John James Greenough

Boston, August 26. John James Greenough, inventor and former Superintendent of the Patent Office at Washington, died in Brookline to-day. He was the first to take out a patent on a sewing machine, invented the first shoe-pegging machine and assisted in the construction of the first electric locomotive. He held the position of Superintendent of the Patent Office from 1837 until 1841. He was 96 years old and was born in Boston. He leaves several children, one son being Col. George G. Greenough, Unites States Army.


              from the New York Times August 27, 1908



John James Greenough was born in 1812 ( January 19 ) Boston, MA, USA.

In 1842, John Greenough received the first American patent for a sewing machine. Greenough’s patent model used a needle with two points and an eye in the middle. To make a stitch, the needle would completely pass through the material by means of a pair of pinchers on either side of the seam. The pinchers traveled on a rack and opened and closed automatically. The needle was threaded with a length of thread, and required constant rethreading.

This type of sewing was classified as a short-thread machine. The machine was designed for sewing leather, and an awl preceded the needle to pierce a hole. The leather was held between clamps on a rack that could be moved, to produce a back stitch, or forward to make a shoemaker’s stitch. The material was fed automatically at a selected rate, according to the length of stitch desired. A weight drew out the thread, and a stop-motion shut down the machinery when a thread broke or became too short. Feed was continuous for the length of the rack-bar, and then it had to be set back. The turn of a crank set all motions to work. Greenough did not commercially manufacture his invention and his patent model remains as the only evidence.

He held several profitable patents for shoe-pegging machinery. He had many interests and his other patents included ones for plate glass; lampshades; looms; firearms; meters; propellers; gearing; hinges; power-transmitters; car steps and a paper bag-making machine.

From 1837 to 1841 , Greenough worked at the Patent Office supervising draftsmen who were restoring the patent drawings lost in the disastrous     1836 fire. Later he became an attorney working mostly on patent cases and established a patent agency in New York City.

In 1853, he was one of the founders of the American Polytechnic Journal, which published engravings of recent patents.



John James Greenough, 94 years old, is a hale, active man with a good memory and a sound mind, living in comfort and simple elegance in a suburb of Boston.

Mr. Greenough may be called a profession-inventor, but is far from the type of inventor with which we are most familiar. He was never a one-idea man, doggedly plodding or strugglings for one sole end; he was not driven to invention by Mother Necessity; he did not rest on one great success.

Mr. Greenough has made many inventions during his long and active life; some of great importance and others of but little value, but out of them all he realized a handsome fortune with which he has been able to continue experiments in many branches of industry, even to the present day.

One of Mr. Greenough's earliest inventions was a sewing machine and this was the first sewing machine for which the United States Government granted a patent, years before Howe, Singer and Wilson were on record there.

He built but one machine and that, while it formed stitches, fed the work and embodied some of the elements of modern machines, was not practical in any large sense.

Through faulty papers, the grant to Mr. Greenough gave him but a portion of his invention and when, in after years, he saw the opportunity and the inducement to put his invention to profitable use he found the field covered by patents that stopped him and the market filled by machines improved along other lines. His mistake, in mechanics, was in choice of a stitch.

A model of the Greenough machine occupies a conspicuous place in the Patent Office and has frequently been exhibited at the World's Fairs. An illustration of it was published in Sewing Machine Times a few years ago.


US 2.466                   John  James  Greenough              February 21, 1842

US 10.427                 John  James  Greenough               January 17, 1854

US RE 269                 John  James  Greenough                        July 4, 1854

US RE 698                 John  James  Greenough                     April 26, 1859

US RE 699                 John  James  Greenough                     April 26, 1859

US RE 700                 John  James  Greenough                     April 26, 1859

US RE 701                 John  James  Greenough                     April 26, 1859

US RE 702                 John  James  Greenough                     April 26, 1859

US RE 703                 John  James  Greenough                     April 26, 1859