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,