The Singer Sewing Machine
Historical Project Research
Instructor: Dr. Tzu-Yu Wang
The sewing machine is basically a textile machine. It is used for stitching together things such as fabric, paper, card, or other material with some type of thread. The sewing machine needed to be something that was functional and compact. It would need to be something that was simple to use and be able to sew faster and more efficiently then hand sewing was. Up until the time that the sewing machine was invented, women would spend great amounts of time sewing. Women would have to hand sew everything, clothing for themselves and their families as well as household items. Women also formed the majority of the labor force that sewed clothes in factories and wove fabrics in mils. The invention of the sewing machine essentially liberated these women from spending many hours a day sewing.
The first patent related to the sewing machine was for the double pointed needle. In 1775 Charles F. Weisenthal, a German mechanic, was granted the patent for this needle. The patent itself described a needed for use in a machine, but did not elaborate on what the machine looked like or if one even existed. The patent itself was never put to use during Weisenthal’s lifetime.
There were several attempts at creating a sewing machine. In 1790, the first workable sewing machine was invented and patented by a British inventor named Thomas Saint. This machine never made it past the patent model stage.
In 1830, Barthelemy Thimonnier, a French tailor, got a patent for the first practical, sewing machine. By 1841, almost 100 of his machines were being used, in a factory, to sew uniforms for the French army.
Walter Hunt, the inventor of the safety pin, had an idea for a double-thread sewing machine. Sometime in 1834, he devised a machine that used an eye-pointed needle in conjunction with a shuttle carrying a second needle. He gave up on the project thinking that it would put poor seamstresses out of much needed work. He never bothered to get a patent.
In 1846, Elias Howe, from Massachusetts, patented a sewing machine that had a grooved, eye-pointed needle and shuttle. When he was unsuccessful selling this machine in the America he went to England and adapted it to work for a corset maker. When he finally returned to America, he found that other manufacturers were selling several sewing machines, and that they were infringing on some part of his patent.
Isaac Singer never claimed to have invented the sewing machine. Instead he improved on what was already out there. It took him 11 days and forty dollars to create the improved sewing machine. He made many changes, part of which was based on Howe’s work. He created the first machine where the needle went up and down, instead of side-to-side like the previous versions. He also changed the hand crank that was used to a foot treadle. Like Howe’s work, the Singer machine used the same lockstitch. That stitch was part of Howe’s patent.
As a result, Howe sued Singer for patent infringement. During the suit, the I.M. Singer Corporation researched the Hunt machine and had an inventor rebuild one. They attempted to use this rebuilt machine to break the Howe patent. The plan did not work. Howe ended up winning the lawsuit and received royalties on his patent. Singer and other companies ended up paying Howe. By the time Howe died in 1867, he was collecting more than four thousand dollars a week and had already procured about two million in royalties.
According to the official Singer Sewing machine website, within two years of Isaac Singer forming the I.M. Singer Corporation, they became the leading manufacturer and marketer of sewing machines in America. By 1855, Singer became the world’s first international company. They had offices and manufacturing plants in New York and Paris. They also originated the idea behind...
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