History Lesson: Key invention to knitting industry
invented by Ballston Spa man
SPA — A long-time village resident invented one of the most important machines
in the history of the knitting industry — the power knitting loom.
Timothy Bailey was born in Connecticut but moved to Albany with his family at a
young age. In 1832, a man with the unlikely name of Egbert Egberts became
interested in the processes of making knit goods, then made by hand. His family
physician recommended that he speak to Bailey, who was employed by a cabinet
maker but had shown capabilities for building machinery.
Egberts and Bailey entered into a partnership, and Bailey at once found a crude
knitting machine in Philadelphia to bring back and begin his experiments. Within
six days he had found a way to operate it by a sidecrank, and thereafter further
refined the machine to run by water power. Once it was able to make four shirt
bodies and knit back and forth 30 times per minute, Bailey, Egberts, and
Bailey’s younger brother Joshua moved their operations to Cohoes.
Within a short period of time, the knitting mill they started became the most
successful in the country.
The hand cranks on the machines were replaced with a means to power them by the
water of Cohoes Falls.
Where it previously took a person one day to knit two pairs of drawers with the
common hand loom, Bailey’s power loom enabled a person to knit twenty pairs in
the same time period.
Since these were the first automated knitting machines in existence and had no
patent protection, they were kept in a locked room with only a few trusted
employees having access to them. One source claims that Bailey purposefully did
not patent his invention so that there was no danger of it being copied.
For about 15 years, the knitting mill was the only one in the world where all
shirt and drawer knitting was done by machinery.
About 1850, Bailey retired and moved to Ballston Spa to live out the remainder
of his life. Since others had begun to copy his design, he decided to patent his
invention soon afterward.
“A History of American Manufacturers” states that of the 126 patents issued in
the United States involving looms and knitting machinery, “the most valuable
contribution to this class of textile machinery was that of Timothy Bailey of
Ballston Spa, New York, who was the first to give the world a Power Stocking
Loom, having about the year 1852 succeeded in adapting the old improvements.”
The “Christian Advocate and Journal” of Great Britain wrote an article about
Bailey in 1856, stating: “There is a man now in America to whom the people are
under inestimable obligation for his inventions and yet he has received but
little pecuniary advantage, while others have been enriched by the products of
his skill. The person to whom I refer is Mr. Timothy Bailey, now residing in
Ballston Spa, the inventor of the first knitting machines in this country.”
Despite succumbing to the fate of many famous inventors and living out the rest
of his days in relative obscurity, his power knitting loom would later be
remembered as one of the Capital District’s most important inventions.
— Timothy Starr |Brookside Museum |trustees
Timothy Bailey appears in two of Timothy Starr’s books — “Invented in Ballston
Spa” and “Great Inventors of New York’s Capital District.” The latter book was
released by The History Press on June 28 and is available on-line and in
bookstores. For more information, go to