September 2009


In 1915, there were no credit cards. People could write a check if they wanted to purchase a machine, but I don’t see how that would work back then unless the banks were connected via interstate commerce. In the archives, I have a whole stack of canceled checks but they are all written by people who belonged to the Bank of Clearfield, which is the same bank that the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company had an account with. So, it would have been a pretty simple transfer of funds within the same bank. People could also send cash, but I don’t think anyone would really do that. The third option would be to give the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company access to the purchaser’s bank account, and let the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company send a telegram to the bank arranging for the transfer of money. I’m not sure how the bank would send the money – probably by rail as some sort of certified mail? I’d probably have to do some research on this…

The most common way to buy a machine back then was by C.O.D. (cash on delivery) or (collect on delivery). Payment was due on delivery by the recipient. In this case, since a Gearhart Knitting Machine was shipped by rail, the railroad freight agent collected payment when the machine was delivered, and forwarded the payment on to the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company.

I think C.O.D. is extinct. I’m in my 50’s and I can only remember once, back in the 1960’s that I paid C.O.D. for something.

I ran across a C.O.D. order in the archives. Mrs. Moroni Lazenby of Loa, Utah, purchased a 1914 Gearhart Knitting Machine outfit for $6.93. She also used a $3 Order Coupon from the company. The retail price of the machine was $10.00, so she got a pretty good discount. I notice from her correspondence that she is using a company envelope. This envelope usually came with a machine. My guess is that someone else, maybe a friend, bought a machine and she used the envelope from her friend’s machine to make a purchase for herself.

So, where is Loa, Utah? Wow!! It way out here in the middle of nowhere! The 2000 census shows a population of 525. In 1915, it must have been even smaller. There is no railroad going through Loa so it must have been a place for farms and ranches, and not much else. I did a google search on Mrs. Lazenby and found that the Lazenby family is quite settled in that area, so I bet there are some people out there who remember her. It looks like there is a lot of clean air and stars in the sky out there. I bet you can live a long life out there.

Anyone feeling adventurous? There is enough information below to track down this machine…

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In my earlier post titled “Christmas Eve, 1923” (click here), Joseph Gearhart writes about selling some or all of his interests in the company so he can retire. He notes that the conditions of the sale, which were proposed some years earlier, had changed since the business was now so successful, and that he wanted to extend the option of the transfer of stock until April 16th, 1924.

Well, it looks like by May 13th, 1924, the stock transfer did occur. In the letter below, we see that Joseph agrees to sell 255 shares of stock valued at $29,953.40. I’m not sure who is buying the stock though. The letter says that “we” promise to pay… Who is “we”? Going back to the earlier Christmas Eve letter in 1923, I can conclude that his son, Emory, would have been one of the buyers. I don’t know if he was the only buyer, or perhaps he was buying out his father with a group consisting of perhaps his brothers John and/or Leonard. I don’t know.

Anyway, in today’s dollars, Joseph would be receiving $371,506. The company was worth more than that, so Joseph didn’t sell all of his shares nor did he sell the property on which the buildings resided, nor did he sell the building behind the factory. I’ve seen a number on the total worth of the company, so I’ll dig through the information and pull it out.

Based on this, May 13, 1924 marks the date that Joseph officially retired from the company. I can’t help but think this event, the absence of the founder and community leader at the helm, may have opened up the door for one of the other community leaders to start thinking about a hostile takeover. Just one year later, in 1925, Charles Kurtz played a big role in forcing the company into receivership and subsequently benefiting from the sale of most of its manufacturing equipment and factory space.

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Without actually having to travel all the way up the Clearfield, I’ve been looking for a date that would show when the factory was built. It looks like I’ve come pretty close with this letter, which is titled “Article of Agreeement”. Here we see that on August 11, 1920, the plot of ground on which the “buildings now occupy” is the property of J.E. Gearhart. And also, the buildings and machinery which occupy said plot belong to the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. According to this letter, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was also incorporated on this date.

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Assuming that it took at least a year to build the factory, I’d say that construction started around the 1918 or 1919 time frame, just after World War One, and was completed by August 11, 1920. Even today, it is a pretty impressive structure for a small town, expecially since the surrounding area has remained mostly residential. The tree-lined factory stands out among the houses and tree-lined streets.

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On Christmas eve in 1923, Joseph Gearhart wrote home to his son Emory. Joseph was 74 years old and he must have been wintering in Florida at the time, since this letter comes from St. Petersburg where he had a winter home. There are a couple insights in this letter about the business.

Joseph founded the Gearhart Knitting Machine company in 1888 as a result of his work inventing the Gearhart Knitting Machine. By 1923, he’d been at the controls for 35 years, and was no doubt looking towards retirement as the letter indicates- “… I want to withdraw from the manufacture altogether.” I’m not sure how long people worked back then, but since social security hadn’t been invented yet, I’m sure they worked just as long as possible. Of course, Joseph knew he wasn’t a spring chicken any more. According to the life expectancy information in wikipedia, a pre 20th century individual who lived past the teenage years could expect to live to an age comparable to the life expectancy of today. So, by this standard, Joseph wanted to enjoy his last four or five years in tropical Florida, fishing in that clear green water. In fact, I believe he must have done this because five years later in 1928, he did indeed die in St. Petersburg, Florida after a short illness brought on during a train trip from Clearfield to St. Petersburg.

In the letter, he also makes mention of the state of the business. At an earlier time, probably about 1912 or so, when the sons first got involved, the business was “swamped” as Joseph notes. I suspect he uses this word to mean the business was underwater – just barely surviving. However, by 1923 as he notes in is reconsideration of the previous agreements made for the transfer of stock, the business is now doing very well.

