Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Singer Sewing Machines - The First Home Appliance

Consider the time consuming process of making garments for an entire family by hand, one stitch at a time. And most likely, that sewing took place in the evening when all the chores were done, supper dishes cleaned, and the children in bed. Sitting close to the fire, or possibly a coal oil lamp, she worked away, often into the wee hours.

The first sewing machine was developed by Englishman Thomas Saint in 1791 to work on leather and canvas. It was never built. In 1830 a French Tailor, Barthlemy Thimonnier built a machine and had 80 in his factory where French military uniforms were made. Tailors afraid of losing their livelihood rioted and destroyed the factory.

These early machines used the chain stitch which were not very strong.

In 1833, Walter Hunt developed a lock stitch machine which used an eye-pointed needle, a shuttle, and stitched horizontally. The lock stitch was stronger than the chain stitch. There were problems with the feed. The machine had to be stopped and reset up. Hunt sold the machine without bothering to patent it.

In 1842, John Greenough patented the first sewing machine in America.

Elias Howe patented his machine in 1845. His method was similar to Hunt's. He improved the needle and the material moved vertically. He traveled to England to promote interest in his machine and when he returned he found various people infringing on his patent. In 1854 he won the right to claim royalties from those using his patent ideas. The picture to the right is of Elias Howe's machine. Note the handle used to power the machine.

Isaac Singer, an engineer, thought the rotary sewing machine clumsy and designed the flying shuttle. The needle was mounted vertically and he added a presser foot, a fixed arm to hold the needle, and included a tensioning system. The machine combined elements of previous machines. He patented his machine in 1851. He was unable to patent the treadle as it had been used for some time.

Howe took Singer to court and won. Singer had to pay him a lump sum of $15.00 for each machine produced and Singer took out a license under Howe's patent and paid Howe $15.00 for each additional machine produced.

Before 1990, the idea of women having sewing machines to aid them with their work wasn't well accepted. The feeling was women weren't capable of operating machinery. They were too excitable and not considered to be bright enough.

When it was first suggested Singer design one, his comment was, "You want to do away with the only thing that keeps women quiet - their sewing!" But, ready to make money, he went ahead and designed one that had many features of machines today. The first treadle Singer machine was introduced in 1856. To aid in sales, he used women to demonstrate the machines.

Singer became partners with lawyer, Edward Clark, and thus began the first installment credit plan which made sewing machines available to more women, the ones who couldn't pay cash for them. The year was 1856. They cost $100.00 and for $5.00, a woman could take one home with her that day and start to use it. At that time that amount of money equaled to the price of a car today. Some families went together to buy a machine and shared it.

Women were at last able to make garments much faster than in the past. Ease in piecing quilt squares, mending, and other domestic sewing chores freed women up for other activities. Though men feared they'd spend their free time playing cards, gossiping, or gadding about town, most probably got a little more rest or took part in charitable activities.


Thanks for reading. For you ladies out there that sew, thank goodness for Singer and the other individuals who developed sewing machines.


Linda LaRoque ~Western Romance with a Twist in Time~ A Law of Her Own, Forever Faithful. Desires of the Heart, 3-9, My Heart Will Find Yours, 5-9, Flames on the Sky, Investment of the Heart coming 5-9, When the Ocotillo Bloom 7-9.
http://www.lindalaroque.com/ http://wwww.lindalaroqueauthor.blogspot.com/


Paty Jager said...

Good information, Linda! There is no way I'd be able to make a garment by hand. I have the patience of a gnat! But I can use a machine as long as the finished product happens within a day or two.

I didn't realize the cost. That's good info to know.

Lauri said...

Great blog, Linda! I learned to sew on my grandmother's Singer tredle sewing machine, and still have it today! The belt needs to be replaced, but other than that it still works like a charm!


Linda LaRoque said...

I'm with you, Paty. Hand sewing is tedious, but if I had the time, I might find it relaxing.

My grandmother had one too, Lauri, and I tried sewing on it a time or two. I got my mother-in-law's feather light and it is wonderful.

I used to sew all the time but writing takes up my time now.


Skhye said...

MEN! Blah. Great post, Linda.

Miss Mae said...

My grandmother was a great quilter and sewed her quilt pieces on her Singer treadle machine. We grand kids knew better than to touch it!

Judith Leger said...

The picture of the singer with the pressor foot, hum, my husband and I have one just like that one. It was his grandmother's. Ours even have both side sets of drawers. Neat.

