JOSHUA H. RICKMAN,
owner of the Chester Knitting Mills, was born with the time-honored credential to greatness, that is, he was born in a log house, this particular log house being located in Todd county, Kentucky, about nine miles from Elkton, and was at that time the prevailing style of architecture in that neighborhood.
Joshua N. Rickman, the father of Joshua H., was a Southerner of the old school, his ancestors having lived in Virginia since before the Revolution. His mother, Betsy Henry, belonged to the Henry family of which Patrick Henry was the most historic character, and her near relatives were among those who demonstrated their patriotism so forcibly at Mecklenburg and elsewhere in Virginia during the Revolution. She was born at the close of the Revolution, but early enough to become personally acquainted with many of the renowned patriots of that state. From Virginia the family migrated into Tennessee, and here she was married to James Rickman, father of Joshua N. Rickman, and when the latter had become a young man the family moved to Kentucky, where he married Amanda Richards and here, November 28, 1861, Joshua H. Rickman was born; his father was enlisted in the Confederate service at the time. His mother's people were Northern sympathizers and four of her brothers were in the Union army, thus Joshua H. comes from a race of fighters, not so much warriors as men of very positive opinions and courage to back them up.
He grew up on the family homestead, a serious minded, white headed boy; learned to cut wood, hoe corn and “worm” tobacco; went barefooted in summer and a stubbed toe or stone bruise was nothing uncommon.
That the boy should be a preacher was the fond desire of his mother's heart, whether the idea appealed to him or not, I do not know, but strangers not infrequently mistake him for a minister, probably because the strong, square chin and aggressive nose are softened by the sincere kindly eyes.
At the age of eighteen the wanderlust struck him and he sold his horse and saddle and started for Illinois, where the big corn and wheat fields appealed to him; his strong physique and disposition to make himself useful readily secured for him employment with a farmer at ten dollars a month and board. It is one thing to get a job and another to hold it, but J. H. Rickman held his job and always held whatever job he undertook. The following year his father moved the family to Washington county, Illinois, and settled on a farm north of Nashville and all went well for awhile, then followed year after year of drouth and chinch bugs, then the era of business depression, when farm products reached their lowest price, potatoes twenty cents per bushel, wheat forty-five cents, and horses and cattle so cheap it was an insult to a spirited horse to have his cash value mentioned above a whisper. The prospect was anything but encouraging and when he was offered a position in the Southern Illinois Penitentiary, by the Democrats of his county, he gladly accepted. This was the real turning point in his life; it placed within his reach the means of achieving a place among his fellows, although that means had to be uncovered by his own sagacity. After a time the Paramount Knitting Company established a plant at the prison on a contract with the state to use prison labor, and the president of that concern, being on the look out for men to strengthen his organization, soon had his eye on Rickman and induced him to give up his position with the state and accept one with the Paramount Company.
This was the first knitting factory he had ever seen, but with his usual thoroughness set about learning the business from the ground up. That he was successful in this is shown by the fact that in less than three years he was general manager; he held this position until the company was obliged to move from this state on account of the convict labor law passed by the legislature.
Believing in the possibilities of Southern Illinois as a manufacturing center, Mr. Rickman set about establishing the Chester Knitting Mills. This he imbued with his own personality until the Chester Knitting Mills is J. H. Rickman. In this country town where the boys formerly loafed in the park and smoked cigarettes, and the girls walked the streets in idleness, you will not find an habitually idle person in the town; they are all employed making stockings. The work is pleasant, clean and remunerative, as is evidenced by the four hundred happy, healthy girls and boys that file through the doors of the factory about two minutes past six. This enterprise started in 1905, with a capital of twenty thousand dollars, but has twice increased its capital until now it is one hundred thousand dollars, with a probability of this being doubled during the present year. The output is twelve hundred dozen pairs of stockings daily and last year (1911) a branch factory was located at Collinsville, Illinois, with a capacity equal to the Chester mill; this makes Joshua H. Rickman the largest employer of labor in Southern Illinois. This growth is largely due to the excellence of the hosiery manufactured— anybody can make a stocking, but to make them better than your competitors takes brains.
Mr. Rickman was married November 18, 1896, at Chester, to Miss Alice Randolph, a daughter of W. J. Randolph, of Golconda, Illinois. Portia Isabel, now twelve years of age, is the only child. Notwithstanding the close application to his business, his family always comes first,
and his highest aim in life is to make them happy. His home is one of the beauty spots in Chester—an old colonial, vine covered house in the center of a five acre park, and it is here in front of the open wood fire in the winter evenings or under one of the “venerable oaks” in the summer that some of his far seeing ideas are hatched.