The old days were miserable. To compound all their other discomforts, most men and not a few women spent their lives imprisoned in union suits. The union suit was a cotton neck-to-ankles garment with strategically-placed flaps. A comic rural stereotype was the farmer who wore his one union suit day-and-night, day-in-day-out all winter. In the city, union suits were supposed to be washed as often as the human body - about once per week.

The Chalmers Knitting Company set out to liberate humanity.

Chamlers' first innovation was Porosknit, a woven fabric which "let the body breathe". The company promoted its products with "Porosknit Man", whose muscular physique contrasted sharply with the zaftig union suit wearer. Porosknit Man, who was never actually referred to by that name, bowled, boxed, fenced, and sprinted his way through two decades of magazine ads clad only in his underwear.


Chalmers also separated the union suit into a top and bottom fastened together with metal snaps, the beginning of the concept of T-shirts and briefs as separate garments.

The new wave in underwear became a revolution. Shortly after World War I, Chambers Knit Underwear was advertised by an electric sign in Times Square. Between 1913 and 1917, the company added a seven story modern plant to its Victorian brick mill on the Mohawk. During World War II, Chalmers converted to an almost all-female workforce and turned out massive quantities of underwear for the military.

But by the 1950s, competition from lower wage areas took its toll and the Amsterdam plant closed. A number of smaller companies sublet the mill buildings into the 1970s, when they gradually became entirely vacant.

Today, a walk around the Chalmers complex is a lonely experience.