Isaac Singer Patents Home Sewing Machine
Near the end of the eighteenth century, London cabinetmaker Thomas Saint patented the design of a primitive machine for chain-stitch sewing that used a forked needle, which passed through a hole made by the sewer using an awl. In the 1870s, Newton Wilson discovered Saint’s patient (which had been lost in the patent office). He built a sewing machine based on Saint’s design. Wilson found that Saint’s design had to be modified in order to actually build a functioning sewing machine. Wilson concluded that Saint had designed but never built a sewing machine. During these years between Saint’s patent and Wilson’ construction, inventors in Europe and the United Stated advanced the sewing machine concept. Early machine-sewers operated their machines by turning a hand wheel that moved the needle up and down, and in and out of the fabric. By the early 1830s, with the introduction of New Yorker Walter Hunt’s lock stitch machine, and with the addition of the feed mechanism that moved the fabric automatically beneath the needle, the mechanics of the sewing machine as it is known today had been worked out. But it was not until American inventor Isaac Merritt Singer (1811–1875)—the first manufacturer to make sewing machines widely available— that sewing machines became a fixture in the average household. Singer introduced a lock-stitch machine in 1851, the first powered by a foot treadle, a pump or lever device that turned a flywheel and belt drive.
As clothing manufacture moved into factories at the beginning of the twentieth century, sewing machine design branched out as well. Sewing machines designed for home use have remained versatile, capable of performing different kinds of stitching for a variety of tasks such as making buttonholes, or sewing stretchy fabrics using the zig-zag stitch, in which the needle moves back and forth horizontally. More recently, manufacturers of home machines have incorporated computerized controls that can be programmed to create a multitude of decorative stitches as well as the basics.
Sewing machines intended for industrial use evolved along a different track. In the factory setting, where time and efficiency are at a premium, machines have to be very fast, capable of producing thousands stitches per second. Clothing manufacturers also realized that sewing machines designed to perform just one task, such as making a collar, attaching buttons, making buttonholes, setting in pockets, and attaching belt loops, could perform these tasks much more quickly than a less specialized machines.
Hanson, Beth. “Sewing machine.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. 5th ed. Vol. 7. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. 3928-3930. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.