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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Joseph A. Firsching

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 550-554 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Portraits | Illustrations | Maps

Portrait of Joseph A. Firsching

Portrait: Joseph A. Firsching

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It was an old-time story always told when central New York financiers, magnates and manufacturers were gathered, that at any banquet given in New York city, if someone called "low bridge", half the heads at the table would involuntarily duck. This witticism was based on a fact, for many of the men who have made the financial, professional, business and political history of the Empire state began life on the Erie canal. There Joseph A. Firsching learned many of the early lessons of life, for at the age of twelve he plodded the tow-path or rode the mules that patiently dragged the slow-moving canal boat through the canal, from the Hudson to the Lakes. The lessons there learned guided him aright during the formative years and he came to man's estate sturdy and self-reliant and is now prominent in the knit goods industry of Utica, New York, as president and treasurer of the Firsching Knitting Mills, Incorporated.

John Firsching, father of Joseph A. Firsching, was born in Underfronken, Bavaria, Germany, in 1842, and had reached the age of fifty-one years when he died in Utica, New York, in 1893. In his native country he acquainted himself with the trade of making wooden shovels. He remained in Germany until 1884, when he came to the United States with his elder son, Adam, joining a brother who had settled in Utica, New York. Here John Firsching continued his residence until his death, which occurred eight years later. In Bavaria he married Anna Wensdorfer, who joined her husband in Utica ten months after his coming in 1884, bringing with her five of their children, one other having preceded her to the United States. Their children were: Adam, Dominick, Rose, Joseph A., Andrew and Richard, all of whom were born in Bavaria; and Norbert, a native of Utica, New York.

Joseph A. Firsching, whose name introduces this review, was born on the 18th of May, 1879, in Bavaria, Germany, where he spent the first six years of his life. In 1885, as above stated, he was brought by his mother to Utica, New York, where the family was reunited. He attended a parochial school in Utica to the age of twelve years, after which time his education was continued through self-study and intermittent school attendance. His first position was on the Erie canal, but later he began working in the Globe Woolen Mills at Utica as a spooler. In 1893, at the age of fourteen, he entered the employ of the Utica Knitting Company, being assigned to the task of running a "brusher". In 1895 he was appointed to the post of sewing machine adjuster, a place he filled for three years. In 1898 he left the Utica Knitting Company of Utica for a similar position, that of sewing machine adjuster, with the Capron Knitting Company of Capron, New York, discharging the additional duties of foreman of the finishing room. While with the Capron Company Mr. Firsching invented a machine for cutting and folding a double cuff used on fleece-lined underwear and canvas gloves. In 1899 he entered the service of the Fort Schuyler Knitting Company as foreman of their cutting department, later becoming assistant superintendent. In 1900 he was with the Royal Gem Knitting Company of Herkimer, New York, but after a short time returned to the Fort Schuyler Knitting Company as superintendent. While with the latter concern he invented a popular union suit and continued supervising its manufacture until 1903, going thence to the Mohawk Valley Cap Company as sewing machine adjuster in the cap and sweater department and also having charge of the underwear department. He there remained until 1905, when he resigned, and for five months was engaged independently as an expert on sewing machines as adapted to textile work, having offices in the Devereux block. He then became a partner in the Utica Novelty & Mill Specialty Company. While in that connection he brought out some new machines, but later he sold his interest and on June 14, 1906, bought out the Coleman and Dowd Repair shop in Utica. He conducted that business as he found it until January 1, 1907, when he began the manufacture of textile machinery. In 1908 he bought the Holdring Shops and Foundry, and in 1909 moved his business to the ground floor of the Reynolds building on John street. In 1913, business having increased beyond the limit of his space, he rented the upper floor of the same building. The same year he erected a commodious mill at No. 614 Broad street in Utica and there continues the manufacture of textile machinery.

In 1915 Mr. Firsching began the manufacture of cotton underwear, under the name of the K. F. Knitted Waist Mills, which is still producing. On April 1, 1918, the business was incorporated as the K. F. Textile Mills, so continuing until April 23, 1920, when the name was changed to the Firsching Knitting Mills, Incorporated, with Joseph A. Firsching as president and treasurer. During the World war period (1917-1918) the mills executed large contracts for the United States government, causing large additions to the plant. After the war the mills began the manufacture of artificial silk, and in 1920 erected a large building especially for the manufacture of artificial silk, to be used in the manufacture of underwear and dress goods. This branch of the business has been very successful, as indeed have all the departments of Firsching Knitting Mills, Incorporated.

In 1923 the management had created numerous individual fabrics and felt they should go to exclusive customers, so conceived the idea of making them up into coats, wraps, dresses, blouses, skirts, turbans, scarfs, Tuxedoes, also slips, petticoats, nightgowns, pajamas, negligees, vests, bloomers, envelopes, union suits, and step-ins, and selling direct to the consumer. All garments except the under garments are made up to the individual measurements of the customers. They not only make the fabrics but dye and print as well, making everything that goes into the complete garment. Mr. Firsching enjoys the distinction of being the only manufacturer who sells made-to-order garments direct from factory to consumer, and this unique feature of his business has proved a pronounced success. His salesmen and saleswomen call at homes and take measurements for whatever is ordered. The customer has a wide variety of styles and materials from which to make selections, and the finished garment which is sent her direct from the factory is therefore far superior to the ready-made article.

The Firsching Knitting Mills, Incorporated, have offices established in the principal cities from coast to coast, employing over a thousand representatives and doing a strictly cash business. The business has developed so rapidly that in the latter part of 1924 they were employing about two hundred and found it necessary again to enlarge the plant. The Firsching Knitting Mills are incorporated for one-half million dollars. The concern has used the trade names of Velete and Firsheen, which are well known. The Firsching Knitter, an attractive magazine devoted to sales representatives of the Firsching Knitting Mills, Incorporated, is published monthly. Mr. Firsching is also president of the Crepe Silk Sales Company and ranks high among the representatives of the textile industry. The difficulties which he had to encounter in his own business career have made him ever ready to extend a helping hand to those who try to aid themselves and in his business he ever rewards faithful service on the part of his employes when opportunity offers.

On the 14th of September, 1904, Mr. Firsching was married to Rose Yeckel, daughter of John and Theresa Yeckel of Utica. Mr. and Mrs. Firsching are the parents of three children: Joseph A. (II), born January 23, 1907; Robert A., whose natal day was January 6, 1911; and Grace A., whose birth occurred on the 17th of March 1915. Mr. Firsching has membership in the Utica Rotary Club, the Utica Golf and Country Club, the Kuyahoora Rod and Gun Club, the Yahnundasis Golf Club, the City Club, the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the Knights of Columbus and is a charter member of the Hamilton Jefferson Association. A resident of Utica from early boyhood, he has gained an extensive circle of warm friends throughout the city and has long been numbered among its representative and successful manufacturers and highly respected citizens.

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