I was thinking about the powered knitting machine that Emory mentioned in one of his 1917 telegrams to the Western Electric Company. This telegram is described in my posting titled Telegrams for August 1917 (click here). Out of curiosity I dug up a copy of the 1916 Western Electric Catalog. This catalog is huge, and has over 1500 pages of machinery, fittings, supplies, and just about anything you could wish for if you wanted to build a factory or manufacture appliances. They even had hair dryers and power tools that I wouldn’t have though existed back in 1916.

Starting on page 106 is the section on small A.C Motors. Now, these would be perfect to power a knitting machine. 60 cycle. Single Phase. 1/2 HP. The description reads:

The Western Electric Type KS single phase squirrel cage induction motor is expecially adapted for driving all geared or belted machinery requiring constant speed with a moderate starting torque. This motor is equipped with a clutch type armature. The motor can be mounted on the floor, wall or ceiling, and the bearing brackets are interchangeable.


Just as nice is the Sewing Machine Motor on page 587. The catalog description reads as follows:

This simple little wonder-worker changes any sewing machine, old or new, into an electric self-operated labor saver. It is mounted on a sewing machine and ready for work withoug removing any part of the mechanism of the sewing machine, except the belt, which may be readily slipped off. No matter what the make or style of your machine, or how old it is, the Western Electric Sewing Machine motor will relieve you of the treadmill grind of running it.


I’m sure that the Gearhart’s (Joseph, Emory, John, Leonard) had a copy of this same catalog. By 1917, they were in contact with the Western Electric company to manufacture a motor specifically designed to power the Gearhart Knitting Machine. It would probably have been close in design to either the Sewing Machine Motor or the Squirrel Cage Induction Motor. However, in August, 1917, Emory shut down development of the motor. The vast majority of purchasers of the Gearhart Knitting Machine lived on farms way out in the country. Electric power would have been a luxury to many of them, and the Electric Utility Industry was still getting off the ground. I would think this played a big part in opting to keep the Gearhart Knitting Machine as a hand-cranked machine.

In fact, my former employer, Alabama Power, didn’t really start to set up its power grid until the mid 1920’s, after the construction of two large hydroelectric dams. It wasn’t until the 1930’s and the projects sponsored by the WPA, that power became commonly available. If the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company had still been in business in the 1930’s, then I think the idea of a powered machine would have been well-received by all. I do not think that any of the Knitting Machine manufacturers at that time ever sold an electric machine with an attached motor. I have not found any evidence that would suggest otherwise, and the Gearhart Knitting Machine company probably evolved further than any other companies.


I’m glad Emory Gearhart kept this August, 1917 Telegram book. As the General Manager of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company, he gives us a good account of his life as an executive of the company. During these busy times, Emory quickly filled up the telegram book with all kinds of messages to customers and machine part suppliers, as well as messages to his family and co-workers. It is evident from this telegram book that he practically lived on the road while representing the company and its far-flung interests, and was sending out several telegrams every day.

At 29 years old, he commanded a lot of power within the company and it shows from the content of these telegrams. He’d already been in the business for 9 years, and I can tell he was thoroughly comfortable with pushing and pulling people in directions that were growing the company rapidly, in both income and evolution of their knitting machine technology.


The telegrams take place right in the middle of World War One. As I scan through the 60 pages, there are many telegrams to war-related customers such as the War Relief Clearing House, Red Cross Supply Service, Fort Sam Houston Red Cross, Serbian Distress Fund, and the Vacation War Relief. In these telegrams, Emory is arranging for the sale of many, many machines. If two weeks in August is a typical time slice for the company, it looks like these organizations bought several thousand machines during the course of the war.

There are also many telegrams to suppliers. This is particularly revealing in that it shows a severe inventory problem in keeping up with the demand for machines. Some of these supply companies are alive and well today. Littlestown Foundry was just one year old when the company was producing ribber castings. Of course today there are thousands of companies just like this, but back then a local casting company was probably a pretty rare occurrence. There is no doubt from the content of some of these telegrams that Emory was loosing is patience with the slowness of a few of the suppliers. The Wm Corey Company in particular was the recipient of several brief telegrams dealing with needles. I’m not sure how the story ended here, but I do know that by at least 1924, the Gearhart Knitting Machine company was getting its needles from the Torrington Needle Company in Connecticut.

