Stroudsburg’s ‘Sheep to Suit’ Record

Kitson Woolen Mill, Lower Main Street, Stroudsburg

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

Mr. Thomas Kitson was born in England on June 7, 1840. From a young age, Kitson worked in a number of woolen mills where he gained the knowledge and skills of his trade. At 19, Kitson immigrated to America and was employed in a small mill in the Catskills of New York.

By 1873, Kitson moved to Stroudsburg with his family to establish his own woolen mill. He partnered with William Wallace, and the two individuals opened the Wallace and Kitson Mills, located on lower Main Street in Stroudsburg. Before 1883, Wallace sold his interest in the mill to his partner, and Kitson became sole proprietor of the Stroudsburg Woolen Mill.

When Kitson became owner of the Mill, the business had four looms and 13 employees, but after a few years of Kitson’s successful management, the Stroudsburg Woolen Mill boasted 115 employees with a profit of $400,000 annually. The Stroudsburg Woolen Mill had become an important part of the area’s economy.

Believing in the smooth and efficient operation of his mill, Kitson eyed an unusual prize. He felt he could lower the world-time-record for manufacturing a full suit of clothing, beginning with shearing sheep and ending with someone donning the attire. At the time, the record of 8 hours and 0 minutes was held by a mill in Scotland. On May 18, 1898, Thomas Kitson set out to break that record.

At 6:30 am, six sheep were taken to the Stroudsburg Mill. One sheep was from Dr. Herd, two were from Frank Bell, and three were from John T. Palmer. Mr. John Hanna was a master sorter of wool and worked alongside Mayor John Palmer, the boss shearer. Six employees of the Stroudsburg Woolen Mill immediately began to shear the animals, and after a few minutes, the wool was carted off to be processed. The wool was sorted, cleaned, dyed, dried, and then placed onto a picker where it was carded and spun into yarn. This yarn was then woven into cloth. Eighteen people worked to prepare the wool from sheep to cloth.

The next step in the process was to have the cloth made into a suit. Stroudsburg tailor Jacob Marks and his five assistants immediately began to measure, cut and sew a suit for Mr. Kitson. Marks was allotted three hours to finish the task, but it only took him 2½ hours. The cloth was high-quality; 40 percent of the material was white, 60 percent was black. The distinctive checkered-pattern cloth was made into a “modern-style” suit that was delivered to Mr. Kitson’s home, located at 745 Main Street (where the recently sold Hula Hoops building now stands).* The total time from sheep to suit was 6 hours and 4 minutes, breaking the record with over an hour to spare.

Mr. Kitson had a large celebration that afternoon at the Washington Hotel in Stroudsburg. Of course, he wore the famous suit to the event. The employees and tailors who assisted in this feat were invited to attend the party alongside the prominent businessman. The guests were treated to a lamb dinner.

*Update: An office building containing Starbucks and Marita's Cantina now stands on the site of Kitson's home.