Barthelemy Thimonnier


The Inventor of the Sewing Machine

We glean the following curious scrap of history from the Sewing Machine World: If you should inquire from some one of the numerous persons now using the sewing machine, who is the inventor of the sewing machine ? every one, accustomed as he is to see everywhere the pictures of Elias Howe and the gigantic S of the Singer Sewing Machine Co., would undoubtedly answer you that the sewing machine was devised by American inventors.

Well, this is not true. American inventors have unquestionably contributed largely to endow the sewing  machine with the numerous improvements which it has received for some thirty years, but they did not originate it. As early as 1830, a man, a modest tailor , had appeared who had succeeded in building and running in an industrial way, a sewing machine supplied with a continuous thread and the needle of which was not passed entirely through the cloth, and that man was neither an American nor an Englishman ; he was a Frenchman, by name Barthelemy Thimonnier. The English and Americans have so many industrial devices of their own invention, that we do not hesitate to take away from them, in behalf of a modest French inventor, who struggled during his whole life, the glory of having devised a machine by means of which many manufacturers Elias Howe, Singer, Wheeler & Wilson, among others secured large fortunes.

Barthelemy Thimonnier, whose picture the reader will find below, was the son of a dyer of Lyons and was born at the Arbresle (Rhone), in the year 1793. He studied a little while at the seminary of Saint Jean and was put to the tailor trade, which he practiced  at Amplepuis (Rhone), where he had been brought up. Thimonnier who had many opportunities of seeing the female sock embroiderers working for the manufacturers of Tarare, took into his head to build a machine to perform with it the work of the embroiderer and tailor.        

In 1828 he removed to Saint Etienne, and during several years neglected his own business, his only means of earning a livelihood for himself and his family, and devoted himself in a lonely room to many pursuits and studies, which his friends as they were unable to understand them, considered at once as foolish.

At last, in 1829, after four years hard work, which, ignorant as he was of mechanics, was the more painful, he mastered his idea, and, in 1830, he applied for a patent for a chain stitch patent sewing machine. Taken to Paris by Mr. Beaunier, a supervisor of mines, who guessed at first the real value of the invention and became morally and peculiarly interested in its success,

Thimonnier was, in 1831, made a partner and appointed manager of the firm Get- main Petit & Co., and set up on Sevres Street, in Paris, a workshop where he used eighty machines, making army clothing. At this time, the workingmen were adverse to every kind of new machinery, and used sometimes to destroy it, as the boatmen on the Soan river broke Marquis de Jouffroy’s steamboat about twenty five years before Fulton launched his boat on the Hudson river.

Thimonnier’s machine shared the fate of the other machines; the inventor was obliged to take flight, and, a few months later on account of the death of Mr. Beaunier, the partnership with Germain Petit & Co., was dissolved, and Thimonnier returned to Amplepuis, in 1832.                                                  

In 1834 he went back to Paris, and, as a journeyman, ran his machine, which he was always studying to improve.                                                            

In 1836 he was penniless and obliged to go once more to Amplepuis; he went on foot, carrying his machine on his back, and to earn his living during his journey he made a show of it as a curious piece of mechanism.

He manufactured at Amplepuis a few machines, which he sold with a great deal of trouble in his neighbourhood; in 1845 his machine would run at a rate of 200 stitches a minute.

He made then a partnership with Mr. Magnin, and built in Villefranche some machines which he used to sell at fifty francs apiece; and on August 5, 1848, jointly with Mr. Magnin, he applied for an improvement patent for his machine, which he called “Cousobrodeur” (the English patent was applied for on February 9, 1848), and which he no longer made of wood, but of metal, and with accuracy.                                                                                          

The revolution of 1848 having stopped Thimonnier’s business, he started for England, where he stayed a few months, and sold his patent to a Manchester firm*.                                                                                                        

At the exhibition at London in 1851, on account of inexplicable bad luck, Thimonnier’s machine was not ready for the examination of the commissioners whereas the Americans exhibited their first improvements to Thimonnier’s machine and the shuttle and two-thread machine of Elias Howe; as early as 1832 Thimonnier has studied this kind of machine, and was yet studying it in 1856.

But, exhausted by thirty years struggling and suffering, he died penniless at Amplepuis on August 5, 1856, leaving a widow and several children.

Later, in 1866 and 1872, the French government, at the request of the Industrial Sciences Society of Lyons, relieved by its subsidies the last days of that poor widow, who died on August 9, 1872.

The Board of Commissioners of the Exhibition of Paris in 1855 wrote the following about Thimonnier’s machine: Thimonnier’s machine was evidently the standard of all the modern sewing machines, and they bestowed on Thimonnier-Magnin’s “Cousobrodeur” a first-class medal; the prize was well deserved, as the “Cousobrodeur” of 1855 was by far superior to the machine of 1830, which, made of wood and put in motion directly by a cord, was unable to make more than one stitch at each oscillation of the treadle.


from the Manufacturer and Builder 1888

hooked needle, one thread, chain stitch sewing machine



Thimonnier  Patents



Thimonnier obtained his first patent in 1830; new patents in 18411845 and 1847 for new models of sewing machine.  



GB 12.060 /1848             Jean Marie Magnin            (Thimonnier' patent)

Machinery for sewing and embroidering.

barbed or hooked needle, one thread, chain stitch sewing machine

February 9, 1846




US 7.622 /1850

hooked needle, one thread, chain stitch sewing machine

September 3, 1850



Thimonnier  Etienne  &  Vernay  Claude

US 287.592 /1883

Application filed February 18, 1882. (Model.)

Improvements in Single Thread Sewing Machines,


Patented in

France January 6, 1882, No. 146.719

England January 1, 1882, No. 158

Belgium January 14, 1882, No. 56.768

Germany January 20, 1882, No. 19.115