While London is well-known for some of its successful twentieth century commercial enterprises, ranging from beer and cigars to banking and insurance, it has been forgotten as one of Ontario’s hubs for hosiery manufacturing. 

This is the first in a series that will follow the history of hosiery manufacturing in London, Ontario throughout the twentieth century – specifically, the histories of Holeproof Hosiery and London Hosiery Mills.

This series will delve deeply into the story of these two factories, looking into the history of Canadian labour history and individual workers’ experiences. We will also explore the methodology that goes into this type of research – focusing on oral interviews and details about the final product of this research. 

Trading Durability for Style

By the 1910s, society was witnessing a shift in standard of living which in turn, impacted fashion. No longer did one have to choose clothing based on warmth and durability but rather comfort and beauty. Further, the shortening of women’s skirts also resulted in a growing desire for more visually appealing stockings. Heavy woolen stockings became a thing of the past as they were replaced with silk and rayon stockings.

Following this rise in popularity, hosiery factories began to both increase in number and production. By the Second World War, London was home to six independent hosiery factories: Holeproof Hosiery, Penmans, London Hosiery Mills, Supersilk, Middlesex Mills, and Richmond Hosiery.

“London was home to many textile and hosiery factories in the years following WW1, including Holeproof Hosiery, Penmans, London Hosiery Mills, Supersilk and Richmond Hosiery. The Middlesex Mills plant was located at 1127-1131 Dundas street just east of the Kellogg’s factory. The building remains but has been covered in grey metal siding.”

– Aug 1917 London Free Press via Vintage London, Ontario
Image Source: Western University Archives

At its creation in 1911, Holeproof Hosiery, the first factory of its kind in London, employed only thirty workers. Two decades later, Holeproof and the other new factories employed over eleven hundred people. Around the same time, just London Hosiery Mills alone was producing one hundred and fifty thousand dozen pairs of stockings per year. These companies shipped their product far and wide, from the rest of Canada to as far as New Zealand.

An ad for Holeproof Hosiery published in Harper’s Magazine in 1921
An ad for Holeproof Hosiery published in Harper’s Magazine in 1921. Note the reference to the London, Ontario branch of the company near the bottom of the ad.

Photo Credit: The New York Public Library Digital Collections

A Female Workforce

Employed within these hosiery factories was a workforce that was predominantly made up of women and girls.

They were responsible for operating various machines, including the ones that completed knitting, countering, and shading, as well as performing hand operations like seaming.

Do you have a story to share?

Are you a London local willing to share your stories about Holeproof Hosiery or London Hosiery Mills?

We are specifically interested in stories from women who worked in these hosiery factories. If you have a story, photo, or other artifacts from either factory that you would be willing to share, please email paigem@heritagelondonfoundation.ca

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