The real nudge for our Philly road trip last week was to finally make it to the stripey shirt motherland in rural Pennsylvania, a place I have believed in and described many times over these past five years selling R.P. Miller shirts, but had never seen. I was thrilled to finally meet Gary and Scott Pleam, the current generations of the Hornberger family to run Mohnton Knitting Mills, fresh outta Mohnton, PA.

Our first order of business was to get the pronunciation of their fair town down once and for all: It’s like “Moan-ton” – “Mohan-ton” – Mohnton. Good!

The mill dates back to 1873, when Gary’s great-great grandfather Cyrus Hornberger added a water wheel to a pre-Civil War riffle foundry at 22 Main Street. As Gary put it, “We built this building and the road”, and they’ve got the timber beams to prove it. Aaron Hornberger started a hat factory there in 1878 and later added clothing. Over the years, with the Hornbergers continually at the helm, the mill evolved to specialize in the T-shirts we now sell at the shop. When Scott joined the company in 1997, he became the sixth generation in the family business. 

It’s wild to see mounds of stripey shirt fabric and to think that these guys have the power (machines + know-how) to knit it from thread. The mill buys cotton yarn grown in South Carolina and knits the fabric at their factory nearby in Shillington. The fabric is washed and, if necessary, dyed in their Shoemakersville plant, then comes to the Mohnton factory that I visited to be cut and sewn into garments and shipped out.

This is Beverly. She’s worked at the mill for 46 years. She did have one other job before this one—in high school, she worked a switchboard for two days, earning $1 per day. Otherwise, she has always worked at Mohnton Knitting Mills. And man, could she pop out some neck binding and attach some tags. Zow! She was fast!

When Beverly began working, the mill was at the top of its game with over 100 employees. Sadly, despite the great quality and completely reasonable price of their products, the mill has not been immune to the hardships of U.S. manufacturing. They are now down to just 20 employees and sell a hefty chunk of their T-shirts to Japanese customers who seem to understand what it is they’re getting. We understand too! And we want to buy and sell zillions of these shirts and keep the Hornbergers in business!

Here’s Scott pointing out his relatives in an old shot of workers at the mill.
Thanks so much, Gary and Scott! I hope to come back and visit you guys again soon! And next time, I’m bringing Lisa, Nile, Holly, Tessa, Em, Rachel, Emmy, Abby, and all the other girls!

 

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