Benjamin B. and Robert L. Knight

Inducted: 2006

Knight, Benjamin B., 1813-1898 and Knight, Robert, 1825-1912

The Knight brothers were textile manufacturers and philanthropists, owning twenty-one manufacturing villages under the logo “Fruit of the Loom,” and employing nearly 7000 operatives.

Benjamin was born in Cranston, R.I., 3 October 1813 to Stephen and Welthan (Brayton) Knight, farmers. He spent his early years assisting his father on the farm and attending a few terms at the district schools until he was 16. From 1831 to 1833 he worked as an operative in the Sprague Print Works at Cranston before returning to farming for two years. In 1835 he purchased a small building near the Sprague Print Works and opened a general grocery. In 1838 he moved to Providence, and with Onley Winsor and L. E. Bowen, under the firm name of Winsor, Knight & Co., engaged in the wholesale and retail grocery business. In 1842 Knight purchased Bowen’s interest and continued the business alone until 1847, when his brother, Jeremiah Knight, became associated with him, under the style of B. B. Knight & Co. He was also affiliated with D. T. Penniman, in the flour and grain trade, under the firm name of Penniman, Knight & CO., owning a stand on Dyer street, Providence. A year later Knight purchased Penniman’s interest and continued alone successfully for about four years.

In 1849 he sold his interest in the grocery business to his brother Jeremiah, and in 1852 he sold one-half of his flour and grain interest to his brother Robert, and at the same time purchased of the latter one-half interest in the Pontiac Mill and Bleachery, when the firm name of B. B. and R. Knight was formed. They soon retired from the flour and grain business to devote their entire time to the manufacture of cotton goods.

Bejamin B. Knight also served as a legislator and as a member of the city government of Providence. He was twice elected to the general assembly and served as alderman in the city government of Providence from the Sixth ward in 1865, 1866 and 1867. Benjamin was chairman of the finance committee. He seved as the first president of the Butchers & Drovers Bank and as a director in different insurance companies.

He married twice and had a total of six children.

Robert Knight was born in Old Warwick, Rhode Island on January 8th, 1826. After moving to Cranston, he began working at the Cranston Print Works from the ages of eight to ten. At ten, he became an employee in the cotton mill in Coventry, owned and operated by Elisha Harris and worked there until the age of 17. Early in 1843 he went to Providence to work for his brother Benjamin, as a clerk in his store, but left after 18 months to attend the Pawcatuck Academy at Westerly,. He then taught a district school in Exeter for four months, and in 1846 was employed by John H. Clark as a clerk in his factory store at Arnold’s Bridge (later Pontiac). In 1850, Knight, along with Zachariah Parker, purchased the whole property from Clark for $40,000. The following year Knight bought his partner’s interest and gave the village the name of Pontiac.

Robert was primarily a businessman, connected with several insurance companies and banking institutions. Along with his brother, he served as president and treasurer of their several corporations; the firm of B. B. & R. Knight.

Their firm’s quality broadcloth was considered to be the best of its kind at the time. In 1851 “Fruit of the Loom” muslins were first produced and sold and the name “Fruit of the Loom” was first used for textiles in 1856 and patented in 1871. The name came from the apples an friend’s artist daughter painted on the cloth.

Robert married Josephine Louisa, daughter of Royal A. and Hannah C. (Parker) Webster, of Providence and had nine children. Two of Robert Knight’s sons, Webster Knight (1854-1933) and C. Prescott Knight (1856-1933), took over the family business until 1920, when the company was sold. Webster Knight resides in what is now the Elmwood Historic District and his family contributed to the founding of the Knight-Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue.

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