Tag Archives: Immigration

Mackey-Bertog Family History: Merger of German & Irish Roots in Rockford

Anna Bertog’s parents, Heinrich and Julia, were proprietors of an inn in Germany. Fearful of the growing militarism as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, they wanted to get their children away from the volatile atmosphere spreading across Europe. Anna was ten-years-old when they left for America in 1902, and so frightened that she had to be blindfolded just to walk up the gangplank of the ship.  After disembarking in Baltimore, the Bertogs eventually settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin.


When Anna turned eighteen, she attended the Snow College of Dressmaking in Rockford, Illinois, living first with her sister Edita (Edith) and then staying at the YWCA.


Anna Bertog

Quite some time earlier and many miles away, James Mackey, Sr. was born in Ireland in 1820. Reaching adulthood, he married his sweetheart, Lucy, and they immigrated to America where James Jr. was born. The Mackeys came to Rockford from Plymouth, Wisconsin in 1878. Nine years later, James Jr. married seventeen-year-old Emilie Krueger, whose parents hailed from Niden, Germany. Into James Jr. and Emilie’s growing family was born Willard Mackey. With the deaths of both James’s, senior and junior, in 1904, young Willard became the man of the house.


Willard “Mac” Mackey

The Mackeys had a farmhouse in Rockford, circa 1890, complete with a hickory nut grove. The family’s famed hickory nut cake recipe survives. The Mackeys helped sponsor the building of a one-room school on Prairie Road in Rockford called the Oak Grove School. This former schoolhouse was later renovated into a private home.

Growing up, Willard was described as “bookish,” always to be found in the orchard sitting under a tree reading a book. As a young man, he became an active member of the Blackhawk Canoe Club. Canoeing was not only a popular form of exercise but was also an enjoyable way to take a date for a leisurely, serene excursion on the beautiful, winding Rock River.


Willard Mackey canoeing on the Rock River

Willard often canoed as far as Oregon, Illinois, past the imposing Blackhawk statue on the banks of the river. This 48-foot “Eternal Indian” sculpture, dedicated in 1911, was erected in honor of the Native American chief whose name was also appropriated by the canoe club. Willard met Anna during this period and many times the young and spirited Anna Bertog was by Willard’s side on these excursions, a somewhat dangerous endeavor for her because she had never learned how to swim!


Willard Mackey and Anna Bertog, wedding photos, 1914

Willard and Anna married on September 16, 1914. During the prosperity of post-war 1920s Rockford, five factories (Free Sewing Machine Company, Haddorff Piano, Landstrom Furniture Company, Rockford Varnish, and National Lock) formed an alliance called Consolidated Industries. Willard, known as “Mac” to his friends and colleagues, had worked at the sewing machine company; he now became the purchasing agent for this conglomeration.

The young couple lived on Albert Avenue across from Sunset Park in Rockford’s west side. In addition to being a homemaker, Anna was also on staff at Snow’s College.

Around 1920, the Mackeys moved to 2040 Oxford Street in northwest Rockford. This move was short-lived when the family rented a bungalow on Mulberry Street in 1921 near the P.R. Walker School so the Mackey children could easily walk there. Up to this point, the Mackeys had never owned an automobile, but Willard purchased his first car in 1922.

In the spring of 1923, the family moved yet again, this time settling in for a much longer stay. The Mackey clan filled a four-bedroom home at 315 Sheridan Street on Rockford’s northwest side.

Owing to her training and college background as well as her husband’s connection to the Free Sewing Machine Company, Anna always had an electric sewing machine in the house. This was quite a luxury to many young families of these early modern times. As a purchasing agent, Willard would receive gifts from salesmen and clients. One such gift was a children’s slide, which the Mackey youngsters greatly enjoyed in their Sheridan Street backyard.

Willard taught his children canoeing and rented a boathouse with access to the Rock River from a family on National Avenue. The Mackeys loved to ice skate on the frozen river in the long and lingering winter months.

