The Sock Knitting Machine
The Effect of Wars on the Sock Knitting Machine
By the end of the Civil War, the Sock Knitting Machines were widely advertised and sold door‑to‑door by peddlers as a method for women to earn income at home. However, the economy and speed of machine‑made socks could not win the hearts of hand knitters.
The hand‑cranked, circular sock knitting machine gained in popularity during World War I. In 1917, a special commission of the Red Cross cabled National Headquarters from the war zone in France, requesting hospital supplies and knitted goods. They begged for a million and a half each of knitted mufflers, sweaters, socks, and wristlets. The Red Cross responded by providing the necessary coordination for the purchase and distribution of wool and military patterns to knitters.
When America entered the war, Mabel Boardman, the only woman member of the Red Cross Central Commission, realized that hand knitters were facing an enormous task. Novice knitters were encouraged to master the machines, at Red Cross headquarters, and knit a perfect pair of socks in 40 minutes.
Knitting rooms, supplied with sock‑making machines and wool, were established in large homes, such as John D. Rockefeller's Fifth Avenue mansion, and Red Cross Centers. Almost everyone knitted, almost everywhere. Knitting teas and speed knitting contests swept the country. As months passed, and wool became scarce, the emphasis shifted to socks. New quotas of 55,000 pairs of socks within three months for each Red Cross Division made the sock knitting machine a prized possession.
When the armistice was signed in 1919 things had changed. Women wanted more economic independence. The sock-knitting machine was the answer for many. Peddlers again went door to door, especially to rural homes, to sell the sock knitting machines to women who wanted to contribute to the earnings of the family. The Gearheart machine offered to supply the wool and buy the knitted socks in order for the home knitter to earn money.