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About the History of Hosiery Manufacturers

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In Germany, the beginning of the craft or business of producing knit and warp-knit goods lies in the late middle ages. At that time, cooperative guilds joined forces with the goal of acquiring large amounts of yarn, dying them together, and then selling them at lower prices.

Beginning in the 16th century, as with other crafts, trade guilds began to form. The first known knitting trade guild was established in Paris on August 16, 1527. Knitting became a predominantly male occupation.


Depiction of "Lismers" - since the late middle ages, stocking knitters in Germany were called Lismers.

German knitters established their first trade guild in Berlin in 1590 - the pants knitting trade guild. At this time, stockings and pants were still one unit and were produced like tights. A Strasbourg-based knitting trade guild from 1535 mentions pants which were originally produced in two pieces.


Emblem of the Berlin Weaving and Knitting Guild.


Emblem of a pants knitter from the Nuremberg craft guilds, app. 1680.

200 years later, in 1744, the following is noted in J.H. Zedler's encyclopedia: "Stocking or cap knitters have a wonderful craft, which is well organized and well established in Bohemia, Hungary, Moravia, Austria and Saxony, but especially in the region of the Oberlausitz..." They also write: "He must create a beautiful carpet, artistic like a painting and pierced with many colors; a quilted shirt or camisole, without sewing; a pair of fine, thick stockings; gloves and a cap for men and women..."


Copper etching of hosiery knitting in Germany, 1698.

With the persecution of the Huguenots after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Louis XIV. (1643-1715), almost half a million Protestants fled from France and settled in the Protestant areas of Germany - among them, many stocking makers.


Emblem of the Stuttgart Stocking Knitters, app. 1750.

The French immigrants brought along not only their knitting frames, but also the newest techniques of warp-knitting.


Emblem of the Apolda Warp-Knitting Association.

The first areas settled by the Huguenots were in Württemberg. After only a short time, there were 300 knitting frames in Württemberg, and about 400 adult workers, and a small number of children, who used them.


Emblem of the Gelenau Stocking-Knitter guild, 1842.

Towards the end of the 17th century, warp-knitting spread throughout Württemberg, Hesse, Bavaria, Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg - the stocking mills of Schwabach, Berlin and Erlangen soon became known. The first factories were established in Berlin and Apolda.

The area around Chemnitz expanded into one of the largest centers of stocking production.


Emblem of the Landau Stocking Knitters, app. 1750.

The hosiery knitting industry developed very quickly, but it was still based on the trade guild system. There was steep competition between many stocking makers, which led to the enactment of a "stocking maker" ordinance. The three-year training period of apprentices was increased to four years, and the number of knitting frames allowed per master was set at three for coarse wares and one for fine wares. High standards for the masterpiece, compulsory travel and high fees were supposed to make it difficult to establish autonomous businesses within the guild.


Copper etching of the crafts stocking knitting, and stocking warp-knitting, 1803.

The "stocking maker" ordinance was the last attempt to counter the approaching new economic system of manufacturing.


Ordinance on the labeling of quality stockings, 1769.

With England as an example, Germany implemented the wholesaling system more and more. In this system, the wholesaler was in charge of sales and distribution, and he had several workers who used knitting frames either financed or leased by him. This way, the regulations of the guild did not have to be followed.


Ordinance on the labeling of quality stockings, 1769.

Nevertheless, the guild system stayed intact until the reformation of trade laws, which then also regulated the requirements for the establishment of a factories.


Ordinance on the labeling of quality stockings, 1769.

The availability of new sources of energy and machines had a major influence on the establishment of knitting mills and factories as the new production system. Turbines, which made the use of waterpower feasible, steam, which could be used for power decentrally, and electric motors and continuously improving machines paved the way for the mass production of hosiery.


Steam machine, constructional drawing, mid-19th century.


Thuringia, Baden-Württemberg and the Sauerland developed into the industrial centers of hosiery manufacture, and these areas became classic production areas.



Saxony became the center of the fine hosiery industry and of the mechanical engineering required for it. Around 1900, about 10,000 Cotton-patent machines were running in Saxony-based companies. 700 Chemnitz-based wholesale companies made sure that access to world markets was possible for small and medium-sized companies as well.


"Sack-Indian", a stocking knitting master with a day's or week's production in his sack, on his way to sell it to a wholesaler in Chemnitz, app. 1910.

A major set-back for the German hosiery industry came in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I.


Packaging for a pair of English silk lady's fine stockings, which were introduced in Germany in the 1920's.

Since the delivery of hosiery from Germany was on hold, many countries established their own hosiery industry, for example England and the U.S.A.


Packaging for cuprammonium silk stockings made by the English subsidiary of the Bemberg Kunstseidefabrik, based in Bobingen near Augsburg, 1920's.

By this time, there were capable Cotton-patent machine producers in the U.S.A. as well. And yet, the Saxony hosiery industry recovered by the end of the 1920's.


Packaging for a pair of French silk lady's fine stockings, which were introduced in Germany in the 1920's.

A second, serious slump occurred in the 1930's with the onset of the world-wide depression. Many foreign wholesalers broke off the business relationships to their previous suppliers during the persecution of Jews in the Third Reich. In only ten years, the production of hosiery decreased by one-third in the Chemnitz area.


Stocking knitter's children in Gelenau, app. 1930.

World War II., the invasion by the Russians and the dismantling of production sites brought about the end of Saxony's hosiery industry in its private sector structure.


Flag of the political organization of the disappropriated, former textile syndicate in Gelenau.

Between 1945 and 1955 in East Germany, most of the factories of the Saxony hosiery industry were disappropriated (without compensation) and became state-run - for example the Gelenau-based hosiery company Rößler, which became the state-run company "Gelkida" and later a part of the hosiery co-op "Esda" (short for Stockings for Women from the Erz Mountains). Esda existed until the collapse of the GDR in 1989.


Trade fair stand of the VEB Stocking Co-op Esda at the Leipzig trade fair in 1977.


Disappropriated hosiery mill owners and their workers from Saxony and the Sudetenland went to West Germany, which did not have its own fine hosiery industry yet. With funds from the Marshall Plan, the West German fine hosiery industry was built up in 1946/1947. The solidarity of retailers, who provided loans for the establishment of production sites in return for the promise that goods would be delivered in the future, supported this restart of the business. First machines were re-imported from abroad, and the establishment of a West German hosiery machine industry began after the currency reform. By the end of the 1950's, 157 companies in West Germany were already producing lady's fine hosiery.


"Site Map" of West German hosiery manufacturers, 1951.

Additional detailed information on the history of hosiery manufacturers in Germany can be found in the individual company profiles (which will successively be added to the "Site Map" in the course of the updating process).