Anna and Willard moved to a home on Hilton Avenue in 1943. In 1960, Willard retired, and he and Anna moved to N. Fort Meyers, Florida to escape the often harsh Midwestern winters. Here they spent their golden years enjoying sunshine, boating, fishing, and each other. The longtime couple, having successfully joined and multiplied their combined German-Irish roots, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1964.


Willard and Anna (Bertog) Mackey, 50th anniversary, 1964

~Written by Doug Janicke, intern in Collections Department at Midway Village Museum & MLIS Graduate Student



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Do You Speak Esperanto?

Included in Midway Village Museum’s collection of postcards is one showing members of Rockford’s “Esperanto Klubo,” or Esperanto Club.  It shows eight young men, sharply dressed, posing proudly for the camera in 1916.  In a community with numerous clubs, this is one of the most obscure ones.

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Esperanto Klubo “Progreso”, Rockford, Illinois, 1916

In 1887 Polish physician Dr. L. L. Zamenhoff devised and introduced Esperanto as a new international language. He created it to serve as a second language that could be used as a linguistic bridge between people speaking different languages.  The idea was not to replace any other language but to provide a common language that is simple to learn and allows people to communicate without having to give up their own native language or adopt someone else’s.  While it is not widely used, there are still lots of people who speak Esperanto and over 100 periodicals published in it.  It is still used as a bridge language by the UN and others to translate documents from say Danish to several other languages.  One person can translate from, let’s say, Danish to Esperanto, then others can translate from Esperanto to any other language.

How did this come to be the focus of a club in Rockford over 100 years ago?  In an era of heavy immigration to the US, it is perhaps understandable that some Americans – including some Rockfordians – felt the need to deal with intense cultural changes by finding a better way for immigrants and long-term residents to communicate.  Esperanto provided an avenue to do that.

In April 1907, Rockford’s Daily Register Gazette reported that several local groups, including the Rockford Temperance guards, the YMCA and a group of south Rockford boys had come together to learn Esperanto.  They announced a “grand rally” to be held at the YMCA building for the purpose of showing off postcards from Esperantoists in over 40 different countries.  Any boys interested in seeing these were invited to come!  The following evening, Floyd B. Hardin, president of the University of Chicago Esperanto Society, lectured on the new language.  The article went on to state that free public courses in Esperanto were soon to be opened in Rockford under the direction of Mr. Hardin with assistance from Mr. E. C. Reed of the Harvard University Esperanto Association.

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The Rockford YMCA at State & Madison Streets.

One of the advantages of Esperanto is that it can be learned very easily.  It has only 16 simple rules to follow (a tad fewer than the English language) and, the local paper reported that the average American student “already knows three-fourths of the words in the vocabulary.”  Therefore, it would only take a couple of months to master the new language.

Subsequent articles in Rockford papers suggest that Hardin’s lecture was a success.  The May 21, 1907 edition of the Rockford Morning Star reported 15 new students for the second class in Esperanto, bringing the total to 100.  Classes were held at the YMCA, then located at State & Madison Streets.

Interest in this new artificial language was high enough in Rockford that the Rockford Republic published three lessons in Esperanto a couple of months later.  Lesson 1 – the Esperanto alphabet and how to pronounce it – appeared on July 18, 1907.  Lesson 2 – article, noun, adjective, present tense – appeared on July 22nd.  Lesson 3 – plural, past tense, future tense, accusative case, and adverbs – was published on July 24th.  Each of these lessons could be printed on a single 8½” x 11” page.  Imagine doing that with an English grammar lesson covering the same topics!

Shortly after these lessons appeared in the paper, Esperantists from all over Illinois met in Rockford to form a statewide Esperanto Association of all the clubs studying the language.  The July 28, 1907 edition of the Rockford Morning Star reported that delegates from 15 societies attended, meeting in the office of E. C. Reed.  Reed was duly elected secretary. The aim of the new group was to “broaden the propaganda and arouse more interest in the study of the language”.

