1855  PARIS

The First international French Exhibition (Exposition Universelle) and the world second, the first being the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.

Carré de Marigny at Champs-Elysées in Paris France

Open date: May 15th 1855     Close date: November 15th 1855

Size: A total area of 34 acres, with 24 acres under cover

Paid attendance: 5.162.000

25 states and their colonies involved      24.000 exhibitors

Cost to organisers 11.500.000 FR  (£450.000) and takes 3.200.000 FR (£125.000). Loss borne by state.      Loss: 8.3 million FR

Main building: Palais de l’Industrie.

World Exhibition in Paris would be a symbol of French prosperity. During a 12-year period, trade was growing by 300%. The exhibition was however not a major success since it was too close after the London exhibition. Few technological innovations and low attendance.



Reports on the

1855 Paris Exhibition



... One of the most remarkable features of the portion of this Exposition now under review, was the enormous increase of sewing machines compared with those presented in 1851.

In the last mentioned Exhibition, the American department contained a single machine, by Mr. Blodget and Mr. Judkin showed a somewhat similar one on the English side, but imported from America. A large unpractical contrivance for sewing sacks stood in the French department. The two first were kept in action, but appeared only as novelties and curious specimens of mechanism. Other machines were announced, but not produced.

In 1854, the case was wholly different. Fourteen exhibitors(*) came provided with sewing machines and sought and occupied the most conspicuous places. Most of them had their stalls furnished with several different machines all in operation, not shown, as before, as individual novelties but as machines ready for sale and provided to that effect in great numbers, as if to supply a large and accustomed demand. In short, it appeared as if this implement had sprung into industrial life and taken its place as an established and universally recognized member of the series of manufacturing machines.

A closer examination of the facts showed that this was really the case in America and that the use of the machines was gradually spreading from that country into France, Germany, and England, in all which regions it will probably assume ere long the same prominent position which it does in the United States.

It may be worth while, therefore, to put on record a few facts relating to the history and various constructions of these machines, which the facilities offered by my official position at Paris enabled me to collect. The machine has yet by no means assumed a permanent form; many systems are struggling for the mastery and time has not determined the remedies for their respective faults. The perfection of the machine is alike retarded by the prejudices of workmen and by speculators in patent rights.


(*)         French: Magnin, Dard. J. le Blond, Le Duc, L. Say, Siegl. Latour.                     American: Singer, Wheeler & Wilson, Grover & Baker, Moore, Backus and Peaslee.                     English: Thomas.         Canadian: Taylor and Dockerill.


Thirty-five patents for sewing machines granted in 1854 in America(*) will sufficiently show the eagerness with which the construction of this machine is pursued in that country and the public interest it excites. The machines, as they exist at present, naturally fall under four classes, determined by the kind of stitch they produce.

Under the first class come the machines in which the needle is passed completely through the stuff, as in hand-working. It is so natural, in the first attempts to make an automatic imitation of handy-work, that the imitation should be a slavish one, that we need not be surprised to find the earlier machines contrived to grasp a common needle, push it through the stuff and pull it out on the other side.

The first patent sewing machine was thus arranged by Thomas Stone and James Henderson, in France, 1804. English names, doubtless, but they took no patent in England and their scheme was abortive. Other patents following the same device have been taken from time to time at long intervals, but it being found that the machine was slower in operation than the hand, this mode of attacking the problem of creating a mechanical stitcher has always proved unsuccessful, except in the form of an embroidering machine(**) M. Heilmann exhibited at Paris, in 1834, his admirable machine for this purpose, in which 150, more or less, of needles are made to work simultaneously and embroider each the same flower or device upon a piece of stuff or silk stretched in a frame and guided by a pantograph. These needles are simultaneously pushed in on one side the stuff and then pulled through on the other and vice versa. But the slowness of the operation is compensated for by the number of needles at work and it is only in this way that the employment of detached needles has been found capable of economical application to mechanical stitching.


(*) In 1842, only a single patent was taken for a sewing machine in the United States; two in 1843, one in 1844, one in 1846, four in 1849, six in 1850, four in 1851, seven in 1852, six in 1853 and, in 1854, the number suddenly rose to thirty-five.

In England about 20 patents to the end of 1854 and 37 patents in France to the same period. Nearly the whole of them are communications from America. Some of them relate to systems which I have not attempted to describe, because they have not stood the test of experience and had no representatives in the Exposition.

