August 2009


I thought I’d share the fact that I’ve been pretty happy with the WordPress blogger used to host these entries about the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. It has worked out well for me, and its also free. Previously, I had a Web Server and IP address hosted out of my house, but I wasn’t comfortable leaving my computer powered up 7×24. I was essentially acting as my own Internet Service Provider, with my own computer, application and networking software, and domain name all running from my home. It isn’t hard to do, once you figure it out. But the thought of my computer powered up at 2am bothered me. I was using this capability for other things besides blogging, but it was the blogging part that required me to keep my computer powered up 7×24.

A couple months ago I decided to go with a free hosted blog at www.wordpress.com. From here, I can upload images and create postings, and everything is stored somewhere out in California rather in my own house. The only drawback has been that I can no longer customize my blog with special effects and styles. I have to use one of their standard formats. Also, instead of having my own domain name, I have to use one of theirs. So, the name becomes www.gearhartmachines.wordpress.com instead of something more unique, like http://www.gearhartmachines.com.

These two things are a minor inconvenience, versus a 7×24 electric bill at my house or paying for a hosted solution from one of the many commercial Internet Service Providers whose business is to keep their machines powered up 7×24. I’m OK with the compromise.

Site statistics have been pretty consistent. Its hard to see in the graph below (which is part of the administration interface for wordpress), but I do note a slight increase in traffic week after week. It is just a couple hits more each week, but I do see it when I look at the numbers themselves without trying to graph it. The largest one-day traffic count was over 1000 back in June, when Kathy Roletter found her brand new Gearhart Knitting Machine (click here).

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I’m not sure how this traffic stacks up with other blogs, but since I’m about the only one with a blog specifically aimed at knitting machines, thinking about traffic may not be important. However, it is nice to know that up to 350 people per day visit the site. Of course, I am really writing the posts to record things for a possible book as well as attract contributing stories and comments, so even a couple viewers are just fine with me. Oh yes, I’m also writing some of the posts to gauge the prospect for new machines, but that’s an entirely different subject.

Anyway, now that blogs are mainstream, my postings will continue as research into the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company proceeds. I do, however, draw the line at twittering and facebooking.

Yesterday, I was thinking about the construction of children’s socks, which were under the perview of Mr. J. Emmott Harder and the Children’s Sport Hosiery Department of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. Last night, I had a few minutes to look through the archives but I haven’t found the instructions yet. Of course, I’m sure the instructions are there just waiting to be discovered. Meanwhile, I did run across a fact sheet describing the standard “Adult” sock.

Mr. Bengt Brown from Sweden had asked me a couple weeks ago if I knew the dimensions of a factory sock. This would be a sock that would have been knit by any of the 30,000 Home Earners, and deemed acceptable for distribution by the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. Well, here are the dimensions of a Ribbed Standard Sock. Thank you for asking, Bengt.

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In regards to children’s socks, I also received a comment from Loretta to my posting titled Meet Mr. J. Emmott Harder (click here). In that posting, I asked if anyone had instructions for knitting a child’s sock. Loretta has indeed made children’s socks, and gives us some insight into the process. By the way, check out her blog at
http://laminathegreat.wordpress.com. Its a pretty good looking blog I think, and its nice to see other blogs out there which occasionally mention Circular Knitting Machines.

I will likewise continue to search this out and post the dimension and method for making the Children’s Sport Hose.

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Like most companies, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company had a trusted group of long-time employees who ran things. Joesph Gearhart (founder and inventor) and Emory Gearhart (General Manager) were often away on business trips, so the employees had an especially large share of responsibility for making sure things operated well.

Mr. J. Emmott Harder was one of these employees. Actually, I should call him Uncle Emmott. He married on of Joseph’s daughters, Lydia May. Lydia May was Emory Gearhart’s sister, and since Emory is my grandfather, that makes Emmott my uncle. Right? I think so. I never met him, but I have many personal letters that Emory had accumulated during their long and close relationship over many years. He and his family moved to California during the Great Depression and he passed away long ago.

He was the originator of the Children’s Sport Host Department, which was extremely profitable for the company. After all, children are pretty rough on those socks, and they are constantly growing, so as you would expect if you’ve had little ones (and I have), there is a pretty good demand for children’s socks.