Evidently, Mr. Reed made an impression on his fellow Esperantists as he was selected to be secretary for the Esperanto Association of North America in 1911.  The August 28th edition of the Rockford Daily Register Gazette reported that he was being sent abroad annually by the Association, and that he was the sole American elected a member of the International Esperanto Commission.

Just as evidently, interest in Esperanto flagged in Rockford after its big splash in 1907.  An article in the October 23, 1911 edition of the Rockford Republic included an article that began with the statement that “Esperanto, the international language which was so much talked about a few years ago is not dead in Rockford.”  A new local organization was being formed to study the language.  The new club was to be known as “Progreso,” which gets us back to the postcard that started this discussion.  That name clearly appears at the bottom of the postcard.  Local officers were Herman Hallstrom as president, and Karl Froding, secretary and treasurer.


Men’s Socialist Party of Rockford, 1910. Future Rockford Mayor Herman Hallstrom is in the middle row at far left.

Hallstrom’s interest in Esperanto may have come from the fact that he was born in Sweden in 1888 and came to America (and Rockford) 20 years later.  By 1910, he was active in the Socialist Party in Rockford.  He served overseas during World War I but returned to his interest in politics after returning home.  He served five two-year terms as Rockford’s mayor, his first three terms (starting with the 1921 election) as a member of the Rockford Labor League and his final two terms (following the 1929 election) as an independent.  Outside of politics, his primary interest was with Swedish American Hospital, serving as a board member and as president of the hospital.  He died in 1961 at the age of 72.

Not as much is known of Mr. Froding.  However, according to a brief obituary printed in the Rockford Register-Republic in May 1949, he came to Rockford in 1903 and worked at the Colonial Desk Company.  He moved to Auburn, Wisconsin in 1948 where he died a year later.  We do know, from the September 23, 1913 edition of the Rockford Republic that the Esperanto Club had resumed its activities at that point, meeting weekly in Froding’s offices in the Columbia Building on 7th Street.  There were also classes for beginners once a week.

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Froding, so central to the local Esperanto movement, worked at Colonial Desk Company upon his arrival in Rockford.

Interest in Esperanto continued locally, or at least at the Rockford Republic, which included an article in their March 30, 1912 edition stating that the Esperanto Association of North America would send pamphlets to any of the paper’s readers who sent their name and address to the Association’s office in Washington.  A 1924 article announced plans to form a club among east side workers for the purpose of studying Esperanto.  The paper quotes Mr. Froding as saying that Esperanto was “believed by many to be the most logical international language….”  He was cited as being an official of the Swedish Socialist Club, headquartered on Seventh Street.

Where does Esperanto stand now?  According to the Journal of the American Medical Information Association, interest in the language increased after World War II, especially as Eastern Europe and China saw the need for a common language but were reluctant to embrace English.  Interest in Esperanto peaked in the 1970s, “receiving serious attention from linguistic scholars, with numerous publications appearing in academic journals.  Perhaps two to five million people studied or spoke Esperanto.  Conventions were held; periodicals and more books appeared.”  However, after the ‘70s, interest in it dropped off as English became the closest thing to an international language. Esperanto was simply not practical.  It wasn’t anyone’s native language, finding people who could speak it (outside of Esperanto conventions) was nearly impossible, and it did not have a means of adapting to contemporary terminology.


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“Plenty of Bread Here”: Rockford’s Bit in the Making of the White Loaf

1922 toaster

1922 Universal electric toaster

Take a minute and think about what you had for breakfast this morning. Maybe your eggs or pancakes came with a side of toast. Did you have a sandwich for lunch? Perhaps dinner will be accompanied by bread and butter. How often do you have bread with every meal? These days chances are pretty slim as bread is often a sidekick to our meals, and many people have gluten-free diets. Even though bread is still considered to be one of our staple foods, one that is usually high on our grocery lists with milk and eggs, we are eating far less bread today than even just sixty years ago.

