HOWE MACHINE COMPANY

by Elias Howe

 Bridgeport, Connecticut

1865 - 1886

***

Avenue St., Bridgetown, Scotland

1872 - 1887

While working as a journeyman machinist, Elias Howe Jr. wrestled for years to find a way to mechanize sewing. With the family pinched by poverty, his wife sewed for others by hand at home. Watching her sew, Howe visualized ways to mechanize the process. In 1845, he built his first sewing machine and soon constructed an improved model, which he carried to the Patent Office in Washington to apply for a patent.

He received the fifth United States patent US 4.750 for a sewing machine in 1846His machine was patented in England by William Thomas under patent GB 11.464 on 1st December 1846.

However, Elias did not try to manufacture machines for another 20 years. It took him years of litigation against other manufacturers to establish his patent fully in the US courts.

... Mr. John Brooks Nichols heard of Elias Howe was just home from his unhappy European trip and was laying claim to his patent rights. Mr. Nichols went to him in Cambridge and asked for permission to make use of his invention in stitching shoes. Mr. Howe replied that Mr. Nichols was the first man who had asked permission to use his invention.

He furthermore said that William R. Bliss, a Worcester shoe manufacturer, had the rights to use the invention for stitching leather. Mr. Bliss was one of the good friends who provided Howe with money to fight for his patent rights. Mr. Nichols joined interests with Howe and Bliss...

Howe’s model used a grooved and curved eye-pointed needle carried by a vibrating arm. The needle was provided with thread from a spool. Loops of thread from the needle were locked by a second thread carried by a shuttle, which moved through the loop by means of reciprocating drivers.The cloth hung vertically, impaled on pins on a metal baster plate. The baster plate moved intermittently under the needle by means of a toothed wheel. The length of each stitching operation depended upon the length of the baster plate, and only straight seams could be sewn. When the end of the baster plate reached the position of the needle, the sewing was stopped. The cloth was removed from the baster plate, and the plate was moved back to its original position. The cloth was repositioned on the pins and the process was repeated until the sewing was finished. This resulted in an imperfect way to sew, but it marked the beginning of successful mechanized sewing.Howe’s patent claims were upheld in court to allow his claim to control the combination of the eye-pointed needle with a shuttle to form a lockstitch. Howe met with limited success in marketing his sewing machine. Subsequent inventors patented their versions of sewing machines, some of which infringed on Howe’s patent. He quickly realized his fortune depended on defending his patent and collecting royalty fees from sewing machine manufacturers. These royalty licenses granted companies the right to use the Howe patent on their machines.

In 1856, after years of lawsuits over patent rights, Elias Howe and three companies, Wheeler & Wilson, Grover & Baker and I. M. Singer, formed the first patent pool in American industry. The organization was called the Sewing Machine Combination and/or the Sewing Machine Trust. This freed the companies from expensive and time-consuming litigation and enabled them to concentrate on manufacturing and marketing their machines.

In 1862 with the Howe Sewing Machine Company of Amasa Howe becoming more successful and machines being made in larger numbers, Elias Howe, who was by then very wealthy, offered to go into partnership with Amasa.

In 1863 Nahum Salamon, their manager in London, wrote a history of the sewing machine including a biography of Elias Howe, to promote sales of the "Genuine Howe Machines" made by the Howe S.M.Co.

The collaboration with Amasa was short lived and Elias soon left to start another "Howe" company with his sons in law, the Stockwell brothers. Since Amasa had used the name Howe Sewing Machine Company (Howe S.M.Co) for many years, the new company called itself the Howe Machine Company (Howe M.Co).

The Howe Sewing Machine Company continued to build its machines in New York whilst the Howe Machine Company set up a large new factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

After Elias died in 1867, the company was run by his sons-in-law, the Stockwell brothers. To distinguish their machines from those of Amas B. Howe, they marked each machine with a brass medallion picturing the head and flowing locks of Elias Howe. They also continued to advertise their machine as the “original” Howe.

In 1872 the Howe Machine Company established a factory at Avenue Street, Bridgetown, Scotland.

In about 1873, B. P. Howe, Amasa’s son, sold the Howe Sewing Machine Co., established by Amasa B. Howe (Elias's elder brother) in 1854, to the Stockwell Brothers, who continued to manufacture Howe machines until 1886.

In 1886 the Howe Machine Company closed and there were reports that the Company was to be re-established as The New Howe Manufacturing Co.; the intention was to start producing Family and Manufacturing machines together with parts for old style Howes by February 1887, whether this actually happened is unclear.

... The American Howe Machine Company has been reorganised and will commence operations at once as the New Howe Manufacturing Company. The new secretary and treasurer is Mr. E. Parmley. The company commence business with 300 hands at the factory...  

