A History of Its Industries, Railroads and Inventions



History Lesson: Key invention to knitting industry invented by Ballston Spa man

Ballston Spa Life


BALLSTON 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 board treasurer

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 www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.


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