I could go on and on about the facinating things in this telegram book, but for now I’ll just reprint a few of the telegrams below.

Western Electric Co. 463 West ST. New York, NY. Do not manufacture electric machine. telegram2_300px
Wm Corey Co. Manchester, NH. Will you let us know what you are doing for us. You said 30 thousand twelve gauge by last of September and plenty of other needles from new wire would be coming right along. People clammoring for machines. And also the Government wants some. telegram3_300px
Wm Corey Co. Manchester, NH. When can we get more ten gauge and 12 gauge cylinders. Have been out of 12 gauge for some time. telegram4_300px
Littlestown Hardware and Foundry Co. Littlestown, PA. Make up one hundred new ribber castings at once and send by Express. Freight shipment not received. telegram5_300px
Emily Chauncy. Vacation War Relief. 122 Madison Ave. New York. Geo. Migrew Red Cross 389 Fifth Ave. wants twenty five outfits. Will you quote him $17.00 and we can send direct. Will send you 50 next week, 50 week following. Eight sent out today. telegram6_300px
Riverside Foundry Co. Wrightsville, PA. Ship at once by Express. 100 large slotted weights and bobbin winding parts. Our business is being held up considerably. telegram7_300px

Here is a 1925 letter from Mr Frank McClellan of Troy, New York. He’s not a happy guy.

In his letter, addressed to the Service Department, he tells the Gearhart Knitting Machine company about his experiences with both the Auto Knitter Company and the Gearhart Knitting Machine company. He comes out swinging against the Auto Knitter Company and rooting for the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company, and describing the way in which the Auto Knitter company has gotten itself into big trouble with the Fed’s by comitting Mail Fraud.

It is interesting reading, since it exposes what started the ball rolling to bring down the entire industry due to the problems caused by a few. In this case, the owners of the Auto Knitter company were arrainged and released on $10,000 bail each. This company was charged by the Government in selling machines and promoting the idea of selling socks produced by the customers, when in fact it had no intention of accepting otherwise perfect socks. Here is the text of the Government’s charge:

The Government charges that the Company was interested only in the sale of the machines, from which it realized its profit; that it actually lost money on what sox were sold for its customers and that it did its best, once the machines where sold, to discourage the buyers from knitting for the market, by delaying and rejecting shipments of the sox. It broadcast its literature through the mails and advertised in magazines, the Government says, painting glowing pictures of the profits that would accrue to those buying the machines.

It looks like the Auto Knitter Company’s corruption was extensive. It sold $6,000,000 worth of machines over 10 years, and apparently had no intention of honoring its sock agreement. $6,000,000 is a lot of customers. At $60.00 to $80.00 each, this would add up to over 80,000 defrauded customers.

The Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was obviously watching these events unfold among its competitors, and no doubt happy on one hand that the competition was unraveling, and worried on the other hand that speculation may spread across the entire industry. Both things happened.

Here is the letter. It is long and involved. From what I can tell from other references, the letter is quite accurate.





I ran across some old Gearhart land deeds the other day. They do not have any connection to the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company, but they are notable for being the oldest original documents in the archives. The three land deeds, dated 1819, 1832, and 1837 are also noteworthy to me for their geographic references and for their colonial handwriting style. They also contain the only known signatures of John Gearhart (1788-1871), whose grandfather, the mysterious Mordecai Gearhart (1725-1786) migrated from the Alsace-Loraine region of France/Germany and established the family in America. I say mysterious because he has no history, or none that anyone can find other than a list of his children and his dates. I wouldn’t mind finding some more John Gearhart (1788-1871) documents that could shed some light on the mysterious Mordecai.

John Gearhart was 31 years old when he purchased the land described in the 1819 deed, so we do know that he could read and write, and he had enough wealth to buy a substantial piece of land for farming. Given this, I’d say the odds are good that there may be more information about him from others. I’d very much appreciate corresponding with anyone who might have details about his life.

Wow, now I’ve really diverged from the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. Might as well keep going while I’ve got the chance.