1910s-1920s Ekcoloy Silver Beauty bread tin

1910s-1920s Ekcoloy Silver Beauty bread tin

During the Medieval period, most people received 80% of their calories from bread – imagine eating just bread as at least two of your meals! By the 19th century, bread still constituted 30% of daily calories. At this time, most bread was made at home or purchased in small, artisan bakeries. Bread factories were seen as dirty places where the baker might use sawdust or some other filler to cut costs. As food-borne illnesses like cholera and typhus became apparent in the meat and dairy factories, and Upton Sinclair’s graphic exposé The Jungle was published at the turn of the century, Americans feared their food. Even though bread was not a carrier of the contagion, it too was scrutinized. When consumers turned away from the factories, their only other option (besides making it themselves) was the neighborhood bakery. Many were operated by southern and eastern European immigrants, who were stigmatized as “undesirable,” and therefore made undesirable food. In this way, the fear was not really about the bread itself, but of whose hands were making it.

Daily Register-Gazette - May 11, 1925

Daily Register-Gazette – May 11, 1925

So bread factories got their act together. They presented themselves as clean, modern, and efficient. Their factories were industrialized and spotless as if saying this was a safe place to manufacture food. And they choose white bread as their “flagship” for purity and modernity, implying that anything else was subordinate. The white loaves were even referred to as “chaste” and dark loaves as “defiled” by food reformers.


White bread gained popularity quickly, and bakers scrambled to find the recipe for the perfect loaf. In an effort to find out consumer preferences on the white pan breads, the USDA conducted a study in Rockford between 1954 and 1955. Why Rockford? In 1949, Life magazine declared Rockford to be the most typical city in America. Market researchers came in droves to the shores of the Rock River. During the study, 600 households in Rockford were interviewed about their bread-eating habits and anyone 16 years and older could participate in taste tests. Their results were deemed to be fairly typical of American families across the nation.

WWI era Camp Grant postcard

WWI era Camp Grant postcard

According to the study, 95% of households bought bread once a week. People in Rockford ate 1.5 pounds of bread per person per week, regardless of age or economic class. Light bread was always chosen over denser bread as consumers preferred the sweeter, fluffier bread. However, one third of housewives described it as “doughy; gummy; soggy; not well baked.” Some thought it just tasted terrible, and 60%-75% of housewives registered complaints against the bread. Newspaper and magazine articles didn’t have much good to say about the industrial bread either. Despite these issues with the light, white bread, people still bought a whole lot of it. Most households ate bread at all three meals. In 1954, Americans consumed about 8.6 billion loaves of store-bought white bread. Most ate 3 to 7 slices per day, or more.

The Keig-Stevens Baking Co. participated in the study. William H. Keig opened his bakery at 405 W. State St. in 1885. In the 1900s photo above, Keig’s niece Ethel Shaw works as a clerk. Keig was a popular bakery, selling many different types of bread like Vienna, sweet rye, French twists, as well as rolls and buns. Customers could also purchase treats like orange pies, fried cakes, macaroons, caramel squares, angel cake, jelly rolls, lady fingers, and many other sweets. After taking over the failing Forest City Baking Co. in 1910, he brought on his brother-in-law Webbs Stevens as his partner and together they operated the highly successful Keig-Stevens Baking Co.

The Keig-Stevens Baking Co. participated in the study. William H. Keig opened his bakery at 405 W. State St. in 1885. In the 1900s photo above, Keig’s niece Ethel Shaw works as a clerk. Keig was a popular bakery, selling many different types of bread like corn bread, sweet rye, and French twists, as well as rolls and buns. Customers could also purchase treats like orange pies, fried cakes, macaroons, caramel squares, angel cake, jelly rolls, lady fingers, and many other sweets. After taking over the failing Forest City Baking Co. in 1910, he brought on his brother-in-law Webbs Stevens as his partner and together they operated the highly successful Keig-Stevens Baking Co.

