Garon Knitting Mills - Duluth

Garon Knitting Mills (originally Great Northern Spinning and Knitting Mills) was founded by Israel Garon. The history of company is presented on this page. The story was written by Israel Garon's son Sherman Garon in May 2007. Also on this page are several old newspaper articles about the factory.

The news articles include one from 1906 about an early partnership, one from 1928 about buying new machinery, one from 1930 with a picture of the building, and one from 1933 about the new business after emerging from bankruptcy. (Click the links to move down the page.)


GARON KNITTING MILLS
ISRAEL GARON was the founder of GREAT NORTHERN SPINNING AND KNITTING MILLS which later became GARON KNITTING MILLS. He was the son of SIMCHA ZIMEL and PESAH GARON. At about age 13 he was sent to St. Petersburg in Russia to become an apprentice in a sweater factory. At age about age 17 (1898), he returned home and shortly after he and his oldest sister's (Freda Heifitz) husband made a trip to America. An aunt lived in Duluth so they came to Duluth.

Heifitz went back to his home and family in Europe., but ISRAEL who was single, stayed, getting a job at NELSON KNITTING MILLS, a sweater manufacturer, in Duluth. After working for a short period, he purchased a sweater knitting machine, which he put in his room. Machines were hand operated as is often still done on home knitting machines. Within two years at age 19, in 1900, Israel started his own knitting mill.

In later years Nelson Knitting Mills owners were very friendly with Israel, and as they had a retail operation in their factory building, they bought knit goods (other than sweaters) from Garon. Many years later, when Nelson Knitting Mills ceased business, a grand son, Jim Nelson who at one time was president of Nelson Knitting Mills, was hired to be production manager at Garon knitting Mills.

Near the beginning Israel had some partners. That did not work out very well. He was a very good sales person as well as a good mechanic. In the 1920's he often went over to PATRICK OVERCOAT FACTORY at 30th Ave West and Superior Street, which was a block, away from his factory, to help them with their machinery problems.

His factory originally was located at 2nd Ave West and Michigan St, across from the Glass Block Dept Store. The name he used was GREAT NORTHERN SPINNING AND KNITTING MILLS. There might have been a slight variation originally, as there was a law suit by the mill in Minneapolis which later changed its name to MUNSiNGWEAR. Their original names were too similar. The law suit ended up in the Minnesota Supreme Court. They finally came to an agreement.

Many years later MUNSINGWEAR became a customer of Garon. The 3M company made reflective yarn which Munsingwear used to make stripes in some of its garments, and Garon used to put stripes in stocking caps. Munsingwear bought stocking caps from Garon to sell with its garments.

During the World War 1 years ISRAEL was in his mid thirties, so too old to be in the army. Business was very good, but in 1918 the building had a devastating fire.

Israel went to 30th Ave W to build a new building. It was a residential area, so he had to get an exception to the zoning laws. The building was all concrete and brick (so there would never be another fire). The building was about 150 feet long by 50 feet wide. It cost about $100,000 to build. Today it would cost many times that amount. It had a basement and two stories plus an area on the roof part of which was enclosed. Yarns would be stored on the roof area. (See picture with 1930 news article.)

The building was built so more stories could be added, and the non street side was made to accommodate a sideways expansion, if needed so the building could be wider than the original 50 feet. The building elevator could easily hold a large car.

ISRAEL was very innovative. He worked for years to develop rubber topped stockings. He did get a patent, but bigger companies were able to develop other methods so they did not have to use his patent. He finely sold the rights to it when the patent was within a few years of expiring. He got a trip to Chicago and a thousand dollars.

In the late 1920's ISRAEL was doing very well. He not only knit his own products, but produced his own wool yarn. There is wool and there is much better, finer quality worsted wool, which takes more involved machinery to produce. Wool is scratchy to sensitive skin while worsted wool is so refined that there is no scratchy feeling. He bought the more expensive worsted producing machinery. That was around 1928 or early 1929. With the worsted yarns he was able to make fine knit underwear. (See 1928 news article.)

ISRAEL made the mistake in the late 1920's, of depending mainly on only about three very large customers to buy most of his production. After the crash of October 1929, at least two of the three large customers went bankrupt. He sold the expensive worsted machinery to raise money to keep going, but that was not enough; He finally had to declare bankruptcy.

His creditors wanted to foreclose and have an auction to sell the rest of the machinery which would put ISRAEL out of business. He got an injunction, raised money, and put the money in his son Bert's name, to buy out the bankruptcy. (Since the business had been in ISRAEL'S name and he could not buy out his own bankruptcy.) He then changed the name from GREAT NORTHERN SPINNING AND KNITTING MILLS to GARON KNITTING MILLS. (See 1933 news article.)

Later he set the business up as a partnership with his wife Hannah Mary Garon and his two sons Bert and Lawrence. Son Sherman, after graduating from the University of Minnesota with both business and law degrees, was asked to join the business. During his years in Law School, Sherman had been successfully selling for the company in the Twin Cites area. Within a few years Sherman was added into the partnership.

