Machine knitting on the lands of the former Polish Republic and in Silesia and west Pomerania

The possibility of the development of machine knitting on Polish soil varied according to these areas differing national affiliations. Thus, west Pomerania enjoyed Prussian state support for the establishment of manufactures, while Silesia already had exceptionally powerful guild knitting. On the lands of the former Polish Republic knitting manufactures were being established in complexes of lordly enterprises, and at the end of the eighteenth century similar burghers' establishments also begann to arise.

There is reasonable evidence suggesting that the knitting machine appeared in Gdansk already around 1620. Namely the Gdansk knitters' statute required the execution of 7 pairs of socks or 7 pairs of ladies' stockings per day, which would have been a very high norm even for the first English knitting machine.67 In the absence of data on the development of this production, it would in any event have been a sporadic case of use of a machine imported from England or, perhaps, Holland. The first Warsaw knitting manufacture came into existence in the buildings of a hospital for orphans during 1720-1728. Production of stockings and knitted gloves was organized there anew by the Company of Woollen Manufactures in 1766. Limited production in both manufactures was based on the labour of old people and children. It is possible that knitting machines were introduced only in the later period of these organisations existence. The same Company organized a large knitting establishment in Gol^dzinow near Warsaw in a complex of textile manufactures. In May 1766 a hosiery master A. C. Hartwig from Toruri settled in Gol^dzinow bringing with him his own technical equipment valued at 649 zloties. From the royal brick-yard situated in the same locality, the manufacture received 7000 bricks for building a suitable premises. In the summer of 1766 Jakub Fryderyk Weiss arrived there, and in October four more hosiery masters from an important knitting centre in Budziszyn. Weiss tried to bring in still more experts from

Gdansk, Elbl^g, Toruri and Krölewiec (Königsberg) along with their own machines, and the dyer Zapski also arrived there. From the very beginning 9 masters working on 5 knitting machines were employed there. The settlers, in part German, were producing stockings from woollen yarn supplied to them from a clothiers' manufacture, and from imported cotton and silk. The 9 people occupied only with knitting and finishing the products were able to develop a fairly large production, if we take into account the Polish conditions. Master Weiss, however, ran away, supposedly because of debts and drunkenness, after presenting the first stockings to the king in September 1767. The master dyer Zapski disappeared as well. In February 1770, master Freitag along with the journeymen was producing on three machines 50 pairs of stockings per week for the Warsaw market. There were plans to import two machines from Saxony at a cost of 30 thalers. The manufacture decayed just as had happened to the other establishments of the Company of Woollen Manufactures, with a loss of 4732 zloties. A few German masters, however, continued working in Gol^dzinow, and later the premises were taken over by a clothiers' manufacture belonging to Rehan.68 There was a considerable demand for knitting production and it could persist if only there were a satisfying supply of yarn.

A hosiery manufacture existed also in the Grodno manufacturing complex, and was producing on imported machines woollen, silk, linen and cotton stockings to the value of 2122 zloties, that is from 200 to 400 pairs. According to the Gol?dzinow norms this would be the production of three knitting machines over a few months. The value of the raw material, i.e., yarn or wool, amounted to 1358 zloties, of the tools 1092 zloties, while the total value of the establishment was calculated at 4572 zloties.69 So in this manufacture on a few machines, stockings, intended for the royal court and for Warsaw, or perhaps also other towns, were being produced.

In the eighties of the eighteenth century hosiery manifactures multiply in Warsaw itself and its surroundings, as a guild is lacking there. In the manufacturing complex of Unrug, a starost of Hamersztyn, in Kobylka, a manufacture of woollen stockings was operating. J. Jezierski set up a manufacture in the village of Sobienie in Garwolin district in 1787: "he would make a profit of more than 200 ducats from his goats, ordering yarn to be spun from their hair and his hosiers to make many beautiful stockings". The goat hair was mixed with lamb wool. A Jewish hosiery manufacture was established in Kozienice in 1791 at the latest. In a clothiers' manufacture in Skierniewice, the director Soubreville introduced hand production of stockings and gloves.70 Knitting was next to spinning was the most common branch of textiles in which during the Age of Enlightenment old people, children or prisoners were compulsorily engaged. In the Warsaw Poor House during 1783-1786, a wide assortment of knitted garments was being produced. In 1784 "there were 1500 pairs of woollen stockings, 150 gloves, 21 nightcaps and knitted woollen material for 5 pairs of gowns being produced". However, it was not always a question of hand production because at that time knitting machines were also being found among private craftsmen. Evidence of this is an advertisement from 1788: "There is in Warsaw a cetrain husband and wife capable of making new stockings, hosiery, gloves, purses on their own frame".71

