Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492

The William Carter Company

Carter in his electric runabout, circa 1910

William Carter was born in England in 1830, in the small market town of Alfreton, Derbyshire, right on the fringes of Sherwood Forest. His childhood days were spent half in getting a basic education at the village school, and half in helping his grandfather, who was a maker of hand-knitting looms. He went to work at the age of ten, working mostly as a knitter.

Industrialization of the English textile industry put the hand-knitters out of work, so Carter emigrated to Needham from England in 1854, and set up a workshop to make knitted goods for adults and children – sweaters, underwear, mittens, etc. In its earliest days, the company was run out of Carter’s home in Needham Heights – knitting frames in the kitchen, sewing staff in the parlor. In the 1870s, as his business grew, he formed a partnership with old friends Mark and John Lee, and they built their first mill on Highland Avenue.

The Carter and Lee Mill (above) was built in 1865. William Carter bought out his partners John and Mark Lee and enlarged the mill (below).

The mill was expanded, and then a second mill was needed, which Carter built on the north shore of Rosemary Lake; it was known as Mill #2. The company eventually grew to own eight manufacturing plants in Massachusetts and the South. It remained in Carter family hands and based in Needham until it was sold in 1990 to a corporation based in Georgia, and now specializes in children’s wear. Carter’s acquired OshKosh B’Gosh a few years ago, making it the largest manufacturer of children’s clothing in the world.

As demand grew, Carter opened a second mill on Rosemary Lake (above). By the 1960’s, the company had seven mills in Massachusetts and the south – the Seven Queens celebrated on their 1961 parade float (below) during Needham 250th anniversary celebrations.

The English knitters were avid cricket players. Needham Heights had numerous cricket teams, some of which won championships in the state leagues. Cricket was the dominant sport in Needham Heights until the 1920’s.

The Albion Cricket Club of 1904 were Eastern Massachusetts Champions. William Carter’s son, William Henry, is the player standing at right.