Israel stated that after he got back on his financial feet he paid everyone who had lost on the bankruptcy. Because of the bankruptcy he wasn't required to pay anything back, so he felt paying the principle was enough without paying the interest. This made one person who was paid back their principle, angry because they did not also get the interest.

The knitting mill was unionized in the 1930s, However ISRAEL would not accept a union shop nor pay the employee's union dues. The union eventually dissolved. Later in the late 1940s there was another attempt to unionize the company including a strike. During the strike, the noted singer Paul Robeson, who was known to be quite to the left, came to the factory to join the strikers. Israel invited him into the building. The front stairway inside the building had wonderful acoustics. As ISRAEL loved to sing, he and Paul Robeson sang together. It was terrific. They had a good time together. Click here for more information about the Robeson visit.

ISRAEL was well liked by his employees. He would take interest in them. A woman employee lost her husband and in the confusion after his death, lost her health insurance and had health problems which the insurance company refused to pay. Israel had Sherman contact the insurance company and was able to get back her health insurance, and have the company pay her hospital and doctor costs.

A woman who was a very good worker lived near the factory. She had been one of the key strikers during the union organizing in the 1930s. One-day at home, she got her hand or arm caught in her washing machine ringer, and was unable to work for some time. Israel kept her on the payroll until she was well and could come back to work. When the attempt was made to unionize in the late 1940s she was a key person in stopping the unionizing effort.

In later years a consulting company from Chicago was called in to advise the company on doing things better. After some days of checking at the factory, the first statement made by their man was "You are running a country club for your employees" This was never changed while the Garon family owned the company.

Israel was also very close to his customers. He had several chain store accounts, where he was allowed to work with individual store managers or buyers. In one situation where a buyer could no longer work as she had cancer, he visited her at her home. At another store he saw a large rocking horse which he wanted to buy for his grand daughter. The store manager would not sell it to him. The manager gave it to him.

When Israel had grandchildren, he doted on them. All the employees knew about his grandchildren, and the employees called him GRANDPA GARON.

After the bankruptcy, ISRAEL consolidated the business onto the upper floor. He rented the first floor and basement to a bakery called SPINDLER & DUTTON. They used the basement for their trucks. They did not last long, and may have gone into bankruptcy.

Zinsmaster Bakery was a few blocks from the factory. Zinsmaster also had a branch in St. Paul near the State Capital building. Israel was able to get Harry Zinsmaster, the owner, to put their cake department in the space where Spindler and Dutton had been. As Zinsmaster did not need the basement, it was converted into a car repair garage, the 30th Ave West Garage. A car mechanic was hired to fix cars. By about 1940, Zinsmaster discontinued the cake department and the Thirtieth Ave West Garage was no longer viable, so the factory again began to use the entire building.

Israel was always innovative. In the early 1930's sweaters were not selling very well except for school sweaters which were made locally by Nelson Knitting Mills. By then Israel was trying other items. He tried making bathing suits, but they did not go too well. A mainstay of the business was heavyweight boot socks, often called Lumbermen's sox. He still had the basic wool yarn making machines, so he made his own yarn to put into the socks. Some were 100% wool. Others had a blend of wool, nylon, and cotton and there was one that was quite soft with a blend of wool and alpaca.

Yarn making machines were very large. They had two sections. The first made a soft batting material from the wool or other fibers fed into the machine. The second section worked over this batting material and formed individual yarns, which were then put on other machines to twist the material to make it thinner and strong.

One type of sales by Garon was using batting that came from the first section-of the machine, and selling it locally to individuals, for quilt linings. A retail operation was set up to sell these wool battings. People could come to the factory to purchase the batts. Flyers were distributed house to house in various areas of the city, and adds were run in the local paper. People could also bring in their old battings to be refurbished. There was. a machine called a shredder that the old batts were fed into, and from there the fibers were fed into the batting machine. Later as business became much better the batting sales were discontinued.

Israel made stocking caps. Instead of sewing the end and putting on a separate tassel, he would have the end tied and trimmed to form a tassel. This was different from his competitors and a strong selling point. He was also innovative in making mittens. They were knit tubular, with a thumb knitted in. His selling point on the mittens was that as they were tubular, they could be worn on either had, so you did not have to bother about which hand to put them on.

Then he got into ladies and children's knit headwear. To sell these, you had to have fancy designs. He had a sewing machine putting chenille designs on some, he put braids on others and various forms of beads on many to make a full variety.

In New York there were specialty companies that sold all types of beads and items that he would buy to put in various designs on the hats. In the mid 1930s he would have women working at home on a piecework basis putting on the braids and designs on the knitted hats.

In the early 1940s the US was at war. The government decided that jute fiber as in burlap bags, would absorb water. They had sock manufacturers knit the jute into socks that could be worn over regular sox to absorb the water when the regular sox got wet. This became a very big operation. The factory was producing so many that the government installed an inspector in the factory, on a full time basis to monitor the quality of the jute sox the factory produced.