Why did consumers still choose to buy so much of the fluffy bread, even though they didn’t care for the taste? The industrial white bread was part of the post-war enrichment campaign that claimed the bread “built strength for the individual and national defense.” Rockford’s study confirmed this – depending on the year, 96%-100% of the USDA’s sample believed the bread to be highly nutritious.

Bread and its design have rarely been about the bread itself. It has carried with it anti-immigrant and racist feelings that shaped its form and consumption. Post-war campaigns steered the choice of bread to the white loaf in the name of strength and, essentially, nationalism despite its too-sweet taste. Today, about 72 million loaves of bread are sold each year in America – a dramatic decrease of 99%!

Do you make your own bread? How often do you buy a loaf in the store? What kinds does your family enjoy?

1910s Thanksgiving postcard

1910s Thanksgiving postcard

Happy baking!

I first heard of the Rockford study while listening to an episode of 99 Percent Invisible, an excellent podcast about the invisible design and architecture that shapes our world. Check them out by following the link below.


Bobrow-Strain, Aaron. White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. Beacon Press: Boston, 2012.

Mars, Roman. “Episode 127: Good Bread.” 99 Percent Invisible, October 22, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014. http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/good-bread/.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Consumer’s Preferences among Baker’s White Breads of Different Formulas: A Survey in Rockford, Illinois (Marketing Research Report No. 118) (Washington, DC: USDA, 1956).

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Calling Rockford “Home”

After 14 years of planning, researching, designing, and constructing, Many Faces, One Community was finally completed in July.  This long-term exhibit presents the hows and whys of immigration to Rockford through the representation of 16 cultural groups.  The exhibit would not be possible without the first and second generation immigrants who shared their stories with us.


As you enter the train depot, you hear the train whistle and the conductor yell “Rockford Station!  End of the line!” and you know you have finally reached your destination after weeks of a long journey far from home.  As you heave your trunk from the baggage cart, you realize that Rockford – America – is your new home.  How will you fit in here?  Do you have a place to live, or a job to work at?  Where will your children go to school?  Will you find others like yourself, who know your customs and traditions?



How will you furnish your home?  If you are Swedish, Seventh Street is the place to go!  You can find furniture, silverware, lamps, vases, shoes and clothing, and even have your photograph taken here.  Don’t forget to have your shoes shined by little Jimmy Sotos, the “Mayor of Seventh Street.”



South Main Street carries goods and services for almost all ethnic groups who have found their way to Rockford.  You can do your grocery shopping, have a shave and a haircut, and enjoy authentic Mexican food.



Come apply for a job at the furniture factory.  Show off your knowledge of tools as well as your skill at assembling panel doors.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you come home from work, what are your rooms like?  Perhaps your parlor reminds you of home in the old country, much like Swedish immigrant Alma Peterson’s.  Is your kitchen traditional, like Italian immigrant Carmela Gaziano’s?  Or maybe you live at Mary Wood’s boarding house with men and women from different countries, where you share your stories and learn about each other’s way of life.











Find your place in Rockford’s history as you tour the interactive exhibit Many Faces, One Community.  See 450 artifacts from the collection, many that have never before been on display.  For more information on hours and admission, please visit our website: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/planning-a-visit/admission/



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Sneak Peak + Exciting Events!

Things have been really moving around here at Midway Village.  Part of the museum gallery is undergoing construction of a new exhibit while we are preparing to host several events.

In fact, there is so much work needed for the new exhibit that I have been hired on to help out.  This requires that the blog take a hiatus until the exhibit opens in July.  But, dear devoted readers, I have been allowed to give you a sneak peak behind the “Pardon Our Dust” signs that guard the entrances to the exhibit.


