May 17 – Happy Birthday David Chalmers

ChalmersDGrowing up, we in Amsterdam’s Baby Boom generation heard many stories about the flashy millionaire industrialists whose factories employed our grandparents. While carpets dominated Amsterdam’s manufacturing profile, knitting mills were also plenty and prosperous in this community. One of the most successful was the Chalmers Knitting Company, run by today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, David Chalmers.

David was born on May 17, 1870, the son of Harvey Chalmers, who had owned an Amsterdam Hardware Store and also started Harvey Chalmers & Son, a company that would grow to become the largest manufacturer of pearl buttons in the World. While his younger brother Arthur went to work for their father’s company, David found his niche in the knitting industry.

At the turn of the twentieth century, most men and boys who didn’t go commando, wore a single piece undergarment known as a union suit. Its primary purpose was to keep the wearer warm during the winter. Back then, central home heating systems had not yet become the norm. Most homes were cold in the winter and union suits were one of the primary ways men and boys stayed warm. The problem was they were made of nonporous fabrics, which meant unless the person wearing one was in a cold environment, they were usually hot as hell!

Chalmers Times Square Sign

A highly experienced knitting expert and Amsterdam resident by the name of Martin Shaughnessy had just worked out a mechanical process that for the first time made it possible to knit a fabric while simultaneously leaving tiny holes at regular intervals. This permitted air to flow through the material and reach the body of the person wearing it. This new type of fabric could be used to make a new type of undergarment that would be more comfortable to wear in all types of environments.

In 1901 David Chalmers partnered with fellow Amsterdam businessmen John Blood, John Barnes and J. Howard Hanson in a business that hired Shaughnessy and put his new process into production…

You can read the rest of my story about this successful Amsterdam factory owner in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.

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