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Sewing Machine Invention History

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Want to know a bit more about sewing machines? You’re in the right place. These great pieces of tech might seem straightforward, but don’t take them for granted. They’ve revolutionalized the textile industry and made home-sewing much more easy and quick.

There’s actually a lot more engineering that goes into even a cheap sewing machine than you might think, but were they always this way?

If you want to know a bit more about sewing machines and their history, this might be the article for you. In it, we’re going to look at a number of different facts about the sewing machine so that you know a bit more about this piece of kit. If you want to know things like how these machines were invented and how long they’ve been around, then keep reading. Let’s have a look at some interesting information about sewing machines:

1. Early sewing machines started being pioneered in the late 18th century

You might think of the sewing machine as an American creation, but early models were being worked on in Britain and France as well as the States. The first patent for an early machine was actually granted to Englishman Thomas Saint who was also a cabinet maker.

These early machines were heavy and could be sued to stitch leather to canvas in a chain stitch. However, this early machine followed a similar pattern to hand sewing and industrialized machines didn’t really take off until things were modernized even further by William and Edward Chapman in 1807. These Englishmen were the first to come up with a needlepoint machine.

2. Early sewing machines caused a riot

In France, Bartheleemy Thimmonier patented his first machine in 1830. This machine-stitched fabric together with a curved needle and helped produce uniforms for the French army with a factory filled with machines. In 1941, displeased at their loss of earnings, a group of tailors rioted and destroyed the machines, attacking Thimmonier in the process.

3. Elias Howe didn’t necessarily invent the first machine in the States

Elias Howe is credited as the inventor of the sewing machine in America, thanks to his 1846 patent. However, he might not have been the first to come up with the idea. Walter Hunt had created a machine with a pointed needle which created a locked stitch in 1834, but he didn’t patent it. Howe went on to create a similar machine but did indeed patent it. He ran a machine shop in Boston. When trying to market this machine overseas, other people copied his machine while he was away. He successfully sued these infringing companies which are seen by many as landmark cases in patent law infringements.

4. Singer took the machine to the next level

While he didn’t invent the sewing machine, actor and mechanic IM. Singer certainly helped take it mainstream. He developed his own machine based on the designs of others and patented it in 1851. By 1860, Singer’s company had become the largest producer of sewing machines in the world.

5. Sewing machines created the first-ever millionaire inventors

Tons of patents had been applied for in the 1850s which lead to the creation of a patent pool by the four main manufacturers. This meant the inventors could receive royalties every time a machine was built with their designs. Thanks to increased demand for uniforms on a mass-scale during the Civil War period, along with increased popularity of sewing machines in the 1860s, the patent pool lead to Howe and Singer both becoming millionaires. They’re said to be the first millionaire inventors ever.

6. National Sewing Month is in September

To celebrate sewing globally, the National Sewing Month was first established in 1982 thanks to President Ronald Reagan. This was created to honor sewing both in America and beyond, and is still celebrated every year by a number of events and crafting expos.

7. The first electric sewing machines were invented in 1889

Prior to this, all popular sewing machines had to be powered by hand or foot. However, things didn’t get much easier with the first few electric machines, as they were considered bulky and expensive. It wasn’t until manufacturing processes and the motors improved in the early 1900s until these machines became more popular in homes rather than simply being a tool for industry and mainly only seen in factories. In the 20th century, these machines became so popular that almost every home had one, or at least everyone knew someone with one.

8. Early sewing needles were made from bone or ivory

Before machines took over, people had to sew by hand. Early sewing needles weren’t even made from steel or other metals. You had to use bone or ivory.

9. The 20th century saw a boom in sewing machine production

Thanks to a reduction in manufacturing costs, increased uptake of electricity and households havening a bit more money to spend on things, sewing machines really took off in popularity, as we established a couple of points ago. But did you also know that over 4,000 different designs of machines were created? While these were from a range of different companies, many of them relied on old Singer and Howe ideas and therefore patents.

10. Sewing machines were an important part of women’s social lives

In the 1860s, women started forming sewing societies and other social get-togethers where they could make quilts and other items together, to sell for charity. These early societies mostly relied on hand-stitching as sewing machines weren’t available on the mass market, but as more people started getting their own domestic machines in the early 20th century, these social and charitable efforts continued to grow.

Hopefully, you now know a bit more about sewing machines and some facts associated with them.

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