With the basic elements of a successful sewing machine assembled, the various manufacturers should have been able to produce good machines unencumbered. The court order, however, which restrained several firms from selling Singer machines while the Howe suit was pending, started a landslide; soon Wheeler, Wilson and company, Grover and Baker company, and several others[64] purchased rights from Elias Howe. This gave Howe almost absolute control of the sewing-machine business as these companies agreed to his royalty terms of $25 for every machine sold. In an attempt to improve his own machine, Howe was almost immediately caught up in another series of legal battles in which he was the defendant; the companies he had defeated were able to accuse him of infringing on patents that they owned. To compound the confusion, individual companies also were suing each other on various grounds.

Because of this situation Orlando Potter, president of the Grover & Baker Co., advanced in 1856 the idea of a "Combination" of sewing-machine manufacturers.

He pointed out how the various companies were harming themselves by continuing litigation and tried to convince Howe that all would benefit by an agreement of some kind. He proposed that Elias Howe; Wheeler, Wilson & Co.; I. M. Singer & Co. and Grover & Baker Co. pool their patents covering the essential features of the machine. The three companies had started production about the same time and approved of Potter's idea; Howe opposed it as he felt that he had the most to lose by joining the "Combination." He finally consented to take part in Potter's plan if the others would agree to certain stipulations. The first requirement was that at least twenty-four manufacturers were to be licensed. The second was that, in addition to sharing equally in the profits with the three companies, Howe would receive a royalty of $5 for each machine sold in the United States and $1 for each machine exported.

It has been estimated that, as a result of this agreement, Howe received at least $2.000.000 as his share of the license fees between 1856 and 1867 when his patent expired.[65] The organization was called the Sewing-Machine Trust and/or the Sewing-Machine Combination. The important patents contributed to it were:

     1. The grooved, eye-pointed needle used with a shuttle to form the

     lockstitch (E. Howe patent, held by E. Howe);

     2. The four-motion feeding mechanism (A. B. Wilson patent, held by

     Wheeler and Wilson company);

     3. The needle moving vertically above a horizontal work-plate

     (Bachelder patent), a continuous feeding device by belt or wheel

     (Bachelder patent), a yielding presser resting on the cloth

     (Bachelder patent), the spring or curved arm to hold the cloth by a

     yielding pressure (Morey and Johnson patent), the heart-shaped cam

     as applied to moving the needle bar (Singer patent); all these

     patents, held by the Singer Company.[66]

The Grover & Baker Company contributed several patents of relative importance, but its most important claim for admission was the fact that Potter had promoted the idea. The consent of all four member-parties was required before any license could be granted and all were required to have a license even the member companies. The fee was $15 per machine. A portion of this money was set aside to pay the cost of prosecuting infringers, Howe received his initial fee and the rest was divided between the four parties. The advantage to the licensee was that he was required to pay only one fee. Most license applications were granted; only those manufacturing a machine specifically imitating the product of a licensed manufacturer were refused. The "Combination's" three company members each continued to manufacture, improve and perfect its own machine. Other than the joint control of the patents, there was no pooling of interests and each company competed to attract purchasers to buy its particular type of machine, as did the companies who were licensed by them. In 1860, the year Howe's patent was renewed, the general license fee was reduced from $15 to $7 and Howe's special royalty was reduced to $1 per machine. Howe remained a member until his patent ran out in 1867.

The other members continued the "Combination" until 1877, when the Bachelder patent, which had been extended twice, finally expired. By that time the fundamental features of the sewing machine were no longer controlled by anyone. Open competition by the smaller manufacturers was possible and a slight reduction in price followed. Many new companies came into being, some destined to be very short-lived. From the beginning to the end of the "Combination" there was an army of independents, including infringers and imitators, who kept up a constant complaint against it, maintaining that its existence tended to retard the improvement of the sewing machine and that the public suffered thereby.

In the period immediately following the termination of the "Combination", however, only a few improvements of any importance were made and most of these were by the member companies.


Number  Issue Date           Inventor                      Innovation


4,750       Sept. 10, 1846              E. Howe, Jr.               Eye-pointed needle and lock-stitch.

6,099       Feb .    6, 1849         C. Morey & J. Johnson                  Barbed needle.                                                              (re-issued to Singer and Clark)               

6,439       May     8, 1849             J. Bachelder                    Continuous feeding device,                                                              (owned by Singer)              horizontal table.

7,659        Sept. 24, 1850             J. Bachelder                    Vibrating loop chain-stitch.                                                              (owned by Singer)            

7,776       Nov.   12, 1850              A. B. Wilson               Lock-stitch using vibratory shuttle.

8,294       Aug.   12, 1851              I. M. Singer                 Feed-wheel, thread controller.

12,116     Dec.   19, 1854              A. B. Wilson                     Four-motion feed.

12,233     Jan.   16, 1855                  Conant                  Rotary cloth-feeder, two needle                                                                                                              chain-stitch.

16,030    Nov.    4, 1856                I. M. Singer              Rotary lock-stitch improvements.


[64] These included the American Magnetic Sewing Machine Co.; A.
Bartholf; Nichols and Bliss; J. A. Lerow; Woolridge, Keene, and Moore;
and A. B. Howe. _New York Daily Tribune_, Sept. 3, 1853.

[65] "Who Invented the Sewing-Machine," unsigned article in _The
Galaxy_, vol. 4, August 31, 1867, pp. 471-481.

[66] Singer has sometimes been credited as the inventor of the various
improvements covered by the patents that the Singer company purchased
and later contributed to the efforts of the Combination.



Produced by Chris Curnow, Joseph Cooper, Louise Pattison

As reproduction of various newspaper's articles and/or various 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.