(**)The patents that followed Stone and Henderson’s in 1804, in the employment of a detached needle, were Bean, 1843 and Rogers, 1844, United States, for the production of a running stitch by pushing a needle through a series of plaits crimped upon the edge of the cloth; Greenough, 1842, U.S.; Phelizon, 1850 and Canonge, 1852, France, for sewing with Heilmann’s double needle and Senechal, 1849, France, for a machine for whipping or sewing sacks with a common needle, exhibited in the 1851 London Exhibition.


This needle was ingeniously made with a point at each end and the eye in the middle, to avoid the necessity of turning it after each passage. Heilmann’s machine was not successful in France, but was well received at Manchester and has remained in use to the present time. Mr. Houldsworth, of that city, exhibited in constant operation a large specimen of this machine, which formed one of the most attractive objects of the Exposition of 1855. It contained a variety of his own improvements and obtained for him the First Class Medal. This machine requires the attendance of five workwomen, namely, one to guide the pantograph, one for each of the two needle-carriages and two to thread the needles.

Under the name of Barbe Schmitz, of Nantz, was exhibited an ingenious attempt to construct an embroidering machine for the same purposes as Heilmann’s, in the simultaneous embroidering of a number of similar flowers or spots upon silk or muslin, but with arrangements for complete automatic action in the pantograph and in the needle-frames. Great ingenuity was shown in the contrivances of this machine, but it was far from being in a working state and was said to be the second only that had been made.

Another claimant to the invention appealed to the Jury and the First Class Medal was accordingly given to the machine, leaving the question of invention to be settled by the proper court of law. Work of this description can be now executed with great facility by the sewing machines about to be described. They can only execute one flower at a time, but they work with so much rapidity as fully to compensate for this peculiarity and with the advantage of a greater variety of pattern.

2nd Class.

The next stitch applied to sewing machinery was that known to embroiderers as chain-stitch or "crotchet". This is wrought by a so called crotchet-needle, which terminates in a hook; the needle is grasped by the opposite end and the hook pushed through the stuff so as to catch hold of a thread below and being then withdrawn, brings with it a small loop of the thread, the hook of the needle retaining this loop is then repassed through the stuff at a short distance in advance of the former passage, catches a new loop and is again withdrawn, bringing with it the second loop which thus passes through the first. This process being continually repeated along the stuff, a series of loops are obtained of which every one passes through its predecessor. Such a series is termed a chainstitch and may be used either to connect two pieces together, or as an embroidery stitch, for

which it is well adapted by its ornamental and braid like

appearance. But its fitness for mechanical sewing is due to

the fact that the needle is always grasped by one end, and

never passed completely through the stuff. Also, the thread

may be supplied from a bobbin of any diameter. On the

other hand, in sewing with a detached needle, only short

lengths can be employed and the machine must be stopped

at short intervals to re-thread the needle. Moreover, the

distance to which the needle must be drawn after each

passage continually diminishes in length.

The first sewing machine for this stitch was invented

by M. Thimonnier, and patented in France, 17 July 1800,

and again, with improvements, 5 Aug. 1848, in association

with M. Magnin. This machine is the type of all the modern ones. It received, however, no extension in France.

M. Magnin sent it for exhibition in 1851 to London, but was

prevented by illness from showing it in action. But in the

Exposition now under consideration he showed it in operation, and it was found to produce finer and more accurate

work than any other machine in competition with it. It

worked at the rate of 800 stitches per minute, and in its

present state is therefore too slow to compete with the

American machines. It is, besides, encumbered with many

complicated devices, that, however, adapt it admirably to

the purpose of embroidering muslin, silk, or other material.

This patent was introduced into England in 1848, and into

America in 1849. In which country in the same year,

(Feb. 6) Morey and Johnson patented a sewing machine

for chain-stitch, in which a needle with an eye near the

point, perpendicular to the cloth, was combined with a

hooked instrument parallel to the cloth for effecting the

same purpose as the crotchet needle, which from its delicacy

is uncertain in its action. This patent appears to have been

assigned to Mr. Singer, and forms tire basis of his chain-stitch

machine, which was one of the most attractive objects of

the present Exposition. Its construction was remarkable

for its excellent workmanship, and for the ingenious devices

employed for regulating the tension of the thread, facilitating

the management of the cloth, and accelerating the work,

which can be carried on without risk of failure at the rate

of even 500 stitches per minute. To avoid the risk of unravelling, to which chain stitch is liable when the thread is

broken, Mr. Singer has introduced a contrivance by which

his machine forms a kind of knot at every eighth stitch. It


3rd Class.





appeared that he possesses a large manufactory of sewing

machines of different systems at New York from which

already more than 5,000 have issued, and at the rate (in

1855) of from 40 to 50 a week.