If you’ve visited the museum recently, you are familiar with the train depot and furniture factory that make up what we call Phase 1 of the exhibition Many Faces, Once Community that highlights immigration to Rockford.  We are currently constructing Phase 2, which consists of an immigrant home where visitors can walk through a Swedish parlor, an Italian kitchen, and the dining room of a local boardinghouse which represents several ethnicities.  We are also building a streetscape that will showcase businesses that were once on Rockford’s South Main and Seventh Streets.  Visitors will be able to view some stores through their display windows and will be able to walk into others.


We are working to add hundreds of images and hundreds of artifacts to this exhibit.  We’ve had the privilege to work with local people and organizations who have helped us gather the ethnic heritage of Rockford.  This summer, come see, hear, and experience their stories and what it was like to be an immigrant living in Rockford.


Upcoming events!

Minks to Sinks 

April 3-5, sale of good, reusable items to benefit Collections Department and care of artifacts

Special Lecture and WWI Poster Exhibit

Friday April 11 at 7pm.  Local historian Mark Herman will present “From Neutrality to All Out War: The United States Homefront During World War II.”  We will also open the special exhibit “Serving the Cause of Freedom: Propaganda Posters from WWI.”

Admission: $10

The Great War – 100th Anniversary

Saturday April 12 11am – 5pm

Sunday April 13 11am – 4pm

Admission: $10 Adults, $5 Children 3-17, Museum Members are free!

This World War I military event will feature re-enactors portraying soldiers from the United States, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary.  Visitors will walk near encampments, talk to the re-enactors about life as a soldier during The Great War, and learn about the various military equipment.  Displays will include WWI weapons and artifacts, cavalry and medical units, battles and skirmishes in the Village and much more!  Shop vendors booths or stop by the vendor area if you’d like to order a portrait that places you in a WWI background.

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The Swedish Can Really “Break a Leg”

Hjalmar FryxellIn the days before Netflix, television, radio, and moving pictures, the theater was the place to go for entertainment.  The Swedish Theater of Rockford was born from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1911 when Hjalmar Fryxell (left) and J. Herman Hallstrom, who later became mayor of Rockford, formed the group.  Carl Bruce, who had previously acted with a traveling theatrical company in Minnesota, joined the theatrical group early on.  Bruce acted and created the sets.  Fryxell wrote a few plays as well as yearly revues of Swedish Rockford performed by the players.

Carl Bruce as Sven pa Lappen

Carl Bruce in his Sven pa Lappen (Sven on the Patch) persona.  He performed comic monologues as Sven in Swedish communities and organizations throughout Northern Illinois.

Carl Bruce Accordian

Carl Bruce played this M. Honer accordion as part of his Sven persona.

Carl BruceCarl (left) was born in Sweden on July 19, 1887.  He immigrated in 1903 and became a naturalized citizen in 1916.  He married Wilma Peterson around this time, who was an actress in the Swedish Theater.

Wilma Peterson BruceBorn in Rockford to Swedish immigrants, Wilma (right) worked at the National Lock Factory as a Fore Lady who supervised a department of young Swedish women.  Carl worked at National Lock as a machinist.  Wilma passed away in 1933.

Gunnar Edstrom

Gunnar Edstrom (left) and Carl Bruce put on acts together from the late 1920s to the 1950s.

Actress Alma Nelson (below) helped her husband, Albin, operate Nelson’s Home Bakery at 7th Street and 5th avenue.Alma Nelson

Swedish Theater

Group photo of the Swedish Theater of Rockford players performing as Swedish immigrants.  Carl Bruce is seated with his accordion that he used as Sven pa Lappen.

Swedish Theater Carl Bruce

Scene from a production.  Carl Bruce is on the right.

Swedish Theater Group Carl Bruce

Scene from a production.  Carl Bruce is on the right.

Swedish Theater Group Rockford

Scene from a production. Carl Bruce is second from the right.

Al Goranson, Gunnar Edstrom, Carl Bruce

Al Goranson, Gunnar Edstrom, Carl Bruce, 1937

Swedish Theater Group of Rockford

Group photo of Swedish Theater of Rockford players.  Wilma and Carl Bruce are at the far left, Hjalmer Fryxell is third from right, and Alma Nelson is at the far right.

