Sock machine history
Thousands of soldiers fighting in the trenches in France were badly crippled by ‘trench foot’, a fungus infection of the feet caused by standing for hours in cold, stagnant water without being able to remove wet socks or boots.
Dry socks were important to the health of the troops; If untreated, trench foot could turn gangrenous. Before the time of antibiotics, it was necessary to amputate the infected part to save the life of the soldier.
Trench foot could be prevented if the soldiers were able to dry their feet and change socks several times a day.
Although it looks a bit like a tin can with a crank, the circular sock machine really did play a vital part in helping win the war.
At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, commercial production of stockings was still not widespread. Most stockings were produced by hand for one’s own family or friends, or sold as a cottage industry. Only a lucky few had a home version of the circular sock knitting machine.
While a fast hand knitter could produce a pair of socks in a week, a circular sock knitting machine in the hands of an experienced knitter could produce a pair in 40 minutes!
A firm in Rockford, Illinois was the first company in the world to manufacture socks commercially, but by 1904 this firm produced only 5,400 pairs of sock a day.
Once the need for socks for the troops was recognized, the home front mobilized. Each of the 7 American Red Cross Division was expected to provide 55,000 pairs of socks within three months for the war effort, plus mufflers, vests and gloves.
The International Red Cross arranged for the purchase and distribution of wool and patterns to civilian knitters, set up knitting rooms and gave away circular sock knitting machines to home knitters who would commit to producing a minimum of 30 pairs of socks for the war effort.
It requires 400 yards of yarn to produce one pair of socks. In September 1918 all American yarn retailers were ordered by the War Industries Board to turn over their stock of service yarn to the Red Cross.
A primary source of this information is an article by Paula Becker, August 17, 2004