Thursday, 4 November 2010

S is for Sewing Machines (the history of)

S for Sewing Machines

Our sewing machines are something that many of us take for granted, most of us know they have been around for around 100 or so years and have evolved from the works of art that were the original metal machines to the more functional largely plastic machines that we use today.

But how many of you know exactly when the first sewing machine came into being, about the huge patent war that was fought at the beginning of their creation?

Barthelemy Thimonnier, image from http://buisson.pagesperso-orange.fr/
The first patents for products resembling a sewing machine were issued so far back as the mid 1700's but it is not known if any working machines ever arose from those designs.  The first patent for a fully functional sewing machine was granted to French Tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier, in 1830. 

This was immediatly met by threats from French tailors who feared the machine would take their jobs.  They ransacked his factory and destoryed all the machines they could find.  Thimonnier then fled in fear for his life.

Elias Howe's sewing machine image from Wkikpedia
In 1834 Walter Hunt (who was also the inventor of the saftey pin) invented a working sewing machine but didn't pursue it further as he was worried it would lead to a loss of jobs for tailors. In 1846 a patent was granted to Elias Howe for the 'lockstitch' mechanism of a sewing machine.  His design had a needle with an eye, a mechanism under the material that locked the stitch and an automatic feed.  He had trouble find people to invest in his design and then a few years later found other inventors were using his design.


Issac Singer  - image from Wikipedia
 The patent wars started when Howe discovered in the 1850s that Issac Singer and Walter Howe had teamed up to produce the first commercially successful sewing machine, using his patented lockstitch mechanism. He successfully sued Singer for patent infringement in 1854 and Singer had to pay Howe royalities. Several parties who had all invented different parts of the sewing machine (including Arthur B. Wilson who invented the bobbin) were all trying to sue Singer for breach of their patents and in the end one of the attorneys suggested they combined their patents and took a fixed licence fee each. This is what they did.

Issac Singer continued to be a leader in his field, introducing payment plans so the poor could afford machines and demonstrating machines throughout the country to boost sales, repeating his solgan 'a machine in every home.'

Apart from his scandelous personal life (24 children by 5 women & accusations of bigamy see this article) Singer is remembered for creating the foundation of all modern sewing machines and his company remains one of the big players in the industry.  You will find there website here: http://www.singerco.com/


Further reading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elias_Howe
http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2010/10/28/why-is-a-smartphone-like-a-sewing-machine/
http://inventors.about.com/od/sstartinventions/a/sewing_machine.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Singer
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyrensse/bio206.htm

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