I must say, I’ve always liked colonial handwriting. Both the Gothic and Italian style handwriting described in Reed Digital Collections are very appealing to me. If I could find this typeset, I’d probably use some of it in my postings. It would, however, take a lot of patient reading to digest the text. In fact, I’d even feel free to put my own spelling to words, just like they did back in the early 1800’s. It wasn’t for lack of education; its just that spelling wasn’t fixed until the middle of the nineteenth-century.

So anyway, here is the oldest document in the archives. Its an 1819 land deed for 100 acres, at $1.50 per acre, located in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. This land would be located within driving distance of Penn State University. Its very beautiful and green there!


… a certain Tract or Piece of Ground situate in Clearfield County, beginning at an old Pine corner on the South side of balentine Floyd thence North 60 degrees West eight eight perches to an old post corner, from place of beginning one hundred and forty perches to a Spruce half corner, thence South 30 degrees West. On hundred fourteen and a half perches to a Spruce half corner. Thence South 60 degrees East one hundred and forty perches to a white Oak corner. Thence North 30 degrees East one hundred fourteen and a half perches to the place of the beginning.


A popular monthly farm magazine, called Comfort Magazine was published by William Howard Gannett of Augusta, Maine, between 1888 and 1942. The magazine was a combination of today’s Reader’s Digest and Southern Living, and was aimed at rural housewives. What better place for the Gearhart Knitting Company to adverstise…

If you scan though an issue, the typical table of contents reads as follows. Fashions of the month – The women who came between – The Penfold Adventure – The grand champion canner – Sun dial – Luncheon set with buffet set to match – and page after page of advertisements including “Treatment for deafness, head noises and catarrh”.

This looks like the perfect place to sway the rural housewife into thinking about buying a Knitting Machine in order to supply her family and pick up some extra spending money on the side. So, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company became one of the magazines oldest and reliable advertisers. In fact, Mr. Gannett, wrote a letter to Joseph Gearhart in 1916 tothank him for his business. Apparently, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company and Montomery Wards (noted by E.J. Gearhart in some notes) were the first two companies still in business in 1916 that published in the magazine. Gearhart’s first ad appeared in the magazine in September, 1890.



The September 1890 advertisement would have been very similar, if not the same, as the advertisement from the archive shown here. This ad is for the first wooden machine priced at $3.50.

By the way, did you notice the note in the upper right corner of the letter? It says Defendant’s Ex “U”, 10/8/30. The Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was called into a court case long after it ceased operations, involving issues surrounding a general mail fraud complaint. The case came to nothing and was quickly dismissed. Things did not, however, come out so good for the Auto-Knitter Company who instigated many complaints from its customers, and rightfully so, for selling machines on false promises. I’m currently working on a posting involving the Auto-Knitter Company and how it put a sour note on this entire thriving cottage industry. More to come later.


In my previous post titled Making a Living in the Knitting Machine Business (click here), someone asked about the powered Branson Knitter. Here is an illustration of the knitter. It looks like a pretty nice setup, although it does seem to be an old industrial design where the power was supplied by a drive located some distance away, with power fed through a drive shaft to a belt powering the machine.

Another interesting feature of this Branson machine is the Stop Motion Attachments. Instead of a row counter, which was common among many of the machines, this machine had a cord with adjustable stops attached to a wind-up spool, which in turn was connect to the crank. As the crank was turned by the drive belt, the cord lifted up towards the bottom of the machine. When one of the stops made contact, the crank stopped. Very ingenious.

I’ve seen this type belt-drive mechanism in old machine shops. There’s even something like this in the boatyard where I keep my boat. A big steam engine powers a drive shaft, and all kinds of machinery like drill presses, lathes, and so on are connected to the drive shaft. My father even came up with something similar, although on a smaller scale and powered by a single large electric motor, in his garage.

I guess now days you’d just attach a small motor to the machine and plug it in. But back around the time this Branson Knitting Machine was sold, which would have probably been in the 1870 through 1890 time frame, small motors didn’t exist. Taken to the extreme, you might even imagine many, many machines as far as the eye could see, all powered by belt-drives. It sounds quite efficient to me when scaled up like this:


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.