Industry in Berks: Wyomissing Industries

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1,000,000,000th Stocking on Display in the Berks History Center Museum

Wyomissing Industries was the largest manufacturer of ladies full- fashioned hosiery in the world from 1920-1940’s.  The three industries that comprised the Wyomissing Industries (Textile Machine Works, Berkshire Knitting Mills, Narrow Fabric Company), employed thousands of workers in its vast array of multi-floor brick buildings prior to its sale to Vanity Fair Corporation in 1969. Wyomissing Industries was founded by Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen following their emigration from Germany in 1892.

At its peak, it had on site a dispensary for its employees offering medical, dental and eye care.  The cafeteria could seat up to a 1000 employees and a small section was opened in another building to sell over-runs to workers and their families. Seeing its success, they decided to allow the public to by direct from them.

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Photo taken in the Berks History Center Museum’s Trades to Industry Room

Berkshire Knitting Mills was chosen by the DuPont Company to test a new material known as Nylon and they quickly adapted their machinery to its use. After 1940, most women’s hosiery was made from nylon. Wyomissing Industries published a newsletter for its employees from 1931-1957 called “The Yarn Carrier”. The following is a saying from the “Say” column from December, 1932: “What the world needs is a telephone bell that will tell who is ringing at the other end.”

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia

High School Yearbooks

I have a slightly inactive Yahoo email account.  It’s inactive, because the only thing I use it for is my Fantasy Hockey League I have with my friends.  So, I only check it during the fall through the season.  Regardless of the state of the Hockey Season this year, I opened up my Yahoo account and found the following email from a Library Aid at Wyomissing.  It was sent in February and I apologize for not seeing it.  I don’t exactly know how she got my yahoo address.  Regardless, it’s a follow up to a question I asked back on December 23, 2011 in the post Voted Most Smartest, regarding Colophon, the Wymossing High School Yearbook.  Ms. Ellen Weaver responded and answered that question.

As a way to apologize for taking so long to see it, I am printing her response in full.  I hope enjoy it.  I’ll be checking my yahoo account more often now.  Thanks for the information Ellen!

Hi Kimberly,

I found your blog in my on-going quest to fill out our collection of yearbooks here at the Wyomissing High School library.  It’s funny that I found it now, because I am working on designing a display featuring past and present Wyomissing students.  We have many students whose parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and even great-grandparents attended Wyomissing and I am excited about putting something together.  Every time I start working on this, my regular tasks at the library fade into the background  (shhhh)  and I get completely absorbed into old Wyomissing.  I also live here, so it is even more interesting to me.

Anyhow, here is the lengthy answer to your Wyomissing Colophon question, which I found in the 1930 yearbook.  1930 was the first year for the Colophon, the previous yearbook was the Blue and White, started in 1924.

“To the Reader

Beyond doubt, you have wondered as the the reason for the change of name of this, the Annual of Wyomissing High School.  The alteration in the the title implies no dissatisfaction with the prevailing colors of our Alma Mater-Blue and White.  Rather, have our years under this banner, heightened our respect.

The new title-Colophon-is linguistically of Grecian derivation.  Shortly after the invention of the printing press, (that perfect medium for the transmission of all progress) printers sought some symbol, which might be attached to works of highest merit.  Those masters of the Craft of Printing, who possessed the right to employ their stamp on their products, were the ones with greatest skill and pride in their art.  Because we desire to emulate these craftsmen in producing the best, the name Colophon has been selected.

We have tried to realize the true responsibility that is inherent in any creative enterprise.  In consequence this Annual is to us as a painting to its artist, a piece of statuary to its sculptor;  or a poem to its creator.  In its form and substance it is an expression of ourselves.

That this Annual may meet with your approval,  that it may furnish you with a history of Wyomissing High School in the year 1929-1930;  and that it may win from you the judgment, that we have complied with our theme, to wit, have progressed to some extent beyond the labors of our predecessors; these are the ardent hopes of

THE STAFF”

Don’t you love it!  Lots of SAT words in there…

You might like to know that the 1930 yearbook was the first hardback, it has a gorgeous pink and black Art Deco-style cover and futuristic endpapers.  There is also pink, blueish-purple and yellow ink used in some of the design work and graphics, it’s just beautiful.  There is also a listing of alumni, by class, going back to 1911, which I believe may have been the first high school class. The first high school principal was hired in 1908.  There is also a history of Community Progress beginning with Aboriginal Inhabitants and some great pictures.  It’s interesting to me, that in the middle of the Great Depression they created what is a very expensive-looking book-although most early Wyomissing yearbooks cost $1.00

It is really  cool.

So glad I found your blog!

Ellen Weaver
LIbrary Aide
Wyomissing Junior/Senior High School

Voted Most Smartest

December is almost over and I am sitting here surrounded by a mound of collections that I would love to finish before January 2nd, but realistically will not have finished until the end of next year.  I am a little nostalgic this year, because of everything that has happened, and because I just finished the most awesome collection that can be found in almost every historical society across the country.  This collection is the most under-utilized and never thought of primary resource.  Do I have your attention yet?  Are you wondering what collection could possibly be THAT interesting?

One of the most interesting primary resources that goes virtually unnoticed are yearbooks.  That’s right….yearbooks.  Now, in Berks County, we have a ton of schools, including the Boy’s High School, Girl’s High School and Standard Evening High School which all became Reading Senior High School.  Some Townships had their own, like Shillington and Sinking Spring, until they merged into Wilson.  Then, like in the case of Oley, after a while started printing separate yearbooks for their Elementary School and Middle School.  These are just a few examples.  I still wonder how they came up with their names like Colophon (Wyomissing High School) and Muhltohi (Muhlenberg Township High School).  Maybe if I had the opportunity to read the inside it would be explained.

PLEASE NOTE:  when requesting yearbooks in the HJL, researchers should request by Township, except for Reading.  We all know the Arxalma is for Reading High School.

Now, why are they over-looked as primary resources?  Go, grab your senior yearbook.  Go ahead.  Open it up.  Now, when your done laughing at your hairstyle, clothes or what your friend wrote over her picture, really take a look.  Yearbooks, especially a full run, whether it’s yours from Kindergarten till graduation, or a 50 year run for a school district are a treasure trove of information.  While they “attempt” to document a school year, they actually chronicle clothing and hair styles, changes in attitudes and societal influences.  Often, they document “current” events for a particular year all under the auspices of “Memories”. Best of all, they have photographs.  So, if you can remember your grandmother’s maiden name and what year she graduated, you can see a picture of her, when she was 16, 17 or 18 and just starting to make her way in the world.

While they are a reminder of your past and 18 years of your life that some people want to forget, or in my case can’t really remember, they document a society.  Currently, my yearbooks are at my parents house in New York.  But I did happen upon one or two while processing for 1995.  I am a graduate of Newfane Senior High, Class of 1995.  In looking through those yearbooks, they reminded me of mine.  Even though there is (what seems like) a gazillion miles distance between Berks County and Newfane, NY, we all had the same hair styles, clothes, and un-stylish glasses.  We all acted the same, thought about the same things; all had the same hopes and dreams that were rudely dashed upon entering college.  We all struck out into this world wanting to contribute and make something of ourselves, just like our parents (Class of 1960-something) and our grandparents (class of 1930-something).  And lets face it…we all thought we had style back then!

So, while your home visiting family this Holiday Season, break out those yearbooks.  Whether they are yours or your parents, take a look.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn or uncover within those pages that can add to a family discussion, or your research!

From all of us at the Henry Janssen Library have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH and a very safe and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Awkward Middle School Years