Berkshire Knitting Mills

In 1892, “Textile Machine Works” was founded by Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen on Cedar Street in Reading. In 1886 they accepted an offer to relocate to Wyomissing, where they were sold a site for $1, in hopes their industry would spur interest in building lots. In 1899 they incorporated as the “Reading Glove and Mitten Manufacturing Company”. By 1906 Berkshire Knitting Mills was incorporated, formed as an experimental mill by Thun and Janssen, to test the knitting machines Textile produces. In 1908 they built their first building, (today’s “Red” building at VF), which originally had three floors. Two more stories were added by 1914. In 1922 parts of the “Blue” building were completed and used at a finishing building. By the late 1910s business was booming due to demand for full-fashion hosiery and WWI trade embargoes from products from German Knitting Mills.  Five more buildings were erected by 1925; a general office, two garages, a cafeteria, and medical dispensary.

1916: The Main building, today called Vf’s “Red” Building, the first building built by founders Thun and Janssen.

Tragedy struck in the mid 1930s, during a bitter strike that turned violent at the mill. The American Federation of Hosiery Workers called for a 13-month strike  to unionize the workers in the mill. It resulted in the death of worker M. Earl Schlegel, injuries to dozens more and destruction of plant and workers’ property. Even with all of the issues, the plant never was unionized.

in 1936: A bitter strike at the Berkshire leaves one man dead, dozens injured.

In 1939, Nylon is invented. Due to restrictions during World War II, widespread production does not begin until 1945. Thun and Janssen are skeptical about the trend toward seamless stockings, assuming women would always prefer the full-fashioned kind. Due partly to miscalculation and the trend toward mills in the South with their cheaper labor, the decline of the Berkshire Knitting Mill began.

In 1969, it was sold to Vanity Fair Mills — today’s VF Corp. The outlet store was created almost by accident, when then CEO wanted to open one Saturday to the public to sell off some surplus items. It was a huge success, so they opened the nation’s first factory outlet center, VF Outlet Village. Since then, the corporation has opened 79 more stores in 31 states nationwide. The production of goods continued in Wyomissing until 1998, when VF Corp decided to move production to Greensboro, SC. The VF Outlet stores enjoyed great success until the late 2000s, in which it started to decline in sales. Since moving the factory to South Carolina in 1998, products sold in Reading were no longer surplus products, and therefor not as competitive with other stores in terms of pricing.

Earlier this year, the VF Outlet buildings and land were acquired by a new owner. There are currently development plans in the works to turn much of the area into a campus for UGI and home to new restaurants and shops. Most of the “Blue” building and the entire “Red” building are set to be demolished late 2017. Please go and view this piece of Berks County history before it is gone forever.

1922; from Park Road…Currently used as VF’s Blue Building (left) and Red Building (right). Both to be demolished later this year

1922: Hosiery as you like it!

1922: the other half of today’s Blue building…this part also set to be demolished later this year.
the main office
1930s: Looking at Penn Ave from in front of the main (red) building. Notice the Reading Hospital in the distance
This machine was part of the Berkshire Knitting Mills, the largest manufacturing facility producing full-fashioned nylon stockings in the world.
1930s: The buildings on this block were demolished, apartments and Viva now stand in it’s place.

1925 Aerial Shot of Wyomissing
1925: Small Lake which once occupied the land that converged at Park Road and Lake View Drive; now the Hospitals parking garage (Now you know why that road is called Lakeview)

Sources:

The Wyomissing Foundation

Hagley Digital Archives

Reading Eagle

5 Replies to “Berkshire Knitting Mills”

  1. Did my apprenticeship at textile machine works. Also visited the textile inn a couple of times

  2. My grandmother worked there when she was young (when it was still the Berky). My sister and I worked there (as VF Outlet) 50+ years later. I found a few newspaper articles about the development, but no specific date of demolition. I’ll have to go back home to Reading and see it one last time!

  3. One MORE piece of Berks County history to be removed and destroyed. If it’s kept up pretty soon there won’t be any historical sites left in the county.

  4. NAFTA and GATT meant by the phrase: “remove trade barriers”, Another word for trade barriers is obviously borders. Contrary to what some of the more confused posters here seem to imagine, this destruction of US production is 100% bipartisan. The two wings of the Wall Street dictatorship just use slightly different rhetoric in order to fool slightly different people. They’re all stupid though, so it’s really not a significant distinction.

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