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.
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:
- The company was established 1888 in West Decatur. 5-needle machine ad published.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.