In the past, both men and women wore long underwear. There were also one-piece “union suits,” which were uncomfortable. Martin J. Shaughnessy, not to be confused with the notorious saloon keeper by the same name, lived and worked in Amsterdam, where he invented a revolutionary knitting process that left small holes in underwear material to allow the skin to breathe. Shaughnessy’s patented process was called Porosknit, and Chalmers Knitting Mill in Amsterdam used Shaughnessy’s method to manufacture underwear.
Porosknit was extremely popular and brought the knitting mill success. Because few women wore union suits by the turn of the 20th century, porosknit underwear was made for men and boys. In magazines, Porosknit ads depicted men and boys in manly pursuits, such as throwing a football, boxing, and playing basketball. David W. Chalmers, John R. Blood, John Barnes, and J Howard Hanson started the Chalmers Knitting Mill to manufacture Porosknit underwear. First formed in 1901, Chalmers Knitting Mill was incorporated in 1904 and opened its first plant on Washington Street, where it leased the third floor of the Blood Broom factory and began manufacturing.
During its time on Washington Street, the Chalmers Knitting Mill revolutionized underwear again by dividing the union suit into the top and bottom pieces. The Chalmers Knitting Mill erected a four-story brick structure on Amsterdam’s south side in 1913. In 1916, a seven-story reinforced concrete spinning mill was added to the building. The building footprint was L-shaped because the addition was set at a near-right angle to the original section. Under the Chalmers name, the mill produced undergarments until 1959, when the founders died.