John Nelson and the Sock Monkey

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Sock Knitting Machine
Sock Knitting Machine Silhouette

Hello Folks,

This is your humble historically minded  corespondent, and this week I would like to tell you about John Nelson. You may say, “John who?…” Well, John Nelson was one of the first  Swedish immigrants to Rockford in 1852; he was also an inventor and started several factories in Rockford. Today, he is more famously associated with the ‘Sock Monkey.’ Nelson originally started a woodworking factory, that later turned into a furniture manufacturing plant. Nelson was a machinist with the spirit of an inventor. He knew there could be an easier way to make a sock, and he went to work devoting countless hours to his goal of creating a stocking knitting machine. He became so engrossed with the idea of his invention that he sold the furniture factory and his wife had to wash clothes to help pay the bills. Many of his friends were worried and thought he might go insane, but he pulled it off with the help of a fellow inventor, W.W. Burson. Nelson received a patent for the machine in the 1870’s and originally did not produce socks, but rented the machines to knitting factories across America and Europe. Nelson’s sons (Frithiof, William, Oscar, and Franklin) inherited parts of the business, and they started a knitting factory in Rockford. John Nelson died in 1883 at the age of 53, and his children kept the Nelson name alive in the manufacturing community. Oscar, William, and Frithiof started the Nelson Knitting Company in Rockford and started a booming business. Later, Frithiof started his own business called the Forest City Knitting Co. Franklin became an inventor like his father, and made improvements to the original knitting machine. An evolution of different socks came out of the Nelson Knitting Factory, which eventually morphed into the socks which were later made into the  ‘Sock Monkey.’ For those of you who do not know, the Nelson Knitting Co. has their factory right next door to our museum. Mr. Tinker sold the land to the Nelson family to put their factory next to Tinker Cottage, so we are also home to the ‘Sock Monkey.’ We offer many things here at the museum, so come on out for a visit. Thank you for reading!

This week in the Tinker Time Line:

1775-Patrick Henry gives his famous speech, “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death!” I know, this is before Mr. Tinker’s time, but it is one of my favorite speeches in history, so please follow the link to read the full text. It makes one proud to live here.

1911-Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, kills 145 workers, and later laws were established to keep this from happening again.

1918-Paris is hit by German shells from a gun named, Pariskanone, or ‘Paris Cannon,’ which had a 118 foot-long barrel and a 25 mile range.

1919-Benito “Il Duce” Mussolini founds the Fascist Party in Italy. That turned out to be a mistake.


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