Sunday, January 4, 2009

Invention Of The Sewing Machine

While the focus of this blog is on sewing machine repair and sewing machine repair courses; understanding the origins of the sewing machine can be quite helpful. Certainly antique sewing machine repair helps keep alive the vital heritage of the history. The development of the sewing machine contributes greatly to the care and maintenance of the sewing machine.

History often tells a black and white story of events, but as most people come to realize as they grow older, reality is not always as we remember.

Elias Howe (1819-1867) created the first practical mechanical sewing machine in 1846 which is certified by a patent he filed that year.

It described “a process that used thread from two different sources”… The top thread passed through a curved needle with an eye at the pointed end. The needle would pierce through the fabric, while another thread contained in a shuttle passed through and caught the first thread forming a locked stitch.

Elias Howe had done it! His lockstitch machine could put out (250spm) as much as five speedy experienced hand sewers.

It was joked that Elias Howe was not actually the inventor of the sewing machine. Some said it was actually his wife. She got so upset with her husband that one day she made up her mind and in two hours invented the sewing machine. Elias, however, filed the patent taking credit for everything. (Russel Conwell, 1877).

We will never know the truth about exactly how it was done, but difficulties marketing the device and struggles over patent rights drained the Howe family of even greater success.
Others were watching and adapting. Isaac Singer (1811-1875) invented a mechanism that moved up and down. Allen Wilson originated a rotary hook shuttle.

By 1850, the race was on to deliver a practical sewing machine to industry and the home entered mass production. Isaac Singer led the way with the first commercially successful sewing machine with moving needle (up/down) powered by a foot treadle device to produce the same lockstitch designed by Howe. The famous foot treadle device was a huge advancement. Previous machines had all been hand crank machines.

Prior to Elias Howe’s patent, however, Walter Hunt (1796-1860)) launched a lockstitch machine (1834) using two threads and an eye-pointed needle, but he never filed a patent. Elias Howe sued Hunt for patent infringement, and a panic among garment workers fearing unemployment crushed Hunt’s enthusiasm. Hunt abandoned his efforts and the patent pursuit.

Seemingly endless legal battles ensued over patent infringements. In spite of winning the court battle (1854), Elias Howe largely lost the marketing battle.

Elias Howe marketed his machine earning an estimated two million dollars by the end of the Civil War.
Isaac Singer continued to improve on the sewing machine and market his own Singer sewing machine. Singer became a household name, and even today remains the best known brand of sewing machines.

Communities were desperate to get their hands on this exciting new invention. Towns would join together to buy one machine for the whole town. Soon the sewing machine became a necessary appliance for every home. By the 1950’s every home expected to have a sewing machine and a vacuum cleaner.

Antique sewing machine repair and general sewing machine repair are vital to maintaining our heritage of sewing machine history.