When knitted ski hats became popular, a woman apparently by the name Moriarty, in the New England area started a large "cottage industry" of having women using hand knitting machines to make fancy heavy knit hats for skiers. They were called after her name "Moriarities". These hats became the best sellers for the ski industry.

A New York Company, Hat Corporation of America, which owned hat stores all over the county including the brand "Champ Hats", wanted to have the hats, but did not want to buy from her. At the time other knitting mills did not think their motorized industrial knitting machines could produce the heavy weight of the "Moriarty" hats. The head of Hat Corporation of America contacted GARON KNITTING MILLS. After some experimentation, Garon was able to duplicate the Moriarty quality on it's machines, which Hat Corporation of America bought from Garon.

After that Garon and other knitting mills did very wefl selling all types of similar designs and patterns for skiers, although most were not as heavy as the original "Moriarities". The need for safety later changed skiers into wearing helmets, but the general public were buying these "ski hats" for a long time.

Israel was selling to retail stores and chain stores in the 1930s and 1940s. He maintained a one price policy for all. Some chain store owners were not happy because while a retail store was buying 1 to 5 or 6 dozen of an item, they were buying 60 to 100 dozen of the item. They complained that they should get lower prices.

Then another group of sellers was becoming prominent. Distributors or jobbers, who bought from manufacturers and resold to retailers. Garon's prices were too high for the jobbers to buy from Garon. The jobbers were also bothered that Garon was selling to the same retailer customers at prices lower than they had.

In the mid 1950s, Garon realized that the one price method could not continue, if they wanted to sell the jobbers who were a very large base of sales. Garon then made price structures, so that they could sell to jobbers at a price low enough so the jobber could resell to the retailers at the same price Garon was selling the retailers. This also allowed Garon to sell the chains at prices lower than the prices to the retail stores.. All of this allowed Garon to expand it's total sales tremendously.

Garon was always an innovator. About 1950 it came out with a small ladies and girls hat called an EAR WARMER that became the hottest headwear item. When jobbers wanted to buy it from Garon (this was before the multi price structure started), Garon's price was too expensive for the jobbers. Years later, after the mufti price structure, Garon was the originator of the machine knit "Ski Mask" which became very popular. As Garon then had the multi price structure, it did a large volume with the distributors.

Still later Garon originated the idea of putting school and college names on stocking caps and ski hats. From this came advertising designs on knit hats and knit scarves. Again the main volume came from distributors and jobbers. By the new innovations and using the multi price structure, Garon grew from an employment of 70 to 100 employees in the 1940s to over 250 employees in the 1970s, and instead of working only in the daytime, the factory was operating 24 hours a day in the 1970s.

Israel Garon went on selling trips to New York and Boston with son Sherman until Israel was about 84 years old. He still came down to the factory and was at his desk until age 90. He was there the day before he passed away of complications from the flue in 1972.

Bert, Lawrence and Sherman continued to run the factory until 1983, when because of their ages, Bert and Lawrence were ready to retire. Sherman stayed on with the new company for over three years. The new company owners moved from Duluth to Superior when Superior offered them a free building and over $100,000 to renovate it. In Superior they changed the name so it was no longer GARON KNITTING MILLS. The new company went bankrupt and out of business about 1996.



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The following article about the dissolution of a partnership between Israel and Samuel Bloom under the name of Northwestern Knitting Mill Company and New York Notion House was published on May 1, 1906.



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The following article about a law suit regarding the company name was published on November 6, 1910.



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The following article about a sale of damaged stock after the fire at the knitting mill was published on April 29, 1918.



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The following article about a law suite to recover insurance to pay for the fire damage was published on August 6, 1918. xxx



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The following article about Great Northern Spinning and Knitting Mills purchasing the machinery from another mill was published in the Duluth Herald on January 19, 1928.



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The following article about Great Northern Spinning and Knitting Mills was published in the Duluth Herald on January 30, 1930. The article discusses that the business is "the only plant in the country which is manufacturing knit good in all grades from raw wool, completing every operation under its own supervision, by its own employees..."



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The following article about Garon Knitting Mills was published in the Duluth Herald on February 24, 1933. The article discusses the rebuilding of the factory following the depression and bankruptcy.


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Garon Knitting Mills also owned a second building which was used as a warehouse to store finished products and for processing shipments to customers. The building was a few blocks from the factory located at 26th Avenue West and First Street, and had been the old Monroe School. Bert bought the building and installed lofts on the second floor which had high (16 r 18 ft) ceilings. The lofts significantly increased the storage area in the building. He also installed conveyers belts to move boxes through the building from all three floors.




The Monroe school building burned down in 1992 after it was no longer owned by the Garons. A newspaper article about the fire is shown below.




The Garon Knitting Building still stands today - - - image from GoogleMaps - 2012 - - hi res


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Note: This page is also in the public area of the website.

Israel Garon History page 1 History page 2 Garon Knitting Mills

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Page created in May 2007; rev June 2009