The Sewing Machine Gazette
January 1887

 

 

Howe Mfg Corp ???

B'Port. Howe. MFG. CORP. Bridgeport Conn. USA stamped on shank
B'Port. Howe. MFG. CORP. Bridgeport Conn. USA stamped on shank

 

The Howe Machine Company

The adjourned meeting of the shareholders of The Howe Machine Co. took place on the i6th ult., to confirm the resolutions passed at the previous meeting, as reported in the September Gazette. The resolutions were duly passed, but notwithstanding this several solicitors swooped down on the company's affairs and stopped the transfer of the business. It is always a bad look out for an estate when it gets into the lawyers' hands, as most of our readers will fully agree. On Wednesday last, before Mr. Justice Charles, a petition was presented by Mr. J. E. Hodges, supported by the holders of several thousand shares, as well as a number of creditors, praying for a compulsory winding- up-order. The company, which carries on business in London, Glasgow, France and other places, in the manufacture of sewing machines, bicycles, tricycles, &c, was incorporated in 1873 and the amount of the capital in 1887 was stated at £.95.000, divided into 10.000 preferences shares and 20.000 ordinary shares of £3 each. In the course of the present year the directors propounded a scheme for selling the concern to a new company at a price which would, they said, ensure the shareholders 10s. a share. The reason given for this proposal was that the prospects of the company were bad and that they were not in a position to carry on the business for want of capital. The directors also said that the number of the manufacturers of sewing machines had greatly increased, whilst the purchasers had diminished. At shareholders' meetings the matter was discussed and resolutions adopting the proposal for the sale of the property and agreeing to a voluntary liquidation, were passed by 4.713 votes to 3.363. The petitioner now asserted that the directors were desirous of selling the property to Mr. J. S. Chaplin, who was the managing director of the company at a salary of £1.000 a year and a mortgagee of the Glasgow premises, at a reduced and improper price and that the sale would be a disadvantage to the contributories and creditors. Further, it was alleged that if the assets of the company were properly disposed of the shareholders would realise as much as £3 a share, whereas under the scheme they would in reality only receive half a crown in the pound. An affidavit was read in which the value of the Glasgow property alone was put at £. 55.000 and his lordship's attention was also called to the circumstance that in the balance-sheet issued in January the assets were given as being worth £. 67.000. The company and liquidators appointed under the voluntary liquidation opposed the application. Affidavits were put in denying that the shares were worth £3 a piece. During the present year some forfeited shares were, it was stated, put into the market and fetched only 9s. each. Mr. Chaplin said that instead of only £. 10.000, he was, in fact, offering from £.35.000 to £. 40.000 for the property, as he had to pay the debts of the company. He was not desirous of holding the directors to their bargain, but was more than willing for some other person to take over the business on the same terms. He held several hundred shares in the concern and did not vote at the meeting in September. In any event, he wished the voluntary liquidation continued. Mr. Marten, Q.C., Mr. Latham, Q.C. and Mr. Macnaughten appeared in support of the petition; Mr. Millar, Q.C., Mr. Rylands and Mr. Nasmith opposed. His lordship felt bound under the circumstances to make a compulsory winding-up order. The duties of the liquidators under the voluntary winding-up therefore came to an end and he appointed Mr. James Hutton and Mr. S. Lovelock provisional liquidators.

The Sewing Machine Gazette
October 1887

 

In 1887, in Great Britain the Howe Machine Company Ltd closed and in December of that year the company's assets were offered for sale by tender as one lot. 

 

 

US PATENTS

 

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US 4.750                                   Elias Howe                 September 10, 1846

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RE-ISSUE No. 49. Elias Howe jr., of Brooklyn, N.Y., for an Improvement in sewing machines. Patent date 10th September, 1846 and extended.

I claim, first, a sewing machine, constructed and operating to form a seam, substantially as described. Second, the combination of a needle and a shuttle, or equivalent and holding surfaces, constructed and operating substantially as described. Third, the combination of holdin surfaces, with a baster plate or equivalent, constructed an operating substantially as described. Fourth, a lifting rod, a clipping lever and a receiving pin, respectively, each constructed and operating to control the threads, substantially as described. Fifth, a baster plate, constructed and operating substantially as described. Sixth, holding surfaces, constructed and operating substantially as described. Seventh, a grooved and eve-pointed needle, constructed and adapted for rapid machine sewing substantially as described. Eighth, a side pointed shuttle, constructed and operating substantially as described. 

