When Was -
The Sewing Machine Invented?

By Mike McLeod

Most credit Elias Howe as the inventor of the first working sewing machine in 1844. But history records many others who invented or conceptualized machines that sewed. So how do you determine who was first?

Working sewing machine may be the key words. Several people patented diagrams, and others created machines that did not work, but there were sewing machines created before 1844. As early as 1755, Charles Weisenthal was issued a patent in England for a needle for a sewing machine, but the machine was not included in the patent application.

Those who were issued patents for sewing machines that either did not work or failed to materialize from the plans included: Thomas Stone and James Henderson in 1804; Scott John Duncan also in 1804 who patented a machine for embroidery, but there is no record of the machine; John Adams Doge and John Knowles in America, but their machine constantly malfunctioned; Josef Madersperger, an Austrian, who created several machines and received a patent in 1814, but who failed to get any of them to work.

Probably the first sewing machine that actually lived up to its name was created in 1830 by Barthelemy Thi-monnier, a French tailor. Thimonnier's machine was made entirely of wood and used a hooked needle. It worked well enough for him to win contracts from the French government to sew military uniforms. Thimonnier built a factory and had 80 sewing machines going when a mob of French tailors fearing for the loss of their livelihood destroyed his factory and all his sewing machines. Undaunted, he set up shop again just to have another mob of tailors destroy it again. Thimonnier died a pauper in 1856.

Ironically, Walter Hunt in America built a machine that sewed some straight stitches, but it is said he decided against patenting it for fear of putting people out of work. Hunt was a Quaker.

In about 1841, John Greenough is said to have built a machine that sewed by pushing a needle completely through fabric. Yet, he was not able to generate any interest from investors for mass producing his machine, so it went by the wayside.

One other inventor should be remembered before entering the era of Elias Howe and Isaac Singer. John Fisher invented a machine that created lace by sewing, but his patent was misplaced or lost in the patent office, so he missed out on the royalties and income that made both Howe and Singer millionaires.

As mentioned above, most credit farmer Elias Howe with the invention of the sewing machine. He patented it in 1845, but like those before him, he could find no one interested in buying or marketing it. Howe turned to England and found a backer, but their relationship was rocky, so after several years there, he sailed home.

Here, he was surprised to find many manufacturers making sewing machines, including Isaac Singer all of whom were infringing on his patent. A long court battle followed, but in the end, Elias Howe received his just reward. His annual income skyrocketed to $200,000 in one year alone.

The sewing machine made Elias Howe a wealthy man even though he was not the first person to invent it.

Both photo, courtsey www.artfacts.com

Russian Singer sewing machine ad poster, 27 x 17 inches, $35. 

1856 Singer sewing machine
built on Elias Howe patents; housed in a walnut base with
a box cover that opens
and flattens to a work
surface; $400.

 

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