Last week, my cousin Emory Gearhart IV sent me two Gearhart Knitting Machines which belonged to his late father, Emory Gearhart III. These machines are special. They are perhaps the last known machines owned by any Gearhart’s besides me. With their arrival, I believe that I now have the entire collection of machines owned by any of the Gearhart’s. My collection goes back to the very first machine, built in 1888 by the inventor Joseph E. Gearhart (1849-1928).
The Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was a very successful family business from 1888 through 1924, manufacturing over 200,000 machines and serving as the primary source of socks for department stores of the day such as Sears, Montgomery Wards, and others. This was before the existance of cheap imports from China. The Gearhart Knitting Machine Company follows an interesting path through the period in time when factories and industry started to displace farms as the primary source of wealth for our country.
I have been researching the company, off and on, for a couple years, after I inherited several boxes of unopened papers and machines from my father. The boxes been stored away since the 1920′s so it has been quite an experience seeing a family history which most people have forgotten. If I can uncover more information around the WW-I time period, I just might have enough information to write a story about the company.
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.
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.