhartThere was a machine on ebay, which just closed out early with a Buy It Now bid. The seller originally put a $499 Buy It Now price, then removed the item and relisted it with a $299 Buy It Now price. Someone then bought it. The seller also advertised the item with the following title: Rare People’s High Speed Sock Knitting Machine Gearhart. This machine caught my eye because I saw another one just like it on ebay a couple years ago.

Here is the link to the listing, which is item 280361913913 ( click here).

Is this really a Gearhart Knitting Machine? I have no ads whatsoever illustrating this machine, nor do the patent diagrams show anything similar to the ribber or handle in the photo. The handle is very distinctive. Its got a counterweight on one end, and this weight has been cast at an angle. I would normally dismiss this as a missed identification by the seller, but the other machine I saw on ebay also had the same handle, and it was also advertised as a Gearhart Knitting Machine. So, for some reason, this type of machine has now been identified twice as a Gearhart Knitting Machine.

Can anyone confirm whether this is a Gearhart Knitting Machine?

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Here are two photos of the inside of the Gearhart Knitting Machine factory, where the incoming hosiery was inspected and packed into boxes to be shipped to retailers across the country. It looks like a pretty efficient operation, with everyone busily going about their duties.

This is a photo of the Packing Room. It is somewhat different than the marketing photos taken in my earlier post titled From Receiving Room to Shipping (click here), which showed a large counter with shelves in the background. That’s probably the front desk, which was not nearly large enough to handle all the incoming work. Alternately, the two photos below are likely the back room where all the work was done. I see mountains of socks and mountains of boxes; well over 1000 pairs of socks as I zoom in and take a estimate.

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The interesting part about this zoomed-in photo is the woman measuring the socks. There was a separate Inspection Room and a Shaping and Pressing Department, where the socks were sorted and formed to meet an consistent measurement. I’m not sure why she is re-measuring the sock in the Packing Room. This might possibly be the last quality control check before everything gets packed up. The socks definitely do look consistently the same, in spite of the fact they have arrived from all across the country, from over 30,000 Home Earners.

In my search for the early history of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company, I have recently rediscovered a page in the scrapbook of advertising material. This scrapbook was compiled by Emory Gearhart, and most of the material is in a random order. However, one page contains four significant ads up in the top left corner and another significant ad in the middle of the page. They are significant in that I think they are probably the first four ads ever published for the company. I had completely forgotten that these ads were also given to Richard Candee for his book The Hand-Cranked Knitter and Sock Machine, but sure enough, after some correspondence with him, I realized this was so.

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In the first ad, we have a Knitting Machine for 50 cents, sold by Joseph Gearhart and his Novelty Knitting Machine Co., in West Decatur PA. West Decatur was the site of the old Gearhart farm and homestead prior to moving to Clearfield. I don’t have this machine in the archives, nor do I know of one in existence. From the illustration, it has five needles and can be used to make socks, scarfs, and mittens. Interesting. How do you do this with five needles? As we know, the later machines had up to 140 needles, so it is definitely a long way from this first unpatented and otherwise undocumented machine around 1888, to the most advanced model sold in 1925. The ad says that the machine is being “introduced”. This leads me to believe that this ad is the first ever published. I would give this ad a date of approximately 1888, and possibly earlier.

If I had to establish a company and give it are reputation based on duration, I would pick a date which marked the very first spark of productivity. Therefore, I believe this 5-needle machine ad is an 1888 ad. I hope I am right. If I’m not, it means that someone else has an older ad that was not saved by either Joseph or Emory Gearhart.

The next four ads have the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 penciled beside them. If I were Emory or Joseph, and I were trying to get things organized, this would be my way of noting the first through fourth published ads for a recognizable machine. I think this is reasonable. In Ad #1, the Family Knitting Machine for only $3.50 is being sold by the Knitting Machine Co., in West Decatur. The word PAT. is clearly visible on the illustration. The patent for this 36-needle wooden machine was filed on November 13, 1889 in West Decatur and granted on April 1, 1890. The next patent for a visibly different metal machine was filed on December 2, 1890 in Clearfield. The chronology is therefore very close to this sequence:

  1. The company was established 1888 in West Decatur. 5-needle machine ad published.
  2. The first patent was filed November 1889 for a 36-needle wooden machine. Joseph had been working on it since 1888 because my machine does not have the word “PAT.” stamped on it. Therefore, my machine was made prior to November 1889. He also said it took several years to develop the machine.
  3. Ad #1 was therefore published sometime between November 1889 and mid 1890, with a West Decatur address. “PAT.” would mean “patent pending” if the ad was before April 1890.
  4. The company moved to Clearfield by December 1890.