Interesting. How do you knit a tiny sock on a big knitting machine? I haven’t given this much thought until just now. I’ll have to see if I can find some information on this. If anyone has some modern-day instructions, it would be nice to see this.

Anyway, here is an article from a 1925 Gearhart Service Bulletin about Emmott Harder and the Children’s Sport Host Department.

CHILDREN’S SPORT HOSE DEPARTMENT SHOWS SPLENDID PROGRESS

10,931 Knitter Taught to Produce This Beautiful Kind of Hosiery

Starting from the foresighted vision in one man’s head, this department has passed rapidly from a one-man proposition to a big department, employing dozens of people and handling a volume of business growing with amazing rapidity.

Mr. J. Emmott Harder, the head of this Department, has been trusted with the responsibility of teaching all Gearhart operators how to produce the beautiful Children’s Sport Hose. Starting with the Representatives, as most of us remember, this work has been pushed rapidly and successfully to its present point.

As rapidly as possible, our knitters, both old and new, have been given the necessary instructions, equipped with the special yarn, flosses, form boards, and other items necessary to produce Sport Hose, and given the additional personal instructions that each case demanded, in order to become proficient and efficient producers of Children’s Sport Hose.

Hundreds and hundreds of knitters have been given this opportunity, and now over 10,000 active knitters are producing these wonderful little hose for the Gearhart Company.

From every section of the country, pour in the shipments. Every mail train into Clearfield brings its truck load of Sport Hose.

We are becoming more and more able to properly care for old earners as well as efficiently handle additional new workers.

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Richard Candee, author of the book The Hand-Cranked Knitter and Sock Machine, (click here), sent me an email yesterday about article he found in one of the Gearhart Service Bulletins. The article gives some revealing information about how the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company stacks up against the Auto Knitter Company and the four other clones of the Auto Knitter in the 1920’s. Richard notes the emphasis Gearhart placed on their money-back guarantee and its relationship to a potential mail fraud case.

This article shows that the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was certainly sucked into the legal mess caused by the Auto Knitter Company, in spite of the fact that the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company had at one time entered into a sound business venture with them by supplying them with many machine parts. Joseph Gearhart, the inventor and founder of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company, must have had a hand in writing this article. I see scripture references. Joseph was a minister as well as a business owner, so I’m sure his personal opinions about the character of the Auto Knitter executives come out in the article.

Here are some excerpts from the article.

“The Tremendous Difference Between Gearhart and Other Home Work Plans,” The Gearhart Service Bulletin 1925 : No. 1 , pp.1-2

“Unsound Imitators Follow the Gearhart”

The success of the Gearhart Plan [of home workers] promptly attracted imitators. Back in 1914, Gearhart Company was approached by the promoters of a then new Company with a plea to sell them Gearhart Machines in wholesale quantities so that they might start their own [A-K] Company, selling machines and accepting the products. They professed honesty of intention, and their plan seemed to offer a real means of increasing the usefulness of the Gearhart Machine by multiplying its distribution. Accordingly this Company accepted a contract for the supplying of thousands of machines to these promoters and thus enabled them to start other knitting machine companies.

It was soon apparent that a sincere desire to satisfy the purchasers of the machines was lacking in the plans of these promoters. The Gearhart Company then cancelled its contract and refused to supply more of these machines to these imitators. By that time they were able to start the manufacture of an imitation machine of their own.

Dissatisfied employees of this new [A-K] Company later branched off and established another newer [Home Profit Co.] Company.

For a while there were as many as five companies operating—all in imitation of the Gearhart Machine and Home Earning Plan. The same features characterized them all – exaggeration of advertising, a lack of service to the purchaser, and a desire to sell knitting machines without service that would assist the purchaser to produce hosiery and make money.

“By Their Work Ye Shall Know Them”

In view of this condition, it is not surprising that the Gearhart ompany is the only concern offering a Money-Back Guarantee upon the sale of its machine…. It means the Company must sincerely desire the production of the product – hosiery—or it would not be so anxious to teach every operator to produce.

