IOWA ICON: Fox River Socks

You can learn from a label.

I like to learn where things are made, and in the case of these Fox River Socks, I got more than a lesson.

Fox River Valley Knitting Company was founded in 1900 along the Fox River in Wisconsin.  It made warm wool socks for outdoorsman and would later acquire the Marr Knitting Company in Osage, Iowa to make a line of gloves and mittens.

When the Marr mill burned down in 1969, Osage made a bold move.

“There was no other industry at that time and the city fathers of Osage put up a building, here,” said president, John Lessard, “and they enticed Fox River to move its entire operation.”

“They were excited about the opportunity of someone coming into the community that could employ spouses of the area farmers and that type of thing,” said Becky Lessard, vice president of administration.

Since 1971, the company named for a river in Wisconsin, has been one of Iowa’s most innovative and resilient businesses.  Fueled by miles of yard and thread, and by 200 Iowans fully aware of how many factories like this have been moved overseas.

“We’re very fortunate to still be able to keep a good job here at Fox River and still live in a small community like Osage,” said Larry Mork, who supervises the knitting floor.

Mork oversees a 250,000 square-foot factory that would be the envy of every grandmother in a rocking chair.

“This one here is just short of five minutes knitting time,” he said of one of the knitting machines.”

The automation is impressive, but wouldn’t you know? Someone still has to turn the socks inside out, and someone still has to wash them (poor guy).

“Right now we’re currently running probably 1,400 dozen socks per day,” Mork said.

Fox River is now the oldest sock brand in America, and Lessard says its success has hinged on a very modern philosophy.

“We try to make a different sock for every activity.”

Did you know that there are socks for skiing and snowboarding?  Work and outdoors, sure, but how about socks that don’t smell and know left from right and are specifically made for the mountains of Afghanistan?

“Some days it helps you get through that, while you’re doing these things, especially like the military socks, you realize the possibilities of where they might end up and the good they may do,” Mork said.

If Americans want a shoe for every occasion, Fox River says there should be socks to match!

“Everything’s got to be visually appealing, I think,” says Jackie Johnson, board pair operator. “Things gotta match.”

“When you actually hear people say what a wonderful product it is, it gives you a lot of pride that you do that.”

Manufacturing was once as much a part of Iowa as agriculture.  Now a place like this is an exception, almost a novelty.  But in Osage, it’s still a way of life.

“We want to be here to employ people in the area,” Becky Lessard says, “to be able to provide jobs so people can stay in the community where they grew up.”

“We have people that live very close to us that have no idea that we’re here,” says Mork, “that we exist here in Osage and manufacture the Fox River line.”

Yep, they’re right here under our feet!  A true Iowa Icon.  A lesson learned on a label.


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