New York 1862

The rapid rise of the sewing machine business constitutes one of the wonders of this enterprising age. No industrial revolution can equal that which has been produced by it within the short space of sixteen years. The first general notice given to the public that a sewing machine had been invented appeared on page 388, Vol. II. (old series) Scientific American, 1847. It contained a brief description of Elias Howe's double-threaded lock stitch machine, the first for practical purposes that had been produced. With respect to its characteristics we then said, that several patents had been previously granted for sewing machines, none of which operated in a similar manner, nor produced a similar result. The inventor of it has struck out a track of its own and it would be difficult by any means heretofore known to sew as fast or as well as can be done by this machine. Mr. Howe was then in England making efforts to introduce his invention into that country. Our notice had the effect of drawing general attention to the subject and it resulted in the exhibition of a single thread chain·stitch machine, by Morey & Johnson, in the Merchants' Exchange in this city on May 6th, the subsequent year. This machine was illustrated and described in page 145, Vol. IV. (old series), Scientific American, 1849.

We believe this was the very first sewing machine which had thus been presented to the public. Taking this as the starting point in the introduction of the sewing machine, there was only a single operating one in existence thirteen years ago. In the subsequent year three other sewing machines, each using the needle and shuttle with two threaos and forming the lockstitch, were illustrated in Vol. V. (old series) Scientific American. These were Lerow & Blodgets', A.B. Wilson's and W.C. Watson's. In 1851 Lerow & Blodget improved their machine by giving the needle a straight vertical motion and I. M. Singer also introduced his machine with a straight needle in the same year. Both of these machines were illustrated and described in Vols. VI. and VII. Scientific American. In the same year the Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machine Company was organized for manufacturing the new machine, invented by A.B. Wilson, with an adjustable feed motion, straight needle and double thread, forming the lock·stitch with a rotllry crescent looper and disk bobbin. It is not our purpose nor have we space at present to describe the specialties of the different sewing machines that have been brought before the public. Their peculiarities have mostly been illustrated in former volumes of the Scientific American. Our object at prcsent is to remind our readers of the rapid rise and the importance to which the sewing machine business has attained. In 1852, ten years ago, a few companies had erected machinery and commenced to manufacture such machines for sale, but the number made that year was so limited that a reliable record of them has not been preserved.

In 1853 there were 2.529 made and up to the present time (1862) over 200.000. The three largest sewing machine establishments are the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Company; I. M. Singer & Co. and Grover & Baker. The former has made about 85.000 machines, the second 55.000; the third about 55.000. Wilcox & Gibbs since 1859 have manufactured 10.714.

There are about a dozen companies now engaged in the manufacture of sewing machines and the business has given rise to several immense manufactories in which a capital of several millions of dollars is invested in buildings and machinery. The largest of these establishments is that of Wheeler & Wilson at Bridgeport, Connecticut, which covers several acres of ground, forming a parallelogram with front and rear buildings 540 feet in length; the end buildings 260 feet, surrounding a court in which there are several large structures connected with the manufactory; they employ at present about 500 hands. Singer & Co., have a beautiful iron fire-proof factory which covers four lots in Mott street, this city and they employ over 400 workmen. The following are the prominent Sewing Machine Companies:

Wheeler & Wilson; I.M. Singer & Co.; Grover & Baker; Wilcox & Gibbs; Finkle & Lyon; Leavitt & Co. and A.B. Howe. All these have their main salerooms in New York. Miles Greenwood, Cincinnati and five or six manufacturers located in other places are also building machines on a smaller scale. The number now made per annum is, as near as we can learn, about 70.000. The present national troubles have not so affected this business but that all these establishments have done a comparatively good business. Although the large number of 200.000 machines have been made and sold, we must not forget that there are 6.000.000 families in a population of 30.000.000, so that there is still a wide field for future operations in our country. When reflecting upon the future prospect of the sewing machine ten years ago, the following language was used on page 349, Vol. VII. (old series) Scientific American:

"The sewing machine is but on the threshold of its career. Private families do not know anything about its use and shoemakers and saddlers have not yet tasted of its benefits. We suppose that in five years hence we will be wearing shirts, coats and boots stitched with it".

Such anticipations have all been realized. Since the first sewing machine was illustrated in our columns up to the first of July last, embracing a period of thirteen years, 358 American patents have been granted for improvements upon it direct and for devices connected with its use. It has been the means of stimulating genius, elevating art, economising labor and increasing the wealth of our country.

