September 1 – Happy Birthday John C. Fogarty

The last-standing remains of the Pioneer St. knitting mill once managed by John Fogarty.
The last-standing remains of the Pioneer St. knitting mill once managed by John Fogarty.

By the late 1800’s, Amsterdam had become one of this country’s leading manufacturing centers for knitted goods. There were several local mills engaged in that industry and in each of those mills, there were key employees who had learned via observation, training, experience and instinct how to keep production humming. Many were mechanical gurus who could just listen to a malfunctioning machine and diagnose its problem. Others were diploma-less experts in worker psychology who knew what human buttons needed to be pressed at exactly the right time to get employees motivated or intimidated enough to improve their output. These key supervisory individuals became valuable commodities not just for the mill owner who employed them but especially to other mill owners who were constantly striving to make their own operations more efficient. The best of them were given the title “mill superintendent” and it sounds as if few were better at superintending a late 19th and early 20th Century knitting mill than the September 1 Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant.

John C. Fogarty was born in Redfield, NY, a town in Oswego County, on September 1, 1859. At a very young age, he got a job in a knitting mill in a nearby town called Stetville, NY and during the next five years he became one of the establishment’s best employees. Though I cannot find the actual reason he came to Amsterdam at that point in his life, I’m surmising that he had either been recruited to do so by an employer in this area or he knew Amsterdam was a great speculative career move for a young man who knew the in’s and out’s of a knitting mill. Whatever the reason, Fogarty quickly secured a position in a mill owned by Charles Austin that was then located in the Rockton area and became a foreman. In 1882, at the age of 23, he married Miss Margaret Maxwell whose family was one of the earliest settlers in the Amsterdam area and whose father was himself a foreman in a large Amsterdam knitting concern. Fogarty had also changed jobs, going to work for Louis E. Harrower. Harrower had purchased the Rural Hosier Mill from William Pawling in 1871. The mill was located on Pioneer St. just south of the Village of Hagaman, along the Chuctanunda Creek and produced knit shirts and underwear.

Fogarty would end up spending thirty years as a resident of this city and assisted by his connection to the Maxwell clan, become a well-known politically connected figure in our community, even serving as tax collector for a time. His only child, a son, John Jr. was also born here.

By 1904, Fogarty’s reputation as a knitting operations expert earned him an invitation from a group of entrepreneurs in New Hartford, NY who were looking to start a knitting mill in that Oneida County village. He accepted the challenge and within three years he had the New Hartford Knitting Mill humming and profitable. Then he took ill and it sounds as if his doctors ordered him to reduce the stress in his life because in 1907, he sold his interest in the New Hartford mill and resigned his position as superintendent. On his last day, every single employee in the company gathered to present him with a parting gift, a finely crafted leather traveling bag along with a letter that praised Fogarty’s outstanding managerial ability and emphasized the fact that it was almost impossible for a boss to be liked, trusted and respected by every employee in any mill but that he was the exception…

My complete birthday post for John Fogarty will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

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