The reason for moving to Clearfield by December of 1890 was because, according to the stories, ¬†Joseph was encouraged by success and wanted to get closer to a metropolis. So, ad #1 would have definitely marked a point in time early enough to trigger some sales and also give him time to think about moving to Clearfield and build a house there. I suspect he put the ad out in November, 1889 and filed the patent at the same time, therefore protecting himself with a “patent pending” and stamping “PAT.” on the machine. He started selling the first wooden machine (ad #1) throughout early 1890 and built his first metal machine (ad #2) by mid 1890. By mid 1890, he would have no reason to publish ad #1, and would have published ad #2 instead.

Ads #2, #3, and #4 are all from Clearfield. By this time, the machines and prices have some commonality with other information in the archive. The $5.00 machine would date to late 1890 and is the same machine sold by W.I. Betts in the posting titled The $5 Machine and a Canada Connection (click here). The $8.00 machine would date late 1891, and is the same ad I wrote about in the posting titled The $8 High Speed Family Knitter Advertisement (click here). Ad #4 is the first ad showing a Ribbing Attachment, and is the same machine patented in July 1892 (without a Ribbing Attachment). So, I would date this ad no earlier than late 1892.

So there you have it. Unless I can find any other evidence, I would say the search is finished for the earliest ads. We have an ad for a 5-needle machine dated to 1888, and an ad for a 36-needle machine dated to 1889. This is the same 36-needle machine described in my post titled Gearhart Knitting Machine Serial #1 (click here). If you can find anything earlier, I would very much like to hear from you.

After the Gearhart Knitting Machine company went into receivership in 1925, it reformed as the Clearfield Knitting Machine Company, and then after that the Superior Appliance and Pattern Company. According to a 1978 article in the Clearfield Progress, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Factory building was quickly re-occupied by the State Transporation Department.

I’ve seen some previous evidence which disputes this, and I have recently come across even more evidence which suggests that the factory (or at least part of the factory) was still used by Emory Gearhart as late as 1928. He formed and ran both the Gearhart Runner Knitter Company and the Superior Appliance and Pattern Company. The first company manufactured and sold a device he patented to repair damage to knitted clothing. The second company manufactured and sold another of his patented devices which was used to make Hooked Rugs and Tapestries. Along with this, he sold rug patterns through a subscription sevice which he called the Turfography Guild.

I recently received a catalog for the Superior Appliance and Pattern Company which shows a nice color illustration of the factory. The catalog is dated 1928. The catalog also contains a very nice color illustration showing the colored all-wool yarns used to make the rugs. I wonder if this was the same yarn destined for the Home Earners and their Gearhart Knitting Machines? The factory did have warehouses full of this yarn, so maybe Emory actually found a use for it. I have a few tapestries which have been very badly stored. When I touch them, they crumble, so I will never be able to unroll them or examine the finished item closely. That’s too bad, because I vaguely remember visiting my grandfather (Emory Gearhart) when I was a kid, and I think he had several of them hanging on the wall in his living room.

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Here is a zoom-in of the factory. The overview calls the company Superior Rugcraft, although the copyright on the bottom of the cover reads S.A.P Co. I think Superior Rugcraft is a much better sounding name for a company. It looks like I also might have to add a trip to Clearfield to the agenda, to get some official chronology answers for the factory.

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OK, I’ll admit that this photo sequence is only interesting to me, but it does contribute to the overall knowledge about the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company, which operated from 1888 through 1925, and was therefore under the guidance of Joseph E. Gearhart throughout the last half of his life.

Joseph E. Gearhart (1849-1928) was the inventor of the Gearhart Knitting Machine and the founder of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. I’ve focused on him throughout several of my posts, but I really haven’t tried to put together a time-lapse sequence of what he looked like throughout life, until now.

