Born in 1563, William Lee grew up as most young men of that era, but his curiosity led him down a path that not many inventors braved before or during his time.
As a young man, Lee watched how popular knitted wool caps and wool stockings were for young children, and how it became all the 'rage' after Queen Elizabeth issued an edict that "her people should always wear a knitted cap."
This fashion dictated and sparked a massive demand, and eventually 200,000 hand-knitters produced 20 million pairs of wool stockings and other clothing items. Soon demand surged throughout Europe, which created a huge export market to Germany, France, Holland, and Spain.
By this time, Lee began to wonder why this laborious task could not be improved. His invention dominated his thinking much to the disgust of his father. According to Lee, his father was annoyed and thought it was a "waste of time" and energies on a "woman's work." He wanted Lee to focus and become involved in the church.
Young William explained to his father the Protestant system of moral principles, which allowed him to work for a trading purpose, as well as serving God at the same time. This was a difficult time, where Lee later explained of his tortured agony of having had an amazing idea, and how he had taken the slow process and made it more efficient. His dream had to become a reality. To this end, he spent time with everyone that could possibly help:
Lee's device was born and he was ready to go into business. However, only one obstacle remained and that was the approval and blessing from the Queen. William Lee made his way to London, finally befriended, and impressed the right people, and an introduction was wrangled. Lee could not have prepared himself for the reaction and the words spoken from Her Highness:
"Thou aimest high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin but depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars."
Looking at Lee's benefactor, Lord Hundson, the Queen continued:
"Had Mr. Lee made a machine which could have given me silk stockings, I would have been justified in granting him a patent."
Returning her gaze to Lee, the Queen concluded:
"To enjoy the privilege of making stockings for everyone is too important to grant to any individual."