Joseph E. Gearhart (1849-1928) was the inventor of the Gearhart Knitting Machine and founder of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. I have a series of photos of him in the post titled Joseph Gearhart from Start to Finish (Click here). Many of his competitors came and went, starting far earlier then his machine and continuing all the way up to today. With just a glance through Richard Candee’s book, the yahoo news groups, and some of my own competitor evaluations, I can start off with this list:
- Gearhart Knitting Machine Co.
- Aiken Family Knitting Machine
- The New Hampshire Knitter
- Hollen Knitting Machine Co.
- Goffe’s Patent Family Knitting Machine
- Dalton Knitting Machine
- Lamb Knitting Machine Co.
- Tuttle Knitting Machine
- Hinkley Knitting Machine
- The crane Knitter
- Essick “Climax” Knitting Machine
- Home Knitter Co.
- Bickford Patent Knitting Machine
- The American Knitting Machine
- Bridgeport Knitting Machine
- Twombly Knitting Machine
- Franz & Pope Knitting Machine Co.
- Comstock’s Universal Knitting & Mending Machine
- Branson Knitter
- Mayo Knitting Machine
- Perfection Knitting Machine
- Auto-Knitter Hosiery Co.
- Ainslie Knitting Machine Co.
- Harmony Knitter
- Griswold Stocking Knitter
- Polypus Knitter Co.
- Steber Machine Co.
- Cooperative Hosiery Co.
- Home Profit Knitter Master Machine
- Creelman Bros.
- P.T. Legare Knitting Machine
- Verdun Knitter
From a competition perspective, I believe Joseph was most concerned with the Branson Knitter in the early days, and nobody in the latter days. In the archives, there are several sales and instruction manuals for this knitter, including one that shows a foot-powered model. I do not think he was concerned about the Auto-Knitter company, as some might think. This company actually contracted with the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company for parts, including its cylinders. In addition, both companies shared copyrighted instruction manuals. Later on, the Auto-Knitter company failed badly due to mail fraud issues and machines that did not perform well (according to some letters by owners of both Gearhart and Auto-Knitter machines). More on this later…
Many of the companies didn’t last. As you would expect, with this many producers the competition was fierce. The Gearhart Knitting Machine Company came out on top, with over 200,000 machines sold. This in turn made Joseph a wealthy man, and gave him the chance to retire to his mansion in Clearfield, with winter trips to St. Petersburg, Florida. In fact, he was wealthy enough to own considerable real estate in Florida, and at one time he even loaned his son, Emory, $200,000. In today’s dollars, that would be approximately $2,000,000.
I don’t have exact figures for Joseph’s wealth so I won’t publish an approximate number. Needless to say, if his Knitting Machine Business had continued through the present time and flourished as it did then, I can imagine myself being involved in the business, maybe living in his mansion, and wintering in St. Petersburg with my family just like him. Alas, things are just normal for me for right now.
His mansion in Clearfield is still there and in very good condition. It is located at 205 West 1st Avenue. Here are a couple recent photos.
It is a long way from his rural start in this old 1819 family farm located way out in the country near Philipsburg. It just goes to show that if you work hard, and have some good ideas and the right people behind you, things will happen. Actually, this photo was taken in 1888. The farm was established in 1819 by Joseph’s grandfather, John Gearhart (1788-1871), and the buildings in the photo date to about 1820. At the time of this photo, the buildings would have been 68 years old, hence their well-used appearance.
In addition to hard work, it also helps to have a friendly attitude. I have not found anything in the archives yet that would suggest that Joseph was hard to get along with or rubbed people the wrong way. I doubt I ever will. He seems to have been an all-around good person.