And rightly so! World War One has passed, and with it the company had received orders for thousands of machines to support the war effort. By 1923, his machines were scattered throughout the world with new orders coming in daily. The total number of machines sold by 1923 approached 200,000. This made Joseph a wealthy man by Clearfield Pennsylvania standards.

In fact, at this point he has probably accomplished everything he originally set out to do. He developed his inventions, started and ran a successful company, raised eight children, fulfilled his religous ambitions, and provided security for himself and his wife in their old age. I suspect that by 1923, five years before his death, his hard work had paid off with a great deal of happiness and comfort. Here is his letter to my grandfather, Emory Gearhart.

St. Petersburg Fla –

725-15 […] Dec 24-23

Dear Son Emory –

I am returning the agreements – I want to be at home when this transfer is made. There are some details that enter into the transfer that I want to consider.

When the deal is completed, I want to withdraw from the manufacture altogether. I hereby extend the option of the transfer of stock until April 16-24. You know I consented to this sale when the business was about swamped.

But as it is getting on its feet – by careful management – you need not rush the sale. You could not get possesion of the stock certificates until I come home anyway.

I note the interesting news you put in your letter. The family certainly is fine.

There is one thing you must not neglect to give them. That is a religious training. Donna [Mark note: this is my Aunt Mary Donna] will soon be of Sunday School age.

The weather was quite cool this morning about 40″. The boys Niel (sp) and Guaid (sp) are down to the swimming pool. They expected to go in the Gulf but alittle too cool.

I have been wondering why John has not written. We just had a letter from Blanch. I see they are in the house.

I suppose you have sent the abstracts.

I am selling off about all my property here. This is the time to sell. Prices are going up right along. I will not buy anything this year.

After new year we want to take a run down to Miami. I have not been there since the winter you and Ed Dufflon were down. I suppose there are many improvements now.

I will close for the present – We have a nice chicken for dinner and it is now twelve oclock. We want to take a run in the auto after noon.

If you want to send another extension of sale of stock you can do it. But I will not close of until I come home. I want to discuss some details when it is closed.

With the greetings of the season and Love to all,

Father

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Nowdays whenever I go somewhere and see something old, I find myself comparing it to a Gearhart Knitting Machine of the same era. I guess that’s one of the side-effects of transporting yourself back in time to research these machines and your ancestors.

While in Houston on business, I did manage to stop by and visit the USS Texas Battleship. Here we are in the year 1914. She’s quite a site painted flat black! In fact, the Gearhart Knitting Machine was also painted flat back in 1914. So I guess these two artifacts, along with flat black Ford, must represent the favorite color of 1914.

The USS Texas is the only surviving dreadnought class battleship. She participated honorably in both World War I and the Second World War and is still considered one of the most powerful warship still afloat because of her ten 14″/45 guns in five twin turrets.

She looks like a 1914 version of today’s B2 stealth bomber. She’s big, heavy, powerful, and in a eye-catching way very graceful with her reverse-curve bow and tumble-home (flaired out sides). I would have loved to have seen her underway, but alas, she will no doubt spend the rest of her life tied up. One thing I couldn’t help but notice as I climbed around, was the apparent state of neglect. The exposed metal was painted, but the wooden deck was bare and rotting in many spots. If you opened the hatches and looked in, you’d see gear and equipment left as it must have been in 1946 when she was decommissioned. Fast forward 60 years, and the material on the chairs is now hanging off, with piles of dust on the floor. Everything not painted is rusty and equipment is scattered about in a mess.

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I think it would take a shipyard effort to stabilize this vessel. Most of the interior and the bridge are closed due to rust, according to the lone worker I ran across. So, the massive steam engine was off-limits to the public. There was a gift shop onboard, but it was pretty awful. It was quite an embarrasment compared to the stature of the ship, and shouldn’t even be there at all. To be fair to the staff, the USS Texas was built in 1914, so this is probably about the oldest steel warship still afloat. I suspect if she were docked in a prominent spot, like the USS Wisconsin in downtown Norfolk, things would be much different.

Nevertheless, if you ever get to Houston and have an interest in heavy machinery, this battleship would be a great visit. Don’t forget to look behind the doors to discover some unrestored areas. I couldn’t help but daydream about what life must have been like aboard a WWI dreadnaught.

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Miss S.L. Walker, of Meriwether Georgia, wrote to the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company back in February, 1920. In her letter, she seems pretty happy to have found a way to earn extra money and looks forward to receiving samples and price lists so that she can continue her endeavor. Back in 1920, she was selling her socks for 75 cents a pair and finds “that not a better pair of hose can be made than on the Gearhart Knitter.”

Meriwether, Ga
R.F.D #1
Feb 21, 20

Gearhart Knitting Machine Co.,
Clearfield, Pa. USA

Dear Sirs: –

Find enclosed 10 cents which please send me large samples, of the grades of knitting the different Cylinder does. Also samples of your different grades of threads and price list. I will take an order for thread as soon as I receive your ans. I have learned to master the machine thoroughly in plain knitting, such as “long hose with hemmed tops, and flat web for making many different art.” I am now using the Ribber, but am not thoroughly familiar with the working principles yet. I have made and disposed a few pair of hose at 75 cents a pair, and I find that not a better pair of hose can be made than on the Gearhart Knitter. I have been knitting for our family and neighbors. I also would like to knit for the trade. As I am located where I cannot easily get to the markets, I would be very thankful of you to find sale for my knitted articles. As mention in the little guide book which you first sent me. I have written to knitting Dept. for details, but haven’t receive any ans. Looking for a reply soon. I am yours truly,

Miss S.L. Walker

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