Celia Yeary said...

Linda--I love the old sewing machines. The last photo is an exact replica of the one my grandmother owned. Unlike Miss Mae, our grandmother let us play under the machine. I remember pretending it was a car, and I'd lay my hands on it, and pump it up and down, and go,"Vroom, Vrooom!" My Christmas Free Read
"Merry Christmas, Victoria" featured a treadle sewing machine. I became engrossed in the research--there are thousands out there for sale! I liked this memeory-Celia

Mary Ricksen said...

Leave it to a man to not want to make things easier for a woman. Playing cards, sure, between laundry, cooking and everything else.
I tried but I could never sew. I think it's a talent and I don't have it. But I sure admire those who do.
Fantastic information!

Ann Whitaker said...

I, too, have my grandmother's Singer treadle machine with drawers on both sides filled with wooden spools of thread and other odds and ends. It's been like that since she died in 1989.

Thanks for all the interesting information, Linda.


Linda LaRoque said...

Thanks all for your responses.

I'd love to have had my grandmother's old treadle. I don't know who got it, but it's probably for the best as I don't have room for another item in this house.


Debra St. John said...

Interesting information, Linda. My mom has an old Singer dewing machine at home, and it's one of my favorite things in her house!

Sandy said...

Neat information, Linda.

I remember the treadle sewing machine from Grandma's house. It looked just like your picture.

Sharon Donovan said...

Brings back some old memories for all of us, Linda. We had one in our house when I was growing up, passed down from a relative and I remember my Mom working away on it when we were playing. Haven't thought about that for a long time!

Maggie Toussaint said...

My Mom used to collect those old treadle machines. We had them on our porch and sometimes we'd go out and "sew" on scraps of fabric, our little feet working those treadles!

I learned to sew by hand and by machine as a child, though I can't claim to have mastered either. I still have a sewing machine, and I still find plenty of uses for it.

Interesting article, Linda!

Anne Carrole said...

My mother was a great sewer and taught me how to sew. I finally sold her machine to an antiques dealer years ago. Though I made all the drapes, curtains and pillows in my house when we moved in, I don't have the time or patience anymore though I enjoyed it. Thanks for the info.

Tanya Hanson said...

Fantastic post, Linda.

I loved this post. I always wondered about the Singer/Howe tie-in. I have my gramma's old machine..it's one of the first electric foot pedal ones. It still works but I don't use it. It's a keepsake up in the attic.

I have my hero in Marrying Minda thinking about getting her a Singer machine..she's a hatmaker. He's very enlightened LOL)

Linda LaRoque said...

Thank you all for your comments. I enjoyed hearing how many of you have actually used a treadle machine.

Tanya, your hatmaker needs a sewing machine. Can she afford one?


Tanya Hanson said...

Oh, he just talks about it, she knows they can't afford it. (he won a bit of $ catching an outlaw LOL) Thanks again for a great post.I just love this blog.

Chiron said...

As always, a fascinating read. Your research is amazing, Linda. I so enjoy these glimpses into our past.

An extra tidbit: Elias had difficulty resolving the issue of the sewing needle. He took a nap and dreamt of island natives, jabbing with spears. The spears of course were shaped like needles and in the tip was a diamond-shaped hole. Ah-hah! He'd solved the problem in his dream.

Thanks again, Linda. You are such an incredible writer!!

Chiron O'Keefe

Linda LaRoque said...

Hey, Chiron. What an interesting tidbit. Where'd you find it? Talk about research -- you're an expert!


Anonymous said...

Washing machine technology was developed as a way to reduce the drudgery of this scrubbing and rubbing process, by providing an open basin or sealed container with paddles or fingers to automatically agitate the clothing.Machines The earliest machines were often hand-operated but were built with the belief that the machine itself was faster and easier to operate than washing the clothing by hand directly.

Sharla Rae said...

Great Blog. I love history and this brought back memories of my Grandmother's tredle.

ldavis said...

I have two old singer machines. One belonged to my mother purchased in the 30's. The other is the older treble machine with the originial cabinet and belonged to my grandmother. They both are still operational although I don't sew with them. (smile)

Thank you for this history.

Ann Grimes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Grimes said...

HA HA HA. Article states....Before 1990, the idea of women having sewing machines to aid them with their work wasn't well accepted. The feeling was women weren't capable of operating machinery. They were too excitable and not considered to be bright enough.

1890 maybe. women ran the factory machines during WW2.

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