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A History of Sewing Machines (1843 - 1873)

Guest Author - Tamara Bostwick

1843: On March 4, 1843, Benjamin Bean patented his “Machine for Sewing Cloth of All Kinds with a Running Stitch.” This patent is also viewable here. While it also created a running stitch, the mechanism for creating the stitch was different from Greenough’s machine.

1844: John Fisher and James Gibbons patented a machine in England for making lace. It used two threads and a shuttle and created couched stitches. According to Grace Rogers Cooper in her book, The Sewing Machine: it’s invention and development, this is “the earliest known patent using the combination of an eye-pointed needle and a shuttle to form a stitch.”

1846: Elias Howe is often credited as being most responsible for the invention of the sewing machine even though it was actually the result of the labors of many others as well. While Hunt invented the eye-pointed needle in 1834, Howe was the first inventor to have the foresight to patent its use, which resulted in Howe becoming a very wealthy man. At first, it didn’t look like his invention would go anywhere though because after receiving his patent, he had no luck in finding someone willing to manufacture the machines in the United States. He then attempted to drum up interest in Britain, but ended up selling his patent rights in England and returning to the US in 1849. Upon his return, he discovered that others had expanded upon his concept and had begun producing their own machines. In response, he began contacting those he felt were infringing upon his patent and demanding royalty payments including Isaac M. Singer (finally, a name most of us recognize). Most of the machine manufacturers yielded and purchased licenses so they could carry on making and selling their machines. Singer did not. The two men then engaged in a vicious battle, even going so far as to attack each other in the newspaper, prompting a charge of libel from Howe against Singer. When the dispute was brought to court in 1854, the judge found in favor of Howe (and essentially gave Howe control over any machine using an eye-pointed needle) and Singer had to pay $15,000 in royalties. As a result of this judgment against Singer and the granting of the sole legal right to use the eye-pointed needle, Howe was able to require other sewing machine companies also using the eye-pointed needle to pay him $25 for each machine sold. When his patent expired in 1860, he was able to extend it until 1867.
Singer Sewing Machine

1848: In December, 1848, John Bachelder patented his improvement to sewing machines. His machine incorporated a horizontal sewing surface with a belt to move the fabric along. It stitched using a single thread to make a chain stitch (he later sold his patent to Isaac Singer in the mid 1850s).

1850-1854: Allen B. Wilson was quite the innovator and received four patents for different parts used in sewing machines. First, in 1850, he designed a double-pointed shuttle. Unfortunately, this patent was challenged and he had to sell a half-interest in the patent to the challenging party. After this, he partnered with Nathaniel Wheeler (together they formed the company Wheeler & Wilson) and began working on a different design using a rotary hook to replace the contested shuttle and patented it in 1851. In 1852, he patented a circular disk bobbin and his final patent in 1854 laid out the mechanism for the four-motion feed concept that is still used today (this is the up/down, forward/back motion used by the feed dogs to move fabric).

1851: Isaac M. Singer patented his sewing machine that combined several concepts used by previous inventors along with some innovations of his own. His original design incorporated a horizontal table, a vertical presser foot, and a rigid arm with a shaft that moved the needle up and down through the fabric that made a lock stitch using a shuttle that went back and forth. The rigid arm was an important development because many of the other machines at the time used an arm that moved up and down which caused vibration. In later models he added a presser foot so the machine could be powered by one’s foot, leaving the hands free to control the fabric as it moved under the needle.

1873: Helen Augusta Blanchard patented the first machine capable of making a zig-zag stitch. She was a prolific inventor and patented a total of 28 devices, 22 of which were related to the sewing machine. A model of her 1873 machine currently resides in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
There are others along the way that also contributed to the development of the sewing machine as we know it today, but those listed above were the principal people involved in its early development.

This is not the end of the story...please read the exciting conclusion!

Interested in learning more about sewing machine history - these books will tell you more!

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A History of Sewing Machines (1755 - 1842)
A History of Sewing Machines - Conclusions
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Content copyright © 2018 by Tamara Bostwick. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Tamara Bostwick. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.


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