Singer Sewing Machine History

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Isaac Merrit Singer developed the first commercially successful sewing machine. Singer did not invent the sewing machine himself, and never claimed to have done so although this is a common myth.

Born in New York, Singer spent much of his youth devoted to acting. It wasn't until he was 38, when his career in show business proved unfruitful, Singer settled down to focus on inventing full-time. Singer had always possessed an exceptional aptitude for all things mechanical. At an early age he worked as an apprentice machinist, and in 1839 he patented a rockdrilling machine while working with his brother to help dig the Illinois waterway. Ten years later he patented a metal and wood-carving machine.

While working in a Boston machine shop in 1850, Singer was asked to repair a Lerow and Blodgett sewing machine. However, in just a few days he had invented an entirely new machine. Singer had built the first sewing machine where the needle moved up and down rather than the side-to-side and the needle was powered by a foot treadle.

Originally the Singer sewing machine did not sell very well at all. It's price was over $100 which was far to expensive for the average American household. Clothes could still be made with a needle and thread which was far cheaper and there was no market for the machine in the garment & textile industry either, where workers labored long hours for very low pay.

Soon, as a result of the industrial revolution, Isaac Singer saw the real potential in mass manufacturing techniques to the production of Singer sewing machines for reduced cost. He decided to invest heavily in machinery designed to mass-produce sewing machines with interchangeable parts which saw profit margins increase and allowed him to sell the machine at a much lower cost (by 50%!).

In 1858, Singer opened three more manufacturing plants and Singer sewing machine sales topped 3,000 per year. In 1863 Singer and his business partner Edward Clark incorporated the Singer Manufacturing Company, holding 22 patents with capital assets of $550,000. However, Isaac Singer's machine used the same lockstitch that Howe had patented at an earler date. Elias Howe sued Isaac Singer for patent infringement and won in 1854. Hence, since Singer lost, Isaac Singer had to pay Elias Howe patent royalties on sales of the Singer sewing machine.

The financial success gave Singer the ability to buy a mansion on Fifth Avenue, into which he moved his second family. Singer later retired in England. With the opening of the first foreign factory, near Glasgow in 1867, the company became a world-wide brand and a huge success.

Today, the Singer Corporation produces a range of consumer products, including modern electronic sewing machines. The Singer Corporation is now part of SVP Worldwide, which also owns the Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking sewing machine brands.

Sophie Sewing is an sewing enthusiast with particular interested in Singer machines.

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