The Invention
of the Sewing Machine


It had no instrument panel with push-button controls. It was not operated electronically or jet-propelled. But to many 19th-century people the sewing machine was probably as awe-inspiring as a space capsule is to their 20th- century descendants. It was expensive, but, considering the work it could do and the time it could save, the cost was more than justified. The sewing machine became the first widely advertised consumer appliance, pioneered installment buying and patent pooling, and revolutionized the ready-made clothing industry. It also weathered the protests of those who feared the new machine was a threat to their livelihood. The practical sewing machine is not the result of one man's genius, but rather the culmination of a century of thought, work, trials, failures, and partial successes of a long list of inventors. History is too quick to credit one or two men for an important invention and to forget the work that preceded and prodded each man to contribute his share. It is no discredit to Howe to state that he did not invent the sewing machine. Howe's work with the sewing machine was important and he did patent certain improvements, but his work was one step along the way. It is for the reader to decide whether it was the turning point. Since the sewing machine has been considered by some as one of the most important inventions of 19th-century America, of equal importance to this story of the invention is the history of the sewing machine's development into a practical, popular commodity. Since many new companies blossomed overnight to manufacture this very salable item, a catalog list of more than one hundred and fifty of these 19th-century companies is included in this study. Still, the list is probably incomplete. Many of the companies remained in business a very short time or kept their activities a secret to avoid payment of royalties to patent holders. Evidence of these companies is difficult to find. It is hoped that additional information will come to light as a result of this initial attempt to list and date known companies. The dating of individual machines based on their serial numbers is also a difficult task. Individual company records of this type have not survived; however, using the commercial machines in the patent collection, for which we know one limiting date, the date the machine was deposited at the patent office and using the records that have survived, an estimated date based on the serial number can be established for many of the better known machines.


I am greatly indebted to the late Dr. Frederick Lewton. whose interest in the history of the sewing machine initiated the collecting of information about it for the Smithsonian Institution's Division of Textiles archives and whose out-of-print booklet "A Servant in the House" prompted the writing of this work. I would also like to thank Mr. Bogart Thompson of the Singer Manufacturing Company for his cooperation in arranging for the gift of an excellent collection of 19th-century sewing machines to the Smithsonian and for allowing me to use the Singer historical files. Acknowledgment is also made of the cooperation extended by The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village for permitting me to study their collection of old sewing machines.

Grace Rogers Cooper


Chapter One on the image.......... on the image..........


Produced by Chris Curnow, Joseph Cooper, Louise Pattison








As reproduction of historical newspaper articles and/or historical sources and/or historical artifacts, this works may contain errors of spelling and/or missing words and/or missing pages and/or poor pictures, etc.