This is probably the first time anyone, including the other Gearhart descendants, has seen him throughout his lifespan. Fortunately, I uncovered some very old childhood photos in the archives which were his private property and which were passed down to his son Emory, and therefore eventually to me.

The dates I’ve assigned to the photos are reasonable, except for the first photo, which is completely accurate because his age written on it. I am pretty sure the dates are good to within a year or so because I’ve matched these photos to other references in the archives.

I have one other very old glass-plate photo of a middle-aged man, taken about the same time as Joseph’s age-9 photo. This photo is contained within a 2×2 inch locket and would likely be my great-great grandfather, John S. Gearhart (1818-1903). I have not included this photo.

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1858. Age 9. This glass-plate photo has Joseph’s age written on it. It would be hard to image that a photo earlier than this could ever exist. The American Civil War (1861-1865) was still 4 years in the future.

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1865. Age 16. This glass-plate photo is one photo in a collection of several photos of various people. It was taken about the same time one of his brothers died as a prisoner of war.

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1890. Age 41. This photo was taken in front of his house on Nichols Street in Clearfield. The Gearhart Knitting Machine Factory was established by this time, and his youngest son Emory (1888-1969) was two years old. Emory was my grandfather.

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1910. Age 61. This photo was taken during a trip to Chicago with his son Emory. This particular photo has been widely reproduced and circulated.

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1920. Age 71. This photo was likely taken in either Pennsylvania or Florida. By this time, Joseph was very successful, semi-retired, and accustomed to wintering in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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jegbiplane_500px1928. Age 79. This is probably the last photo ever taken of Joseph Gearhart. He died in St. Petersburg, Florida, and this photo may have been taken there. And why is this man happy right now? Because, he’s standing in front of a very nice WW-I Sopwith Camel fighter plane.

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I am curious about the Gearhart Knitting Machine Crates. Its an odd subject, but I’m trying to track down some evolutionary facts about this. The later machines came in a nice wooden
crate with an illustration of the machine and the label “Gearhart Standard”. I’ve got an older crate also, which is smaller and has no labeling at all, other than the name of the recipient.

I’m wondering, when did the company switch from the older and smaller unmarked crate, to the newer and labeled crate? I’m guessing that my older crate dates about 1902, but I’m not sure.

Does anyone have an older crate? If so, can you confirm the dimensions and a date for it? I’m also wondering if the older crate came in different sizes, since all the newer crate seems to be the same size.

This 1891 W.I. Betts flyer is notable for several important things. It could very well be the oldest advertisement in the archives. It is a very, very early advertisement for the People’s Knitting Machine, later to be known as the Gearhart Knitting Machine. I have many older unpublished items, but I have found only one other descriptive item this old, which is known to have been published for the general public. The other descriptive item is also from W.I. Betts, and it is an instruction manual for the same machine. I wrote about W.I. Betts and the earliest instruction manual in a post titled The First Instruction Manual (click here). These two documents describe the very first machine, which is the same as originally patented by Joseph Gearhart in April 1890. Refer to posts Twelve Patents (click here) and Gearhart Knitting Machine, Serial #1 (click here) for details about this first machine.

This 1891 flyer also contains a reference to Canada. As I dig further into the archives, I am starting to see several interesting references to Canada. It appears that the Gearhart Knitting Machine company not only played a role in starting up the Auto Knitter Company (which had a presence in Toronto as well as Buffalo, NY) and Dundas Knitting Machine Company, and supplying machine components to both, but it also had a hand in several other Canadian interests. Richard Candee, in his book The Hand-Cranked Knitter and Sock Machine has noted the Canadian connection as well. As I uncover more information, I will make it available. Emory Gearhart attached a note to the 1891 flyer mentioning Canada, which reads as follows:

W.I. Betts had this circular made up and [?] agency for Canada. One Stitch At A Time Machine, about 1891

I can’t quite make out the [?] word(s). If you can make a guess, I would be very grateful.

Another interesting piece of information in this flyer is the price of the machine. At $5.00, this is possibly the first price ever set. Previously, I had seen an 1892 price of $8.00 (click here) and thought this was the first price. However, I hadn’t seen the W.I. Betts flyer. So $5.00 establishes a good starting point for a price trend unless I find something even earlier.

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