Here is a photo of a lady using the 1892 Gearhart Knitter. According to the caption, the photo was taken in 1923, and the machine at that time would have been in use for 31 years. This is the only photo I can find so far of one of the very early machines before they took on their final appearance with a large crank and a uniform cylinder diameter. I have seen that by late 1892, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was selling the newer model, so I think the machine in this particular photo would have been one of the last of the early machines ever produced.
This particular model is very simple compared to the later models. The handle is very small, and the cylinder diameter is 5 inches, which is much larger than the 4.625 inch diameter cylinders of the later machines. The ribbing attachment hadn’t been invented yet, and the weight appears to be a large round disc inside the sock.
I have Joseph Gearhart’s machine, as shown below. It is surprizingly smooth turning. There is very little friction and it is quite easy to turn considering the weight of the cylinder. I haven’t tried to use this machine to knit a sock, but I assume it would work quite well once I installed the correct needles. The slots for the needles are very narrow – too narrow for the needles used in the later machines. Unfortunately, I do not have a complete set of needles for this machine so I cannot get to a point where it would be completely operational.
I do have the manual for this machine, as shown below. The manual describes how to set and operate the machine in the same way as the newer manuals. Naturally, this manual is only eight pages long, which matches the simplicity of the machine and might explain why someone would keep the machine for 30 years before upgrading to something more complex and more expensive.