“Patient and Efficient Instruction”

… we send our good friends, local representatives to give personal lessons, guidance and help.

“Saints and Sinners in the Same Pew”

… Unfortunately, other Companies have not made the same sincere effort to render efficient service to the operators of their machines. Since their hosiery does not enjoy the active demand and ready sale that is accorded to the Gearhart Hosiery, naturally they are not at all anxious to have it produced as we are. Because the quality of their hosiery is much lower, and since the operators are but poorly instructed, it is exceedingly hard to find any market at all for such hosiery.

This, of course, means that they are not particularly anxious to accumulate any of it. Inspectors can always find some flaw in which to reject hosiery, and it is only natural that the operators of those other Knitters should have a high percentage of rejection.

The Gearhart Representatives know that this is not true of the Gearhart Company…

Because in the minds of the general public, such malpractice and misdoing, reflect discredit upon the entire industry, Gearhart being the leader is too often blamed for all of it.

The only folks who do know [the difference] are our own operators and our Representatives.

Therefore it is only fair that our Representatives, who in their own experience have reason to know the difference, should promptly explain this big difference whenever criticism is offered generally of “these knitting machine companies.”…

I believe this article is accurate. There is evidence in the archives that the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company supplied thousands of machines and parts to the Auto Knitter Company before ending the contract. The document below proves this. Just one line of this particular document shows that Gearhart had supplied 10,000 “72” cylinders in the first four months of 1918. That is certainly enough to start up a business from scratch.

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Historically-speaking, I’m left with a bad impression of anything with the word “Auto Knitter” in it. Ironically, even today I see general discussion groups on the internet commandeered as “NZAK” company web sites, with legal threats against anyone with an opinion. (Commandeer: to take arbitrary or forcible possession of). What is it about Auto Knitters?

I posted a question to the newsgroup asking about the time it takes to make a sock. Here are the responses. In general, it looks like it takes about an hour to make a pair of socks. I asked this question because I’m getting some information together to estimate the time a person spent back in the early 1900’s making a living with the Gearhart Knitting Machine. Many people did this for a living, especially out on the farms. More on this later. For now, here are the times in 2009 numbers.

If you’ve got some times, I’d love to hear from you.

I knit on the Legare 400 with 60/30 and knit 80 rows 1X1 ribbing, then 20 rows before the heel, heel, foot at least 60 rows (as many as 78) and toe – takes me about 15 minutes or less but there is prep time & then closing the toe time…… I allow 1 hr per pair. – Judi Meissner

It takes me bout 40 minutes to make a standard auto-knitter style sock, this is the 1×1 ribbing for the cuff, then the 3×1 down the leg and on top of the foot to the toe and having the bottom of the foot just cylinder stitches. I probably could do it faster but I like taking my time. – Barry Travis

It takes me about 30 to 45 minutes which includes closing the toe. – Susan Bailey

I got my canadian autoknitter in May, but I have spent a lot of time reading and watching anything I could get my hands on on how these work and “best practices”. I can now rib (thanks to group for tip on replacing ribber needles). A couple of days ago I timed myself, although I didnt try to hurry through making the socks. The first one I had dropped two stitches which I fixed when I started the heel. It took me an hour. The second I didnt drop any stitches and it took me 40 minutes. I was making a ladies sock on a 60/30 canadian autoknitter, with 20 rows of 1×1 ribbing, and 45 rows of 3×1, with the 3×1 continuing down the top of the sock to the toe. I must say I am pleased with the results of my socks. – Amy Marchese

I can knit a sock whether it be on a Gearhart, autoknitter, or Legare in approx. 15-20 min. I do a hung hem, 70 rows of mock rib, 15 rows of pre-heel with all needles back in, heel, 60 rows for foot and toe. I like things fast and easy and am very happy with the mock-ribbed socks. I am doing my very first farmers market on Wed. – wish me luck! – Kris Basta

Plain hung hem is 10-12 minutes per sock. Ribbed is 15-20 minutes per sock. Closing toes takes me 8-10 minutes per sock. – Sarah Easter

To make a standard hung hem sock, about midcalf length takes me about 10 minutes!?? – Barb W

