The Knitting Mills
Over a century ago, industry and community came together as one when Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen formed a manufacturing enterprise that would go on to become the largest full-fashioned knitting mill in the world. Today, that same spirit of innovation lives on through the vibrant, technology-driven community that we still proudly call The Knitting Mills.
In 1906, Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen carved out their place in history by building things to last: from machines that still run today to the neighborhood that we call home. It all happened at The Berkshire Knitting Mills.
Wyomissing Industries, founded by two ingenious German immigrants, Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen, opened their first business in 1892, manufacturing textile braiding machines (Textile Machine Works) at 222 Cedar St. in Reading PA.
Local residential developers — looking for a catalyst to kick-start their planned community across the river in a “suburban” area called Wyomissing — offered the two young industrialists a large tract of land for one dollar to expand their growing business. From the beginning, Thun and Janssen collaborated with the Borough to create an idyllic company town unlike the typical mill towns of the time. They established and funded the first savings and loan, public library, fire company, public museum, and extensive public and company park system. The public parks, wide streets, and maple trees parks endure today and make Wyomissing Borough a unique and enjoyable place to live.
By 1896, Thun and Janssen built the first textile machine manufacturing facility in Wyomissing. In 1906, Wyomissing Industries was created by incorporating its three main businesses: the Textile Machine Works (manufacture of knitting & braiding machines), Narrow Fabric Company (braided products) and Berkshire Knitting Mills (hosiery and fabrics). By the 1940s, the enterprise spread over 65 acres and had one million square feet under roof plus the largest automated foundry in the country.
The Berkshire Knitting Mills was sold to Vanity Fair Mills in 1969. In 1970, VF started an “outlet” store to sell excess inventory, exclusively to VF employees. The discount prices were a big hit with the employees, and sensing an opportunity, VF expanded the operation by leasing space to 3rd party retailers beginning in 1975. By 1988, 51 distinct stores were open and flourishing at the “Outlet Capital of the World.” At its peak, over 6 million shoppers a year, many bused in from out of state, visited VF Outlets. In 2016, Equus Capital Partners purchased the Vanity Fair complex and began the reimagining of the site as a modern mixed-use corporate office and retail development.
Equus has retold and memorialized this history through a series of monuments throughout the campus that pay homage to the proud history of the Berkshire Knitting Mills.
Equus Capital Partners has transformed the famed Berkshire Knitting Mills site into a thriving, mixed-use environment that is home to the region’s most exciting companies.
Founded by Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen in 1906, The Berkshire Knitting Mills was the largest full-fashioned knitting mill in the world. Together with Textile Machine Works and Narrow Fabric Company, this multi-faceted manufacturing enterprise served as a hub of technological innovation and civic pride.
Today, the stage has been set for a new era of revitalization and innovation. Driven in part by UGI Energy Services, Teleflex International, and an all-new Drexel University College of Medicine Branch, the campus has been transformed into a dynamic center for business and technology that will continue to serve our community for years to come.
Additionally, this activity is further fueled by exciting new retail and restaurant amenities, chief among them include Sly Fox Brewery, The Farmhouse Kitchen, Chatty Monks, Say Cheese, Benchwarmers, Bold, West Reading Tavern, The West Reading Motor Club, and Third & Spruce.
Come visit The Knitting Mills and experience for yourself what live-work-play looks like in Berks County.