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Fascinating facts about the invention of the
Sewing Machine
by Elias Howe in 1846.

SEWING MACHINE
AT A GLANCE:
In the early 1800s, clothing was made by hand, families sewed their pants, shirts, and dresses using a needle and thread. But in 1846 Elias Howe changed all that, he came up with another way to make clothes, he patented the first practical sewing machine..The sewing machine industry based on his original invention made possible the mass production of clothing on a much larger scale than had ever been possible with hand-stitching. 
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
WEB SITES
HOW IT WORKS
DID YOU KNOW?
Invention : sewing machine
sewing machine image courtesy Singer Sewing Machine Company
Function: noun / sew·ing ma·chine
Definition: A apparatus using a needle and thread to join or repair material. Primarily used in the making of clothing.
Patent: 4,750 (US) issued September 10, 1846
Inventor: Elias Howe
Elias Howe image  © Vaunt Design Group
Criteria; First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: July 10, 1819 in Spencer, Massachusetts
Death: October 3, 1867 in Brooklyn, New York
Nationality: American
Milestones:
1755 Charles T. Wiesenthal, designed and patented a double pointed needle
1826 On March 10, Henry Lye received a patent for a device for sewing leather
1830 Barthelemy Thimonnier used a wheel-driven connecting rod that drove the needle up and down
1834 Walter Hunt designed a double-thread shuttle machine
1846 Elias Howe invented and patented the first Automatic Sewing Machine for practical operation.
1849 Benjamin Wilson introduced an automatic feeding system.
1851 Isaac Merritt Singer Invented introduced the first sewing machine scaled for home use.
1854 Isaac Singer patent (US No.10975) issued May 30, for the home sewing machine
1854 Allen Wilson had developed an improved reciprocating shuttle
1855 Wilson went into business with Nathaniel Wheeler to produce a rotary hook instead of a shuttle
1856 Patent Combine formed, consisting of Singer, Howe, Wheeler & Wilson, and Grover & Baker.
1889 The first practical electric sewing machine introduced by the Singer Sewing Machine Co.
1900 Singer claims 80% worldwide market share in sewing machines
CAPs: Elias Howe, Isaac Merritt Singer, Charles T. Wiesenthal, Henry Lye,  Barthelemy Thimonnier, Walter Hunt, Alan Wilson, Nathaniel Wheeler. SIPs: sewing machine, clothing, thread, needle, invention, history, inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.
The Story
In the early 1800s, most people didn't have the money, not to mention a choice of stores in which to buy clothes for themselves and their families. At that time, everything was made by hand. Families sewed their pants, shirts, and dresses using a needle and thread. But Elias Howe changed all that, he came up with another way to make clothes. He patented the first practical sewing machine in 1846.

In 1846, the idea of a sewing machine was nothing new. The first patents for such a machine had been granted in England in 1755, in Austria in 1819, the U.S. in 1826 and France in 1830..Early sewing machines were designed for industrial applications.

In 1755, the American inventor Charles T. Wiesenthal, designed and patented a double pointed needle to eliminate the need for turning the needle around with each stitch. Henry Lye, of Philadelphia, obtained a patent March 10,1826, for an invention for sewing leather; but no record or model has been found, to indicate the principle of the contrivance.

In 1830, Barthelemy Thimonnier of Saint-Etienne, France, used the double-pointed needle as the basis for the first sewing machine put to practical use. He attached the needle to a wheel-driven connecting rod that drove the needle up and down. In 1834, American Walter Hunt designed a double-thread shuttle machine.  In 1849, Hunt also patented, but failed to profit from, the safety pin.

Elias Howe was born in Spencer, Massachusetts, on the July 10, 1819. Upon completion of schooling he started a job as a machinist, a position that was chosen for him. Howe first heard the term sewing machine while working in Boston for Ari Davis, who made and repaired precision instruments. People had been trying to invent such a device for half a century in America and abroad, without any great success. His brain labored and his hands toiled to develop and perfect his invention; and there it was that, early in the month of April 1845, after five years of unremitting toil and ceaseless devotion to the task, the first Automatic Sewing Machine was constructed and finished for practical operation.  His papers were filed as a caveat in the patent office, September 22nd, 1845, and his application for a patent was completed May 17th, 1846. It was granted September 10th, 1846.

In 1851, Isaac Merritt Singer, a machinist from Boston, Massachusetts, introduced the first sewing machine scaled for home use. Singer's patent (US 10, 975) was issued May 30, 1854. Although Singer’s early machines were based on Howe’s concept, he later patented the rigid arm for holding the needle and a vertical bar to hold the cloth down against the upward stroke of the needle.

Meanwhile Mr. Allen Wilson had developed a reciprocating shuttle, which was an improvement over Singer’s and Howe’s. However, John Bradshaw had patented a similar device and was threatening to sue. Wilson decided to change tack and try a new method. He went into partnership with Nathaniel Wheeler to produce a machine with a rotary hook instead of a shuttle. This was far quieter and smoother than the other methods .