Apart from Grodno on the eastern territories of the former Polish Republic a large knitting manufacture, was established belonging to Prot Potocki's complex of enterprises in Machnówka. He had brought in masters from France, Germany and Bohemia, some of the best machine knitting centres on the European continent. In Galicia in 1781, there were only 13 knitters. Data on the production of Chyrów and Dukla only dates from the early nineteenth century. Stockings, however, are already registered as an export item from Galicia, and not as an import from Austria, so perhaps a small domestic production escaped the Austrian statistics.72 From Prussian data of 1793 we learn about knitting production in Wielkopolska, that is about the hosiers in Bojanów, Rawic^ and Wschowa. In Dziatoszyn and Zduny there are mentions about knitwear fullers. Data referring to the towns of Wielkopolska, excluding Poznañ, inform us about 25 knitters in all. From Grossman's data of 1808 it emerges that in the department of Warsaw there worked 13 hosiers, of Kalisz - 14, of Poznañ - 73, of Bydgoszcz - 38, of Plock - 27, of Lomza -51, thus altogether 216 owners of workshops of various size.73 In sum, it is possible to estimate the whole knitting production on the lands of the former Polish Republic, excluding the Gdansk Pomerania, at 12-15 thousand pairs of stockings. But even along with the household knitting production, this could not satisfy the garment requirements of the country.

In the kingdom of Prussia, considerable knitting production was concentrated in 10 towns. Apart from Gdansk and Elbl^g, these were: Chelmno. Debrzno, Chojnice, Chelmza, Golub-Dobrzyii, Swiecie, Tczew and Tuchola. There were all together 57 machines and 240 workers, which testifies to the simultaneous existence of hand knitting. In Gdansk itself in 1794 there were 7 workshops and 3 workmen with a yearly production of 227 dozen stockings. The total number of stockings being produced in the towns of Gdansk Pomerania at the early nineteenth century amounts to 11,203 pairs, thus not much less than the estimated production of the rest of the lands of the former Polish Republic. Elbl^g becomes the most important of all the centres, a manufacture having been established there under Prussian rule in 1780. Initially only 11 workers and 8 masters worked there, but in 1785 for the same number of masters there are 330 workers, and in 1803 - 302 workers.74 Greater machine production of knitwear in Poland dates only from the 1820s-1830s. In 1829 in the Mazovia province, there were altogether only 79 hosiery machines, while Wendisch's manufacture straight away put into operation 60 of them. At the same time, along with a couple of manufactures, a knitters' guild was also established in Lódz in 1828.75

In Pomerania in East and West Prussia machine knitting developed with Prussian state support and assumed a manufacturing form. Statistics from 1769 give the dimension of the most important-of these establishments. The knitting manufacture established in 1721 in a Huguenot colony in Szczecin was operating in 1724 on 116 machines and employing 842 workers. The later manufacture of Vielsent was established in 1765 and in 1769 it had 9 machines and 52 workers. J. Wisniewski quotes a total of 18 knitting manufactures in West Pomerania but the larger craft workshops seem to have been included in the statistics as well. In East Prussia a few knitters were registered in Darkiejmy. S^popol and W^gorzew, and in Goldap, where 16 craftsmen were working on

13 machines. Krôlewiec (Königsberg) had 57 machines and about 230 knitters, who were also doing hand knitting.

Gorzôw Wielkopolski, situated on Ziemia Lubuska, had from 1770 Schlée's manufacture (16 machines, 42 workers) and 10 knitters with 4 machines.16 Thus the production there revealed similar characteristics to the other parts of Prussia. Manufactures were concentrated in the larger towns, while hand-made hosiery was designed to meet the local market needs.

Knitting production in Silesia, with a considerably old guild tradition, was already in the sixteenth century was developing export production. In the eighteenth century we can observe a disintegration of the guild organization, and an increase in the domestic putting-out system so characteristic of the Silesian textile industry, and some few manufactures. Prussian historians frequently emphasize the importance of the annexation of Silesia after 1740 to its economic development, which is inaccurate, because Lower Silesia was to constitute the raw material base and market for goods produced in Brandenburg, while the protective customs policy was hindering trade with the former Polish Republic. The dimensions of knitting production, particularly in Lower Silesia, can be determined rather precisely. The Wroclaw knitters's guild had, in 1732, 28 workshops and in 1741 - 58. Its further quantitative development and degree of mechanization are shown in the table cited from an unpublished study by W. Pyrek.77


Number of masters

Number of journeymen


Number of operating machines

Processed wool in stones

Processed woll in stones per 1 knitter








































Changes in the production volume of one of the largest guilds from the central European towns are characteristic of the history of knitting. The machine appears already in 1747, but only the wealthier masters were purchasing it and up to the end of the investigated period it did not increase significantly the dimensions of production, based in part on hand knitting, which was already an anachronism. Consequently, already from 1760 the number of journeymen drops and the dimensions of wool manufacture decrease. As a result of this phenomenon, the guild loses to clothiers a part of its right to the use of the fulling mill and press, which it complains about already in 1763. In 1793 hosiers were forced to yield to other guilds 10 stalls on which they were selling their products, and even up to 1798 they were complaining in letters to the municipality about their difficult economic situation.