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Sock Monkey Madness!

Have you ever wondered about your sock monkey’s genealogy?  The history of the sock monkey goes back over one hundred years, and it all began right here in Rockford with a Swedish immigrant named John Nelson.

John Nelson

John Nelson was born in Sweden in 1830.  He immigrated to the U.S. in 1852, meeting his future wife Eva Christina Persson (Peterson) on the ship on the way over.  They were  married on November 4, 1854.

They settled in Rockford in 1857, where he worked as a carpenter before opening his own business as a cabinet maker.  While operating this business, Nelson invented a dovetailing machine to make furniture joints.  In 1865, he opened a shop sash, door, and blind factory with Gust Holem and Andrew C. Johnson.  He then began working on inventing an automatic knitting machine.

William Worth Burson

William Worth Burson

In 1866, he was introduced to William Worth Burson by his financial backs Ralph Emerson and W.A. Talcott.  Burson and Nelson began working on developing a home knitting machine.  The machine was developed and patented, and by 1871 Burson and Nelson were knitting 80 pairs of socks a day.  All the socks were knit on circular machines and the toe was closed by hand.  In 1873, Burson and Nelson developed yet another machine, the flat machine.  This could close the heel and toe of the sock automatically, creating the first truly seamless sock.  In 1877, Burson stopped his affiliation with Nelson, and by 1880, Nelson Knitting was absorbed by the FR Brown Company.

Nelson Knitting Factory

Early Nelson Packaging

Early Nelson logo

In 1883, Nelson died of typhoid pneumonia at the age of 53.  In 1890, Forest City Knitting Company was incorporated and controlled by Nelson’s family.  During the 1893 Financial Panic, Nelson Knitting responded by reducing their prices.  In Rockford, 27 factories declared bankruptcy in one day.  By 1904, the production of socks at Nelson Knitting reached 450 dozen pair each day.

Nelson Co logo 1915

Nelson Co logo 1915

The Nelson Knitting Company’s socks looked the same as their competitors’: brown body, white toe, heel, and top.  In 1932, Rockford advertising executive Howard Monk suggested that red be added to the heel of the Nelson sock to make it distinctive.  Nelson called this trademark the “De-Tec-Tic” or what is now called the Red Heel sock.

Nelson "loopers," 1930

Nelson “loopers,” 1930

By 1938, Nelson Knitting produced 4000 dozen pairs of socks each day.  A knitter could run 25 to 30 machines at a time.  The machines ran off of belts that were turned by ceiling shafts.  These machines never stopped.  During an 8 hours shift, there were no breaks.  A worker ate his lunch while he watched his machine.

Nelson "presser," 1938

Nelson “presser,” 1938


No one knows exactly when the first sock monkey was made.  The socks had been used to make dolls for decades.  But in 1955, Nelson Knitting was awarded the patent for the sock monkey doll based on the evidence that Grace Winget of Rockford made a sock monkey doll as a Valentine’s gift for her grandson in 1951.  This is the earliest recorded sock monkey.  Nelson began including instructions on how to make the sock monkey with every package of socks.  The patent expired in 1970, so now the sock monkey belongs to everyone!

Sock Monkey Instructions

Can’t get enough of sock monkeys?  Join us for our upcoming event:

Sock Monkey Madness Festival!

March 2 & 3

11am – 5pm both days

Admission: $8 Adults, $5 children/students, Museum members are free!

This year’s theme is Sock Monkey Roundup!

An original event, the Sock Monkey Madness Festival will return as a unique celebration of Rockford’s past by highlighting its once thriving knitting industry and the stuffed sock toy made from Rockford Red Heel Socks which continues as a part of America’s pop culture.

The Sock Monkey Madness Festival was awarded a national 2009 Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History for excellence in educational programming!

For more information about this event, click here: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/event-registration/?ee=46

Find us and much, much more in the gift shop!

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