BURSON, William Worth
Past and Present of the City of Rockford & Winnebago County, IL, C. A. Church. Chicago: Clarke, 1905, pp 166-167
William Worth BURSON, inventor and manufacturer, has attained a position of distinction among those whose genius has given to the world products that have advanced the material welfare and prosperity of the nation. In his business interests Mr. BURSON has in substantial measure contributed to the welfare of Rockford along the lines of industrial activity, and his fame as an inventor has spread abroad. Mr. BURSON is a native of PA and in 1842 was taken by his parents to McDonough County, IL, and the following year to Fulton, where his boyhood and early manhood were passed, thus sharing the experience of pioneer life. Reared to the occupation of farming, he was always interested and much used to the work of the fields and soon brough to bear his natural mechanical ingenuity upon the improvement of farm machinery. His first work in this direction of any note was the invention and construction of a self-rake reaper in 1858, this being the first machine to regulate the size of favel by weight. Continued experimenting, study and investigation made him a pioneer in the invention of grain binders and he obtained a patent on a twine binder in 1860. These machines were attached to the reaper and operated by hand, being first brought into prominence by being operated in the great reaper trial at Dixon, IL, held during the harvest season of 1863, these being the first thousand grain binders ever manufactured. Mr. BURSON came to Rockford for the purpose of carrying out the contract and resided in this city until 1881, when he removed to Chicago. On account of imperfect workmanship, lack of field experts and other adverse circumstances the business of manufacturing and placing upon the market the grain binders proved a disastrous venture financially and left him with a large indebtedness, which was not entirely liquidated until 1901. In the meantime his thoughts and efforts were concentrated along other lines of invention and mechanical improvement, and in 1866, associated with the late John NELSON, under the firm name of BURSON & NELSON, the invention of the family knitting machine was undertaken. Mr. NELSON was obliged to give his attention largely to the operation of a sash, door and blind factory for some time, but Mr. BURSON applied himself closely to the work which he had undertaken and after much tedious labor on the part of both gentlemen a power machine was perfected. Upon these machines patents were issued to BURSON & NELSON in 1868, 1870, and 1875, and in 1874 they also secured a patent on hose. On 25 Dec 1869, a part now known as the presser hook was developed and on 23 Jul 1870, the first sock was knit by an automatic machine at Rockford. The socks came from the machine joined together and were separated by hand and the toes were also thus closed. This was the first practical automatic knitting machine. In 1872-3 the parallel row machine was developed, this being the beginning of Rockford's great knitting industry. Those machines were automatic and closed both toe and heel, producing a stocking ready to wear without hand work.
Rockford seamless socks were pioneers in seamless hosiery and superseded the old line of goods which before has held the market. Mr. BURSON continued as a member of the firm of BURSON & NELSON until 1898, when he withdrew from that business and independently continued the work of experiment and invention. He has continuously studied our new devices, which, put to the practical test, have resulted in the building up of an automatic grain-binding harvester; a knitting machine with a mitten pattern, having a double wrist, with the letters "pat'd" knit therein, also a patent office model, knitting a stocking with a narrow ankle and fancy top, containing the letter "B," a ribbed scarf with letters at each end, and a shirt sleeve with fancy cuff and widening to the body, all of these articles knit with change of yarn and on a single pattern upon the same needles. Between 1879 and 1892 Mr. BURSON developed a number of important harvesting inventions which were purchased by Whitely, Deering, McCormick, Walter A. Wood and the Milwaukee and Plano Harvesting Companies. In 1891 he undertook the pefection of knitting machinery and in 1892 brought one of these machines to Rockford. These machines were modeled after the invention of 1878, and their product is now being shipped from Rockford to all parts of the U. S., an extensive factory being kept in constant operation.
Mr. BURSON has been allowed more than 50 U. S. and foreign patents on grain binders, harvesters, automatic knitting machines, knit fabrics and other lines upon which he has worked, and on which he is still actively engaged. "There is nothing extemporaneous," said one of Chicago's eminent divines. "Everything results from some previous condition of labor." This truth is especially manifest in the life of the inventor, who may perfect in a few weeks or perhaps days an invention which is the outcome of years of thought, study and experiment, and all that Mr. BURSON has given to the world in the way of improved machinery represents yeas of close application, earnest investigation and untiring effort. He is a man of enterprise, postive character, indomitable energy, strong integrity and liberal views, and has been fully identified with the growth and prosperity of the cit of his adoption. He has, moreover, concentrated his efforts in pursuit of a persistent purpose until he has gained a most satisfactory reward.
Submitted by Cathy Kubly.