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July 29, 2022

25 Vintage Advertisements for Porosknit Underwear for Men and Boys From the Early 20th Century

Once upon a time, both men and women wore long underwear. These were in the form of one piece “union suits” and were often uncomfortable. There lived in Amsterdam a man named Martin J. Shaughnessy, not to be confused with the notorious saloon keeper by the same name, who invented a revolutionary knitting process that left small holes in the material used for underwear which allowed a person’s skin to breathe.

This patented process was called Porosknit and Amsterdam’s Chalmers Knitting Mill, which Shaughnessy was associated with, manufactured underwear using Shaughnessy’s process. Porosknit underwear was made for men and boys because by the turn of the 20th century, few women were wearing union suits. Porosknit ads in magazines showed men and boys in manly pursuits—throwing a football, boxing, basketball and the like. Porosknit was extremely extremely popular and brought success to the knitting mill.

The Chalmers Knitting Mill began when David W. Chalmers, John R. Blood, John Barnes and J. Howard Hanson became interested in manufacturing Porosknit underwear. The Chalmers Knitting Mill company was first formed in 1901, incorporated in 1904 and the first plant was located on Washington Street, where the company leased the third floor of the Blood broom factory, and began manufacturing with around 70 employees.

While on Washington Street, the Chalmers Knitting Mill revolutionized underwear once again by dividing the one-piece union suit into two pieces—top and bottom. In 1913 the Chalmers Knitting Mill erected a new four story brick structure on Amsterdam’s south side. In 1916, a seven story reinforced concrete spinning mill was added to the structure. The addition was set at a near-right angle to the original section, giving the building an L-shaped footprint. The mill produced undergarments and remained in operation under the Chalmers name until the founders’ death in 1959.


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