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Sock History

Most experts believe that the first Stone Age socks were made of animal skins, which our ancestors tied around their ankles.

By the 8th century B.C., Greek poet Hesiod wrote of piloi, socks made from matted animal hairs.

The Romans began by wrapping their feet in strips of leather or woven fabric. By the 2nd century A.D. they were wearing udones, which were sewn from woven fabric and pulled over the foot.

And in Egyptian tombs of the 3rd-6th centuries A.D. that the first real knit socks were discovered.

In Europe, socks were strips of cloth or hide that were wrapped around the legs and feet. They were called "leggings."

In the Middle Ages, the legs of pants became lower, and more fitted. Hose was a fitted cloth that covered the lower leg. When "breeches" became shorter, hose began to get longer. Around the twelfth century feet were added to that hose.

Around 1490 breeches and hose joined and were made as one garment, forming tights. These were made of colorful silk, wool, and velvet, with each leg a different color.

Knitted hose was worn in Scotland around the turn of the 15th century, and then in France. Love created the first knitting machine. William Lee, an English clergyman, invented the machine in 1589 because the woman he was in love with barely looked up at him from her knitting needles! Many of the principles Lee developed can still be found in modern textile machinery today. Queen Elizabeth I refused William Lee the first patent for his knitting machine because she didn't like the feel of the stockings it produced. She was used to fine silk stockings imported from Spain. His machine, she complained, made wool stockings that were far too coarse for the royal ankles.

When knitting machines were regularly used in the 1590s, knitted hose became more common everywhere. The Swiss and Germans favored slashed over-garments that revealed brightly colored hose beneath. Ooo la la!

European fashion during the 16th and 17th centuries was also influenced greatly by Spain. Because of the wealth of the New World, Spanish cloth of that time were beautiful fabrics adorned with embroidery and fine jewels. Men's socks were typically made of knitted silk and embroidered with the emblems.

Cotton came into use in the late 17th century.

In the 20th century nylon became popular for stockings because of its strength and elasticity. As men's pants grew longer, socks became shorter, with the word "sock" replacing "stocking" for these smaller foot coverings.

Argyles were popular in the Roaring Twenties, but eventually basic colored socks came into fashion for men.

Fortunately, socks have been undergoing a minor renaissance recently, and if you know where to look you will find a wealth of interesting, colorful, and distinctive socks.

Knowing what to wear before a deity has always been regarded as a matter of grave importance.

Moses was instructed to remove his shoes before God at the Burning Bush. (We don't know if he was wearing socks.)

In Japan's Shinto religion, priests wear special footwear called tabi, which are stiff white socks with a divided toe. These socks are worn during all sacred ceremonies, accompanied by asagutsu, which are special black laquered clogs.

And we all know that bishops of the Catholic church wear purple socks and the Pope white.

History of the Lost Socks

Most people are surprised to learn that the Bureau of Missing Socks began as a company in the Union Army during the Civil War in the States of America. It was formed on August 1st, 1861. The name of the founder was Joseph Smithson and he was a haberdasher by trade but quite a bad soldier. He was therefore put in full and complete charge of socks of the enlisted men and officers. He brought to the army skills of stock keeping, purchasing, accounting, and salesmanship He immediately instituted a cost control structure and created one of the most honest, tightly run purchasing sections serving the Union side during the entire conflict.

Major Smithson’s first concern was not buying new socks for the army but maintaining and repairing the ones on the feet of the soldiers. He was the force behind the order that required that each member of the North’s forces turn in a used sock before receiving a new one. The General Order was cancelled a week later by the War Department possibly at the instigation of New England mill owners who feared that their business with the army would be cut in half.

To counteract the war profiteers, Major Smithson tried to implement a General Order which required that each soldier turn in a full pair of socks before receiving a new one and document all those missing. That was when he discovered that most of troops only lost one sock at a time. His first brush with the missing sock phenomenon. He was, however, able to institute his doctrine of field repair, creating the first and only sock darning, knitting, and issuing company in the United States Army trained to operate directly behind the front lines.

Major Smithson pressed on. When he couldn’t be supplied with darning eggs he found a supplier in England who also provided him with needles. He then rethought the basic concept and created the first Field Sock Darning Kit. He advocated the integration of women into the armed services to darn the socks but that cause was hopeless.

"The Darners" unit was overlooked in the general demobilization after the war. The Bureau of Missing Socks was transferred to civilian control where it immediately came under the grip of corrupt officials and businessmen known as the Whisky Ring. They increased the staff to over a thousand and its budget a thousand fold. It became the sole purchasing agent for all the socks worn by the uniformed services. In 1875, its members were sent to jail. One good thing did come out of the corruption surrounding the Grant administration. The United States Government had purchased enough socks in three years to equip all the armies in World War 1 and 2.

In fact, each recruit in the Spanish American War was issued twelve pairs. It was during this conflict that the Missing Sock Bureau received its first official investigative assignment. Many of troops were losing their government issued socks. It was soon discovered that the soldiers were trading them in for certain sexual favors.

We entered World War I confidant that our troops were this best shod in the world but it was soon discovered that the typical soldier was on the average five inches taller than his counterpart in the Eighteen Seventies and the country’s vast stock pile of socks were too small. More had to be ordered.

After World War II, the Bureau had absolutely nothing to do. Most of its employees were dismissed or transferred to more meaningful defense work. But due to some oversight the budget was not curtailed but increased, because our director at that time, Harrison L. Lawson, used the all available funds to hire the best lobbyist in Washington and invested in the careers of promising politicians on the national level. In four short years the future of the Bureau was secured and it began to grow to what it is today. And -- our vast stockpiles of socks were finally put to use as part of the Marshall Plan. No European on this side of the Iron Curtain during that late Nineteen Forties and early Fifties had to worry about cold feet in the winter if they were size seven or less.

The Bureau came to the forefront again during the Cold War. Stalin did not believe that we were really a civilian agency but a cover for the manufacture of a new and powerful weapon that the Soviet Union could not duplicate. He ordered the KGB to penetrate our facilities at all costs.

The Central Intelligence Agency jumped to the gun. The Bureau (still just the Bureau of Socks) budget was again increased, as was its manpower. Our new facilities were constructed in Washington on the shores of the Potomac River. Radio, cable, mail and messenger traffic was increased to exceed that of any other government agency. Suspected moles were encouraged to sign on and cryptologists on our staff devised a new code name Argyle which no one could decipher. It was discovered that at least sixty percent of the Soviet Union’s spy budget was directed against the Bureau during this period. Stalin and his successors so feared our organization that we, not the White House, not the Pentagon, not the Strategic Air Command, were the prime target of all eastern block nuclear missiles.

On November 9th 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. With the break up of the Communist World our existence was again challenged. We hung on until 1994 when the mission of the Bureau changed by some miracle to solving the mystery of the disappearing single sock.

The Bureau of Missing Socks is the only organization in the world devoted solely to unraveling the mystery of the single disappearing sock. It is an arm of the United States government no less important than the State Department and Department of Defense.

Its headquarters are located on a bluff high above the Potomac River in Washington, D. C. in a twenty four acre office park divided into four distinct areas: administrative, research, data and laboratory facilities.