The above history has shown that the chain stitch

machines were the first that admitted of being successfully

employed, that they were invented in France but received

no extension, and passed into America, wThere they now

enjoy a fair share of success. But we have now to examine

a third class of sewing machines, which is essentially American, and which arose in that country a very few years

after Thimonnier had taken his first patent.

The stitch produced is wrought by two threads, and as it

bears in America the name of mail bag stitch


it may be

presumed that it was employed by the makers of that article

before it was applied to machinery. It is now most commonly termed shuttle stitch. In the most usual mechanical

arrangement for its production a vertical needle, having the

eye very near the point, is constantly supplied by thread

from a bobbin, and is carried by a bar which is capable of

an up and down motion ; the cloth being placed below the

needle the latter descends, pierces it, and forms below it a

small loop with the thread carried down by its eye ; a small

shuttle, which has a horizontal motion beneath the cloth, is

now caused to pass through this loop, carrying with it its

own thread


the needle rises, but the loop is retained by the

shuttle thread. The cloth beinor next advanced through the

space of a stitch the needle descends again and a fresh loop

is made.

This process being repeated along the line of the seam, it

results that the upper thread sends down a loop through

each needle -hole, and that the lower thread passes through

all these loops and thus secures the work. If the stuff be

thick, the lower thread is drawn up by the tension of the

upper one, so as to form loops which meet those of the

upper thread half way. In appearance the seam is not to

be distinguished from the right side of the ordinary hand

stitch, but is alike on the two sides.

Notwithstanding the objections that are urged against

this system by the owners of the chain-stitch machines or

other different ones, it was evident, from the greater number

of exhibitors of this class of sewing machines, that they are

the most in demand. Even those exhibitors who had

special machines for chain-stitch or double chain-stitch, such

as M. Singer, Messrs. Grover and Baker, and others, found


it necessary to present, in addition, some form of shuttle stitch machine. oy MachiThe first machine* for producing this stitch was invented mWovsx

by Walter Hunt, of New York, in 1834. He made one or Fa2Ycs‘

two, but never succeeded in adapting it to produce good

work. It was never patented, but after many attempts was

laid aside and forgotten, until Elias Howe, of New York,

patented in Sept. 10, 1846, a machine on the same principle,

which has turned out to be exceedingly practical.

In fact, until this machine was produced the public were

in possession of no machine for sewing, and after its appearance, when its success became manifest, numerous other

machines in imitation of it, were brought out in America,

as, for example, those patented by Lcrow and Blodgett, in

1849, by Singer and others. These patentees attempted to

defeat Howe's patent by appealing to the earlier abortive

invention of Hunt, but were unsuccessful, the final judgment having been given at New York in his favour, after

long litigation, in Feb. 22, 1854 ; and it appears that inconsequence nearly all the existing patentees of shuttle -stitch

machines have either purchased assignments of Howe's

patent or are compelled to pay him a royalty. His own

machine, however, soon proved too clumsy for general use,

and was rapidly superseded by the improvements of his

imitators. Therefore, it never appears in competition, and

no specimen was shown at Paris


but there were nine exhibitors of this class of sewing machines of different degrees

of merit.

Mr. Seymour, ofNew York, had one of a strongand simple

construction and of less price than the others, which appeared

to be practical and durable and well adapted to various

materials and work, such as cloth, linen, leather, silk, felt,

or wadding, and would work at the rate of 500 stitches per


Mr. Singer


of New York, exhibited one, together with

his chain-stitch machine already described, of great elegance

and precision of construction, to which he had applied many

of his peculiar devices for increasing the rapidity of motion

and saving the thread from fracture. According to his

advertisements 800 stitches per minute might be obtained

* This information concerning the history of sewing machines in America is

derived from the decision of Judge Sprague, of New York (Feb. 22, 1854), on

the disputed patent of Howe, and has therefore the authority of a legal



n Willis ^rom Reports on the Paris Exhibition.

