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Howe's sewing machine patent model

Elias Howe Jr.'s 1846 patent model incorporated some, but not all, of the elements of a successful sewing machine. One of the machine's drawbacks hung on the way the cloth was sewn. Hanging vertically from pins on a baster plate, the cloth could only advance in a straight line and only for the length of the baster plate. At this point, the cloth was removed and repositioned. This resulted in an imperfect thread tension and a slow, finger-pricking way to sew, but a basic beginning.


Sewing Machine History

As early as the mid-1700s, inventors in England, France, Scotland, Germany, and Austria sought to overcome the technical problems of mechanical sewing. Often they tried simply to mimic the motions used in hand sewing, with no success. Some American inventors who looked for ways to mechanize sewing in the early 1800s also attempted to simulate the motions of sewing by hand, but others took a more innovative approach. A combination of their patented improvements ultimately resulted in several practical machines. The necessary features were an eye-pointed needle; continuous thread from spools; a horizontal table; a lock stitch; a shuttle or bobbin for a second thread; an overhanging arm; synchronous cloth feed and needle motion; a presser foot; and a capacity for either curved or straight stitching. These individual improvements, along with the mechanisms to ensure that each operation was carried out in proper sequence, comprised the fundamentals of a practical sewing machine.

1790--English cabinet maker Thomas Saint receives a British patent covering a machine for sewing.

1804-07--Sewing machine patents are awarded in France to Thomas Stone and James Henderson, and in Britain to John Duncan (1804) and William Chapman (1807).

1810-30--Germany's Balthasar Krems builds a sewing machine, as does Austria's Josef Madersberger (1814) and Barthélemy Thimonnier (about 1830).

about 1834--Walter Hunt of New York is the first American known to have built a sewing machine.

1842--First U.S. patent for a sewing machine granted to J.J. Greenborough.

1846--Elias Howe, Jr. patents his first sewing machine.

1851--I.M. Singer patents a sewing machine.

1855--By this year there were 70 such patents.

1867--By this year there were 843 patents.

1900--By this year there were about 2,000 sewing machine patents per decade.

From: Cooper, Grace Rogers. "The Sewing Machine: Its Invention and Development." Smithsonian Institution Press, 1976.


Isaac Merritt Singer

Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875), the most flamboyant of the sewing machine inventors, had sharpened his skills as an actor, mechanic, cabinetmaker, and inventor. Unable to market his first invention--an improved type-carving machine--he concentrated on improving the defective already existing sewing machine. Success followed quickly. For his first patent model in 1851, he submitted one of his commercial sewing machines. This model, Singer's fifth, is also a commercial machine. The specific patent claims allowed were for the methods of feeding the cloth, regulating the tension on the needle thread, and lubricating the needle thread so that leather could be sewn. The development of practical sewing machines contributed to the expansion of the ready-made clothing industry. By the 1920s, inexpensive, ready-made clothing was widely available.


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