Sewing Machine History

1755

London - Charles Weisenthal takes out a patent for a needle to be used for mechanical sewing; no record of a machine to go with the needle.

1790

England - Thomas Saint patents a machine that uses an awl that made a hole in leather and allowed the needle to pass through; no machine is ever made - the idea was patented. Attempt made in the 1880's to produce a machine from Saint's drawings. Would not work without considerable modification.

1804

France - Thomas Stone and James Henderson receive a patent for a machine that attempted to emulate hand sewing; Scott John Duncan receives patent for an embroidery machine using a number of needles; fate unknown of both of these ventures.

1810

Germany - Balthasar Krems develops a machine for sewing hats. No patent applied for.

1814

Austria - Josef Madersperger, a tailor, receives a patent for an experimental series of machines. Receives government grants but by 1839 fails to successfully produce a machine.

1818

America - Vermont residents, John Adams Doge and John Knowles produce a machine that makes a reasonable stitch but can only sew a short length of fabric before intensive resetting is required.

1830

France - Patent granted to Barthelemy Thimonnier who used a barbed needle for his machine. In less than 10 years he has a factory running with 80 machines. Parisian tailors, who fears that the machines would replace hand sewing and put them out of work, stormed the factory and destroyed all of the machines. Thimonnier flees for his life, later gets a new partner, produces an improved machine and began to set up for production again. The tailors once again attacked. And Thimonnier flees England with one machine that he is able to salvage. He produced the first practical sewing machine, was the first to offer machines for sale on a commercial basis and ran the first garment factory. Dies in the poor house in 1857.

1833

America - Walter Hunt invents a machine that makes a lock stitch using two spools of thread and an eye pointed needle (as used today). Could only produce short, straight seams and was unsuccessful.

1842

America - John Greenough produces a working machine in which the needle passes completely through the fabric. Model made and exhibited but he was unable to raise capital for its manufacture.

1864

England - John Fisher invents a machine originally designed for the production of lace. It was a working sewing machine but a patent office misfile causes this invention to be overlooked during a length legal argument between Singer and Howe as to the origins of the sewing machine.

1894

America - Massachusetts farmer, Elias Howe, completes a machine prototype. Patents this in 1895 and attempts to interest the tailoring trade in his invention. His machine competes against the finest hand sewers in America and clearly wins. The world not ready for the replacement of hand sewing. Howe never made a sale. Deeply in debt, Howe sends his brother to England with the machine in the hopes of garnering interest.. One backer was found in corset maker, William Thomas, who bought the rights to the invention. Elias Howe comes to London to further develop the machine. Thomas and Howe are unable to work agreeably with each other and Howe returns to America penniless. He returns home to discover that the sewing machine has finally caught on and that dozens of manufacturers, including Singer, were producing machines. All conflicted with the Howe patents. Long series of lawsuits follow.  Settlement only came after the big companies including Wheeler & Wilson and Grover & Baker joined together pooling their patents and fought to protect their monopoly. Singer did not invent any notable sewing machine advances. He did pioneer aggressive sales tactics. Both Singer and Howe began and ended their days as multimillionaires.

Additional interesting and detailed historical facts can be found on Wikipedia.