an<^ the superior delicacy and precision of its work

' on machi- was daily evidenced.

poifwovEx Mr. Thomas

of London, the original purchaser of Howe's


fabrigs. English patent in 1846, became thereby the first introducer

of this American sewing machine into this country.* For

many years he kept the use of it in his own hands, employing it in his manufactory of stays, and applying himself to

the improvement of it, for which he has taken several

patents. The machine which he exhibited at Paris was

unfortunately sent at a late period, but was remarkable for

the ingeniously simple and direct modes by which the

various mechanical organs were set in action, totally differing from those of his competitors, and necessarily contributing essentially to the durability and other good qualities

of the machine.

Other exhibitors displayed sewing machines, in which the

shuttle, in lieu of travelling back and forwards in a right

line or small circular arc, was made to run continually in a

circular path. Of these, the most remarkable were the

machine exhibited by M. Dard, but in reality that of

Blodgett and Lerow, the original inventors of this system

(patented in America, Oct. 2, 1849) ; the machine of

M. Le Dug, of Troyes, ingeniously devised, but too complex for practice


and the highly original and ingenious

machine of Messrs. Wheeler and Wilson, of the United

States, patented in 1852 and 1854. This is apparently the

most direct and simple in action of all the sewing machines,

but is unfortunately uncertain and liable to get out of order

in its present state.

The remaining exhibitors of this class presented nothing

worthy of remark, being mere imitators of some one of the



4th Class. There exists a fourth class of sewing machines which

Compound produce more complex stitches than the preceding. These



are formed by sewing with two threads, which mutually

machines, interlace each other in chain-stitch, so as to avoid the

unravelling to which the simple chain-stitch is subject, and

also are intended to meet an objection which is urged

against the shuttle-stitch machines on the ground that as

the shuttle must be small to enable it to pass through the

loop formed by the needle-thread, so the bobbin carried by


(*) This is the second English patent for a sewing machine. A patent, under

the name of Bostwick, had been taken in 1844 for the American machine of

Bean and Rogers for a running stitch, mentioned above, but which does not

appear to have succeeded in practice.


the shuttle can only contain a moderate length of thread. R 3®^

Thus the operation is stopped at short intervals to supply on machi

fresh bobbins to the shuttle. foe woven

Several patents have been obtained for compound chainstitch machines. The two earliest, by Grover & Baker (patented in America, 1851 and 1852) and by Avery (at the latter end of 1852), figured at Paris and also one by M. Journaux Le Blond, of Paris, with some peculiar arrangements, but otherwise resembling that of Grover & Baker. This last appears to have considerable circulation in New York and is most ingeniously contrived.

The French patent of Avery's machine was, upon its appearance, immediately purchased by the Government, under the fallacious hope of withdrawing sewing machines from commerce, lest they should injure the working tailors and sempstresses. But the necessities of war compelled them to employ these machines in the construction of military habiliments, the demand for which could not be supplied with sufficient rapidity by hand. A complete manufactory was organized for this purpose, which employed (in October 1855) 1500 workwomen and workmen and various machines driven by steam, amongst which were two for cutting out and 75 sewing machines, principally on Avery’s construction. They were said to be very difficult to manage. Sewing machines have also been employed at Vienna for military clothing.

In England, as in France, all the most promising American patents have been re-patented, and the use of the machine appears to be slowdy and gradually extending itself. It is doubtless yet in its infancy, but it has acquired so prominent a position and shown itself to be so useful, as to deserve the time and attention of able mechanists. Its imperfections will, therefore, be, if possible gradually removed and it may take its place in the series of manufacturing mechanism as a most useful agent. In conclusion, I beg to repeat my conviction of the impossibility of forming a correct opinion of the relative condition or progress of the manufacturing mechanism of different countries from the specimens that are to be found in a Universal Exhibition, because, as I have already endeavoured to explain, so many causes operate upon this peculiar class of machines to keep back important objects, in the absence of which no judgment can be formed. Isolated novelties are doubtless presented and valuable information may be obtained by the endeavour to discover the peculiar points to which the attention of inventors are directed for the time being, especially in the country in which the Exhibition is held and in which many of the causes that tend to withdraw manufacturing mechanism from public display do not operate in the same manner as upon foreigners.

I have the honour to be, &c.                 

Robert Willis