Sunday, August 12, 2007

Origins of the sewing machine

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1851 Before the invention of the sewing machine, clothes making and mending consumed the lives and eyesight of countless millions of women worldwide. (Of course, sewing machines have reared another monster, as adults and children in sweatshops in the majority poor countries now make most of the clothes worn in the West.) Before the sewing machine, a single shirt required many thousands of stitches to be made. Something had to be done about it, and it was pretty clear that there was a buck to be made.

On this day Isaac Merritt Singer (1811 - '75), former actor and founder of the Merritt Players, polygamist, patented his sewing machine. Many almanacs refer to this date as the patenting or invention of the first sewing machine, but this does not in fact seem to be the case. The first American patent had been issued to Elias Howe (1819 - '67) some five years earlier, and Singer’s machine was so similar to Howe’s that the earlier inventor sued Singer for patent infringement, and won. Howe eventually became a multi-millionaire just as Singer had.

The story of this great labour-saving device, one which helped free women from some of the drudgery of the time, began long before Howe and Singer’s rivalry, however, and numerous machines had been invented over the preceding century in various parts of the world. In 1834, American Walter Hunt built one but would not patent it because he believed his invention would cause unemployment.

However, although Singer was not the first man to make a sewing machine, nor even the first in America, it was the first to be commercially successful. Money talks, and writes history, too, as we know.

Singer had numerous wives – five or six that we know of, depending one one’s interpretation of the law – many of them concurrently, and they bore him 18 children (that he recognized) ...

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