Yikes! I am not running with the big dogs just yet myself. It takes me about an hour to make a sock, but I’m still ‘learning’ the Gearhart. On the Legare I had it down a little faster. I and all my family have large feet – so it’s 9 inches from the heel back tot he beginning of the toe. I do like the mock ribbing too – I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with different spacing set ups for that, and I’m more of a seat of the pants knitter – don’t have a set formula. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. – Kate

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Littlestown Foundry was one of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company’s suppliers. They were founded in 1916 and are still in business today. From the archives, I can see that ribber castings were being supplied by them as early as 1917, so the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was one of Littlestown Foundry’s first customers. These facts and more are coming to the surface as I dig deeper into the supply chain for the company, and I’m sure I’ll find more suppliers still in business as I continue looking.

The photo above is the machine room of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. You can see a table of brand new ribber castings waiting to be fitted to brand new knitting machines. Those castings look pretty good!


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I found a nice video on the foundry process used by Littlestown Foundry, and have attached it here (click on the image). The video is 1 hour in length, and is a tour of the facility as well as a narrative of their process for aluminum castings. I’m pretty sure the ribber casting for the 1920’s Gearhart Knitting Machines were 100% primary aluminum, or a primary aluminum alloy. My 1925 machine has a shiny ribber which still looks brand new. Not a scratch, dent, or pit anywhere.

I like aluminum as a material. I’ve heard about brass machines, nickel machines, and even steel machines. I suppose there’s a case to be made for various metals, but there’s also a price to be paid as well for favoring other material over aluminum in spite of the quality of aluminum castings using today’s manufacturing processes. In other words, I’m not the type to get caught up in style over substance when it comes to producing an attractive and affordable machine.

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Its nice to see Littlestown Foundry promoting Made in the USA, especially in the manufacturing industries, most of which have gone oversees. I used to live near Baltimore, Maryland, and believe me it was awful to see the huge Bethlehem Steel Mill at Sparrows Point close after so many successful years, only to be bought and turned into a scrap yard for old rusty ships. It was also sad to learn from a recent tour of the USS Wisconsin Battleship in Norfolk, that the US is no longer capable of producing a steel casting for a 16-inch gun turret. So, if we (the United States) ever want to produce steel on a large scale, or build a Battleship, we’ll have to buy it from Asia. But, now I’m wandering…

Back in 1917, all of the Gearhart Knitting Machine parts were made in the USA. Its rare to see the same thing today. Running across a successful US manufacturing company which was affiliated with the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company and which is still in business today is a very nice thing to discover.

As soon as I have time, I’ll plan to contact the Littlestown Foundry to see if they have any records dating back to 1917. It sure would be interesting to discover information about the ribber castings and any other parts they may have manufactured for the machine.

I have a display case in my living room, which contains some of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company archives. Here is a photo of it.

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I have a dark corner where I keep it, so that there is minimal light damage. Therefore, you probably can’t make out as many details as I’d like to show. I used my Russian fisheye lense and snapped the photo about 4 feet away, then rectified the image with some image processing software I have on my computer. There are all kinds of light-reflection-things going on here, and I decided to just leave the photo as is rather than creating a starker image. The photo is actually pretty close to actual lighting conditions.

The two most notable things in the case are Joseph E. Gearhart’s first wooden machine, manufactured in 1888. There are only two in existence. The other one showed up on eBay several years ago and then disappeared with the winning bid (never to resurface?). The other thing in this case is Emory J. Gearhart’s last Clearfield Knitting Machine. This machine is in mint condition other then some scratches on the label. The machine was made from the last 5000 machines in inventory after the company stopped making them in 1925. This machine is in great running condtion, and I’ve used it off and on since I first tried it out way back in 1975. Now days, I don’t use these machines, since I want to preserve them for as long as possible.

Here are some closeups. You can probably make out some details. The bulk of the archives is stored elsewhere. These are just a few of the items that I like to show people when they stop by for a visit. Two of the machines rest on stacks of books. One stack contains engineering etchings from the time, and the other stack is the adventures of one of my favorite authors, Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859). A third machine is packed inside its shipping crate.

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