  1. Pyrek reasonably explains this state of affairs by the shrinkage of the Polish market. Export of knitwear, fairly large in the years 1774-1775 was gradually decreasing.78 A parallel cause of the decline of the Wroclaw guild was, however, the fact that knitters were not changing over to the new technique of production. In the second half of the eighteenth century hand knitting could still satisfy the small needs of the local market, but the production of a larger volume could not be based on it.
  2. Dlugoborski compares the volume of Wroclaw knitting production during 1772-1779. The table below shows data from particular periods.79


Pairs of stockings

Pairs of gloves




















This table reveals large fluctuations in the volume of production of stockings, and even more so, of knitted gloves for which the market was increasing according to the fashion at the end of the eighteenth century. In addition to fluctuations in demand, conditioned by changes in fashion, other influences were the unsteady production base and the technical development of the producing region. The most important market not only for knitted products but also for machines and skilled workers, were the lands of the former Polish Republic, which is emphasized by not only Polish historians.80

The afore-mentioned knitting production of Wroclaw did not come entirely from guild workshops. There were attempts to increase the output of some Wroclaw workshops by use of the domestic putting-out production. A manufacturer Tomasz Wachsmuth, who had disputes with the guild for employing too many journeymen, and in 1763 complained to the town council that he was being prevented from using the fulling mill, was probably a producer on a larger scale, but the great fluctuations in the volume of production testify to the seasonal recruitment of domestic workers.81 Another "hosier J. Ch. Schmidt in Wroclaw was employing only cottage workers - women, and this not just in spinning, but also in stocking production itself. In 1766 there were 325 women form the town, suburbs and surrounding villages employed by him".82

Besides, in 1728 the hosiers' guild itself was seeking statute confirmation for a small manufacture. Another manufacture came into being in 1764 thanks to a grant to three partners, each of them working on two machines. About 1766 there was a manufacture with 115 workers, these including 65 knitters working on an unspecified number of machines. During this period the import of machines and experts from Freiburg, Bohemia and Saxony increased considerably. In sum, during 1763-1786, 99 machine knitters arrived at lower Silesia, a large part of them settling in Wroclaw. In 1797 another hosiery manufacture was established, employing 59 workers.83

On the basis of data from Generalne tablice statystyczne Sl^ska 1787 roku (The General Statistical Tables of Silesia from 1787) and from H. Fechner's work it is possible to assess the dimensions of Silesian knitting in the second half of the eighteenth century. Around 1787 in the towns of Lower Silesia there were 648 hand knitters with 109 journeymen and 110 machine knitters with 52 journeymen and 167 machines. Among village craftsmen, 27 hand knitters and only 6 machine knitters were registered. Therefore there is no question of the existence a putting-out production system on a large scale. Among the manufactures there is no mention of the clearly documentated Wroclaw establishments, but a manufacture in Jelenia Góra with 6 masters and 3 machines producing silk stockings and gloves is listed there. In Upper Silesia, however, there are two manufacture mentioned, one in Rybnik and the other in Pszczyna. In all our research into Silesia, the presence of knitters in many localities and the possibility of a market for their products was emphasized.84

H. Fechner gives a great deal of data on the dimensions of knitting in Lower Silesia in the second half of the eighteenth century. He claims that at that time about 100 manufactures came into existence, but he does not distinguish them from craft establishments, while his desire to demonstate the splendour of the development of Silesia under Prussian rule could have affected his interpretation of the statistical data. Nevertheless, in the absence of other data, we can cite the information about the manufacture of Steigenhofer working on 6 machines with 36 workers. In 1780 there were 1368 pairs of stockings and 1560 caps produced there. The manufacture in Boguszów existed from 1742 and in 1792 82 masters and 15 journeymen were working there. They were probably engaged mainly in the process of finishing the products of local domestic producers working in the putting-out system whose number was approaching 2000. In 1797 in Klodzko there were 36 knitters, in Racibórz -17 and in Glubczyce — 117. In 1798 in the neighbourhood of Glogów there were 57 factories with 76 machines and 463 workers, and also 20 factories with 76 machines and 87 workers, as well as 37 hand-knitting establishments producing stockings, caps and gloves, with 352 workers. A large production centre also existet in Gryfów and Zlotoryja.85 Statistics from 1787 do not seem to have managed to catch the larger centres of domestic knitting production organised in the putting-out system. These data indicate a fairly large production of woollen knitwear comparable to the Bohemian or Saxon one. The widespread practice of hand knitting, however, made the rapid introduction of the machine here difficult and thus knitting production in Lower Silesia loses export significance in the second half of the eighteenth century.

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