Through the 1850s more and more companies were being formed and were trying to sue each other. Howe brought suit against Singer for patent infringement and won, forcing Singer  and other companys to pay him royalties. In 1856 the Sewing Machine Combination was formed, consisting of Singer, Howe, Wheeler and Wilson, and Grover and Baker. These four companies pooled their patents, meaning that all the other manufacturers had to obtain a license and pay $15 per machine. This lasted until 1877 when the last patent expired.

Singer went on to developed the continuous stitch machine and he founded the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of personal sewing machines. The first electric sewing machine, a Singer, for the home was introduced in 1889.

Before he died in 1867 Howe was collecting royalties of more than four thousand dollars a week and he had realized about $2,000,000 in total royalties. The sewing machine industry based on his original invention made possible the mass production of clothing on a much larger scale than had ever been possible with hand-stitching. By 1905, Americans all over the country were beginning to sew with electrically powered machines. Today sewing machines in manufacturing plants use computer technology to create customized clothing with little human intervention.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Elias Howe Biography    from The Great Idea Finder
History of Household Items    from The Great Idea Finder  

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
100 Inventions That Shaped World History
by Bill Yenne, Morton, Dr. Grosser (Editor) / Paperback - 112 pages (1993) / Bluewood Books 
This book contains inventions from all around the world from microchips to fire. This is a really good book if you are going to do research on inventions.

Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things
by Charles Panati / Paperback - 480 pages Reissue edition (September 1989) / HarperCollins
Discover the fascinating stories behind the origins of over 500 everyday items, expressions and customs
Popular Patents
by Travis Brown / Paperback - 224 pages / Scarecrow Press (September 1, 2000)
Eighty stories of America's first inventions. Each includes a sketch of the invention, a profile of the inventor and a glimpse of how the invention has found its way into American culture.
Great inventions  (Limited availability)
by Richard Wood / Hardcover - 64 pages / Barnes and Noble (2003) 
This a dynamic reference book for children. Detailed and lively descriptions of the world's exciting inventions.
More Work for Mother:The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave
by Ruth Schwartz Cowan / Paperback Reprint edition (February 1985) / Basic Books (Sd)
Inventions such as washing machines, cotton cloth, and even white flour acted as catalysts by giving the less well-off a chance at the comforts the prosperous already possessed, but in general it was men and children whose chores were relieved by these innovations.

ON THE SCREEN:
Digi-tech
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00
See how the computing capacity of World-War II era room-sized computers is now surpassed by hand-held devices; visit Zenith to see a side-by-side comparison of regular television and HDTV; discover how a Cold War era NASA program is transforming personal photography, and get the inside story about MP3s.

Household Wonders  
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00
HOUSEHOLD WONDERS tells the story of seven taken-for-granted inventions that make modern life comfy, fast and clean: the stove, sewing machine, refrigerator, air conditioner, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, toaster and mixer...


ON THE WEB:

International Sewing Machine Collector's Society
Everything Sewing Machine. The World's Most Expensive Sewing Machine and The World's Most Expensive Toy Sewing Machine. Contains an extensive history section that presents various views on who nvented the sewing machine. From the International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society.
(URL:www.ismacs.net)
National Inventors Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame™ honors the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.
(URL:
www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/206.html)
Singer Company History
After 11 days and forty dollars in cost, Singer completed his invention: the world's first practical sewing machine. This machine had a straight eye-pointed needle and transverse shuttle, an overhanging arm, a table to support the cloth, a presser foot to hold the material against the upward stroke of the needle, and a roughened feed wheel extending through a slot in the table.
(URL: www.singerco.com/company/history_pf.html)
Elias Howe & Isaac Merritt Singer
Funded by a mortgage on his father's farm, Howe went to court and began to sue the infringers. After years of legal battles, his patent was upheld in 1854, and Singer was ordered to pay fifteen thousand dollars in back royalties
(URL: www.history.rochester.edu/Scientific_American/mystery/mys9604.htm
Have You Ever Used a Sewing Machine?
In 1889, an electric sewing machine for use in the home was designed and marketed by Singer. By 1905, Americans all over the country were beginning to sew with electrically powered machines. Today sewing machines in manufacturing plants use computer technology to create customized clothing with little human intervention.
(URL: www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/jb/nation/howe_1
)
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Sewing Machine patented May 30, 1854 patent number 10975, invented by Isaac M. Singer.
(URL: www.150.si.edu/150trav/remember/r822.htm)

HOW IT WORKS:
The sewing machine had a straight eye-pointed needle and transverse shuttle, an overhanging arm, a table to support the cloth, a presser foot to hold the material against the upward stroke of the needle, and a roughened feed wheel extending through a slot in the table. Motion was communicated to the needle arm and shuttle by means of gears. Issac Singer also conceived the idea of using a treadle similar to that of a spinning wheel; all other machines at the time used a hand crank to generate power.

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • The first United States patent for a practical sewing machine was awarded to Elias Howe Jr.., on September 10, 1846. The number was 4,750.
  • At 250 stitches a minute, Howe's machine could outsew the fastest of hand sewers
  • In an 1845 demonstration, Howe's invention out-sewed five seamstresses
  • The first Singer sewing machines, manufactured in New York, sold for $100 each in 1853
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised August 24, 2006.
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