1861

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ELIAS BRITISH PATENTS

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GB 11.464/1846                   William Thomas                     (Howe' patent)

Machinery for sewing or stitching various fabrics

December 1, 1846

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GB 2.726                                  Elias  Howe

the younger, of Oxford Street, in the county of Middlesex, Engineer, has given the like notice in respect of the invention of Improvements in projectiles. A communication to him from abroad by John Webster Cochran, of New York.

November 6, 1860

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GB 1.798                                 William  Clark

of 53, Chancery Lane, in the County of Middlesex, Engineer and Patent Agent, for an invention for Improvements in sewing machines. A communication to him from abroad by Elias Howe jr., of Fairfield, Fairfield County, State of Connecticut, United States of America.

Letters Patent sealed                   July 7, 1866

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GB 2.630                          Alfred  Vincent  Newton

of the Office for Patents, 66, Chancery Lane, in the County of Middlesex, Mechanical Draughtsman, for an invention for improvements in sewing machines. A communication to him from abroad by Elias Howe jr., of the City of New York, United States of America.

Letters Patent sealed                                                         October 11, 1866

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Howe’s prepatent model of 1845, and the box used by the inventor to carry the machine to England in 1847. (Smithsonian photo 45506-B.)

 

DATING HOWE MACHINE COMPANY (ELIAS)

The machines of the Howe Machine Company (Elias) are not believed to have begun with serial number 1 and no figures are available for 1865-1867. After that, the machines may be dated by serial number approximately as follows:

 

                 Serial Number                   Year

0 ..............................................

                           +                                                1865

xxxxxx ....................................

                           +                                               1866

xxxxxx .....................................

                           +    11.053                                1867

11.000 ......................................

                           +    35.000                                1868

46.000 ......................................

                           +    45.000                                1869

91.843 .....................................

                           +    75.156                                 1870

                                166.999 ......................................

                            134.010                                 1871

                                301.009 ......................................

                           +  145.000                                 1872

                                446.009 ......................................

                              99.000                                 1873

                                545.009 ......................................

                            +   35.000                                 1874

                                590.009 .....................................

                            +   25.000                                 1875

                                615.009 .....................................

                            + 109.294                                 1876

                                724.303 .....................................

                                                                              1877

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1878

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1879

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1880

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1881

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1882

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1883

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1884

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1885

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1886

xxxxxxx .....................................

                                            1887

xxxxxxx .....................................

 

 

No figures are available for 1877-1887.

 

This Howe carries the serial number 24545

Thus, he was no stranger to the sewing machine. In 1854 Amasa set up the Howe Sewing Machine Company (Howe S.M.Co) in New York and started to manufacture sewing machines. He paid Elias and the Patent Combination the appropriate royalty and initially production was on a very modest scale: 60 machines in 1854, 53 machines in 1855.

The machine which Amasa produced is recognisable as the "Howe" sewing machine and is the prototype for the "Howe system" machines which were widely cloned in the 1870s. I do not know what contribution, if any, Elias made to the design of the machine. He had no interest in the company.

The patents relating to it which I have come across are in the name of A.B.Howe and not Elias Howe. Production increased very slowly and by 1860 only about 1500 machines had been produced. The photograph of an A.B.Howe machine of 1860 in Grace Rogers Cooper's book (p 93) is of a classic "Howe" machine.

Howe's wheel-feed patent of 1861

The Amasa Howe machines were good well-made sewing machines and after 1860 production increased. The Howe S.M.Co. expanded into Europe with agents in London and Paris.

The London agent from 1860 was Luke McKernan who sold "Howe's sewing machines" at 142 High Holborn and later at 98 Cheapside. In June 1861 the Howe S.M.Co opened its own depot nearby at 8 Ludgate St., St. Paul's with Nahum Salamon as manager. McKernan was clearly upset by the loss of trade and in December 1861 the Howe S.M.Co took McKernan to the High Court for an injunction to restrain him.

It appeared that McKernan's shop window carried the words 'LUKE McKERNAN, late AGENT FOR THE HOWE SEWING MACHINE' in very large letters except for the word 'late'. The Howe S.M.Co was granted its injunction!

A.B.Howe took out patents in England (patent number 1987 of 9th August 1861 and number 2086 of 21st August 1861) for improvements to his classic "Howe" machine.

The machines were exhibited on their own stand at the London Exhibition of 1862 where Amasa Howe (not Elias Howe) was awarded a prize medal for the Howe S.M.Co machines and four medals for the excellence of work carried out on them. In 1863 Nahum Salamon, their manager in London, wrote a history of the sewing machine including a biography of Elias Howe, to promote sales of the "Genuine Howe Machines" made by the Howe S.M.Co.

 

They were advertised as 'Established 1845, perfected 1862'. It is in this booklet that we see the well-known advertisement for "Genuine Howe sewing machines" with four machines labelled A, B, C and D.