Scientific American 1862


Explosion of a Boiler and its Cause

New York 1862

On Saturday, the 6th inst., a steam boiler exploded at the factory of I.M. Singer & Co., Delancey street, this city, by which three men who were employed on the premises lost their lives. A coroner's inquest has been held on the bodies of the victims and a decision rendered to the effect that the deceased came to their deaths by injuries received by the explosion and that the jury believe that the engineer and the fireman of the factory are censurable for the explosion; the fireman for starting the fires after he had been informed of the state of the boiler and the engineer for not making a thorough examination of the boiler and its connections after being notified of the trouble. To understand the nature of this decision and the charge against the engineer, William Ford  and the fireman, Michael Reagan, it is necessary to give the substance of some of the evidence before the jury:­

The private watchman of the establishment stated that he had examined the four boilers in the factory on the evening before and found that no water would flow out of some of tho gage cocks, although there was a high pressure of steam on. He then went for a boiler maker named McGiven, with whom he was acquainted and both of them tried to raise one safety valve with their hands and were unable to do so. It pressed against the rafters so firmly that they could only slightly raise it with a piece of timber placed under the ball. He informed the fireman of this next morning and also the engineer. The fires were started before sufficient water had been let into the boilers and the pumps did not seem to operate well. William M. Storm, a mechanical engineer for the Police Department, stated that three of the four boilers in the establishment were uninjured and upon examining their safety valves he could lift three easily, but the safety valve of the one which exploded was fast; the lower gage cock was also immovable. The four boilers were in a gang, all alike and set side by side. Their connections were such that they could work all together or in pairs. They have return flues 14 inches in diameter and both flues of the one that exploded were collapsed from end to end and torn away at their junction with the ends of the boiler. Joseph E. Coffee, engineer and boiler inspector for the Metropolitan district, stated that he had examined the exploded boiler and that the safety valve had been shut at the time of the explosion. All the four boilers had their feed water pipes open, but two of them had their steam pipes, which led to the engine, closed and only one of these exploded, the one which had its safety valve fast. There had been fire under all the four boilers. The steam which was generated in the two boilers that were disconnected with the engine, forced the water out of them, as the pressure increased, into the other two boilers, thus nearly emptying the two former boilers. The flues of these then became overheated and one gave way with an ordinary pressure of steam. This was the cause of the explosion, in the opinion of Mr. Coffee and it is very evident that it is a clear explanation of it. Mr. Coffee also stated that had the boiler been full of water and the safety valve in proper order the explosion would not have taken place. It was the duty of the engineer to see that the connections were in proper order. Mr. B.G. Lord, sergeant of the sanitary police, stated that the engineer who had charge of these boilers, had no certificate from the Police Department. Nine-tenths of all the explosions which take place are the results of similar causes.

Scientific American 1862



The most practical sewing machine systems for family use


Although each sewing machine has its own advantages and disadvantages and is often only set up for a special use, it is one of the most popular maneuvers among dealers to describe their machines as particularly suitable for family use. The impartial assessor of a sewing machine, who declares it to be more suitable for family use than another, can therefore easily be suspected of an intended advertisement and the question of which sewing machine is the most suitable for the purpose in question cannot be answered entirely apodictically decide. However, if one takes into account that we partly use American-made machines and partly mimic American machines in Germany, we can point out that in the United States two systems are now decidedly and almost exclusively considered family sewing machines: the Wheeler & Wilson's lockstitch machine and Grover & Baker's double chainstitch machine, while the other large sewing machine manufacturers provide excellent products for other purposes, namely Singer & Co. for heavy cloth work, E. Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, for leatherwork and Willcox & Gibbs for certain factory and industrial purposes.

Of the first two companies mentioned, however, Wheeler & Wilson sold 38.296 pieces of their machine for light fabric works, in the 9 years from 1852 to 1861, Grover & Baker, however, 59.833 pieces of their family sewing machines in the 3 years from 1858 to 1861.

These numbers show clearly which system the practical Americans prefer, since the differences are too big to be attributed only to the more clever advertising of one company. The reason, as Daul rightly emphasizes in his highly recommended book on the American sewing machine, is that the housewives wondered what sewing work was most common in their households. If it was light fabrics sewing, they bought a Wheeler & Wilson machine and since other jobs could be made on the machine with the exact knowledge of the machine, they could be satisfied. However, as is the case in all tough and large families, sewing women and children clothes was the predominant task, so they chose a Grover & Baker double chainstitch machine, which, when handled correctly, also produces white goods as well and beautifully as the actual white machine.

It is these two systems that are now in the foreground in Germany and here the judgment of Dr. Rud. Herzberg, author of the excellent work:

The sewing machine, its construction and its use (Berlin 1863, published by Julius Springer) should be considered as an authority in this subject, which is expressed as follows:

I have often been asked which of the many existing sewing machines would be most suitable for families?

I always replied:

Grover & Baker sewing machines and I have not been guilty of the reasons why this is the one that most satisfies the demands made of households. Above all, it has the great advantage that almost a child can cope with it and can work on it. The seam is completely firm enough for domestic purposes, is more elastic than any other, an advantage that comes into the right light when washing and flattening and as a decorative seam it surpasses every other in beautiful appearance. It is not to be denied that other types of machines are irreplaceable for certain purposes, but so much is certain that Grover & Baker's sewing machine and only this one, can be recognized as completely suitable for the manufacture of household items. (Deutsche Industriezeitung, 1864, Nr. 49.)

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