The Gearhart Knitting Machine was invented by Joseph Emery Gearhart, whose great-grandfather, John Gearhart, emigrated from Germany in the 1700’s, served in the Revolutionary War, then settled in Centre County, marrying and fathering 10 children.
His grandfather served in the War of 1812 and moved to Clearfield County in 1820, where John S., father of Joseph was born on the family farm near Philipsburg.
Joseph was born April 22, 1849, reared on the family farm and attended the country schools. His first employment was at a lumber firm in Philipsburg.
In Joseph’s youth, he was interested in mechanics and invented many devices and utensils of practical use, some were patented and manufactured.
He worked on the knitting machine until he perfected every part of it. He received a patent in 1889 and opened a small shop in Boggs Township for manufacturing.
By 1890, the business had outgrown the shop and was relocated to Clearfield. A plant was erected on Nichols Street and also a factory was built in Canada. Records indicate that the company employed almost 200 people in the plant.
Thousands of Gearhart Knitting Machines were mailed out all over the United States and many foreign countries from Clearfield County between the late 1880’s and mid-1920s’.
Hundreds of the machines went to the American Red Cross during World War I, and it was they who added an improvement for a closed heel and toe. Until this time, socks and stockings had to be hand knitted to be closed.
In the early days when very few women worked outside the home, this was a way for them to make money by using the knitting machine and selling the socks back to the company that would then sell to the public. Thousands of women took up employment knitting at home.
Joseph Gearhart passed away in 1928. The business lasted until the early 1930’s but is still remembered today when people become the new owners of the knitting machines.
Conventions are held and displays are erected for presentation of the machines and its wares to this day. The Gearhart Knitting Machine continues to be known around the world.
Shown in this picture is Sharon Aaron, a Curwensville resident and Clearfield County Historical Society board member. She took first place at the Clearfield County Fair this year with her knitted socks.
Sharon made this beautiful pair of socks on a Gearhart Knitting Machine. You can view an original Gearhart Knitting Machine at the Kerr House Museum any Sunday or Thursday from 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.