How Humble Home-Made Socks Saved Lives In The First World War

A circular knitting machine. <a href=>Photo Credit</a>
A circular knitting machine. Photo Credit

Guns and bombs didn’t win World War One, it was socks made on a Gearhart circular sock machine. That’s the story, at least.

Blake Harris of Cole Harbour in Nova Scotia makes socks with a replica of the machine that made history during the world wars. His company, Socks Made on 88, refers to his machine, the 88th reproduction of a 1924 Gearhart machine manufactured by Erlbacher Gearhart Knitting Machine Company in Missouri.  He supplies the local market.

Countless soldiers in WWI and later in WWII avoided fungus and trench foot with socks that kept feet dry. The ailments could kill.

Harris says that the First World War, 20,000 casualties resulted from trench foot in the British Army. The Red Cross gave away over 100,000 of the sock-making machines in the United States and Canada.  Additionally, wool was also given away for hand-knitting.  Knitters had three weeks to produce a pair of socks, or they had to return the wool.  A good knitter could knit one pair per week.

He explained that families would receive a machine in addition to 10 pounds of wool, sufficient for making 30 pairs of socks.  If they succeed, the machine was theirs.

It takes Harris 40 minutes using the Gearhart reproduction.

Midway through WWII the machines were sent to the melting pot, he said, since the metal was needed for boats, guns, and bombs, CBC News reported.

“The satisfaction of accomplishing something with a machine is great for me,” said Harris now retired from fixing trains for ViaRail and CN.  The machine’s sound reminds him of traveling with his wife on a train. “The sounds of the joints on the tracks clicking and banging, it’s peaceful,” he added.

What is his fascination with hand-made socks?  It goes back to his mother’s hand-woven socks that he loved, which she made for him.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE