As time went on more labor was needed for the products of the Ipswich Mills and in 1890 a small plant was leased in Salem. Insufficient labor of the right kind made this an unsatisfactory venture, so this was abandoned and a few years later another plant was leased in South Boston. This experiment was so successful that in 1912, a building of modern construction was erected there and it is now known as the South Boston department of the Ipswich Mills. This factory is about thirty miles from Ipswich.
Ipswich Hosiery was constantly gaining in popular favor and to take care of the increased business a small plant was started in Gloucester, some fifteen miles from Ipswich. This property was developed so successfully that in 1917 a splendid new mill, known as the Gloucester Department of the Ipswich Mills was erected.
Certain interests who were closely affiliated with the Ipswich Mills became interested in the Middlesex Company of Lowell, who enjoyed one of the oldest and finest reputations in the manufacture of woolens and uniform cloths. In one of these buildings in 1911, about 500 modern knitting machines were set up and operated successfully. There were advantages to be gained in consolidating with this company and the Ipswich Mills leased the Middlesex Hosiery Company and in 1921 purchased outright most of this property.
The present property of the Ipswich Mills consists of four plants at Ipswich, South Boston, Gloucester and Lowell, all separate units that enable expansion and contraction of output to meet market demands. Included in this property are the picker and yarn mills, knitting mills, dye houses, box mills, packing houses, storage houses, offices, boiler and power rooms, and numerous small buildings.
The four mills employ approximately 2500 people, have 3873 knitting machines that utilize 3000 horse power. The product of the mills is over 44,000,000 pairs a year. This means that the Ipswich Mills knit approximately 38,749 miles of stockings a year. If these were unravelled it would mean 78,750,000 miles of yarn.
Since 1868 the product of the Ipswich Mills has been sold only through the house of Lawrence & Company. At first the merchandise was distributed principally in Boston and then throughout New England. Later in opening up the markets of the West, Ipswich Hosiery led the way so that today it can be bought in every State in the Union and in practically every city and town. In addition to its domestic distribution, the Ipswich Mills have developed an international reputation and today their stockings are known throughout the world. Its trade mark is so well known that an envelope was received from Malta some time ago on which was pasted an Ipswich trade mark and above this the words, ”To the Mill that makes these.” It was a nice order for merchandise.
A fitting tribute to this pioneer American hosiery is a window display of Ipswich stockings in Nottingham, England, today, just one hundred years after the first machine was smuggled out of the town. Thus we find the evolution of 100 years from the first American production has passed over to American production and export.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the knitting frame invented by William Lee in 1589 was still worked by hand because of no mechanical power. In 1769 a man named Weis equipped the knitting frame with a revolving shaft and introduced levers and cams so that the machine could be worked by turning a crank or handle. With this the worker could be less proficient, but the machine still required his sole attention.
From this time on many attempts were made to produce a rotary driven machine. This met with little success until 1857 when a frame with a mechanically controlled narrowing mechanism was invented by Luke Barton. This allowed the frame to work by rotary power and also made it possible for fashioned or shaped pieces suitable for hosiery or underwear to be made on the frame without further manipulation by the worker. This was the prime factor in the introduction of modern power machinery.
In 1861, Paget of Loughborough invented a movable bar frame. This was rudely constructed, but it gave more speed. In 1864, Cotton of the same town brought out a vertical movable needle bar and established the modern system of straight bar machines known today as Cotton patent frames.