...just imagine, for a minute, a world without one! Sorry to send shivers down your spine, but for an object that millions of people have in their homes and workshops, I wonder how many of you know who invented it or indeed when.
As a professional sewer, the sewing machine is one of the tools of my trade, however, its origins are not very widely known. So, I thought I'd do a little research and share my findings with you all.
I can't quite believe the complicated and fraught start to life our humble sewing machine seems to have had!
It seemed such a simple question to ask:
Who invented the sewing machine?
Not only were there numerous claims to its invention, but the story is filled with as much intrigue and skullduggery as any episode of Midsomer Murders!
There are many claims to its original invention so I've tried to glean the main contributors from the rest of the pack. I've listed the most prominent dates and names below:
1755 - Charles Fredrick Wiesenthal was awarded a British patent for the first known mechanical device for sewing. (Charles was born in Germany but worked in England).
1790 - Thomas Saint is credited with the invention the first sewing machine design using a basic chain stitch. Unfortunately, he did not market or advertise his invention.
Thomas Saint's sewing machine
1804 - a sewing machine was built by the Englishmen, Thomas Stone and James Henderson, also in this year, a machine for embroidery was constructed by John Duncan in scotland. Sadly, neither of these machines were successful.
1807 - Austrian tailor, Josef Madersperger began developing his first sewing machine. He presented his working machine in 1814.
1829 - Barthelemy Thimonnier, a French tailor invented the first practical and widely used sewing machine.
Barthelemy Thimonnier's sewing machine
1832 - the first American lockstitch machine was invented by Walter Hunt, he eventually patented it in 1854.
1841 - British partners, Newton and Archibald, introduced the eye-pointed needle and the use of two pressing surfaces to keep the pieces of fabric in position.
1842 - John Greenough patented the first sewing machine in the United States.
1844 - John Fisher managed to combine all the elements of the previous inventions into one recognisable machine. In a cruel twist of fate, his patent was lost or mis-placed in the patent office and he had to watch his contemporaries earn their fortunes instead of him.
1845 - Elias Howe created his machine in Massachusetts, using a similar method to John Fisher except the way the fabric was positioned. After trying to attract interest in his machine in England, he returned to America to discover a number of people had been infringing his patent, among them, Isaac Merritt Singer. He took the case to court and won the right to claim royalties from the other manufacturers, including Singer.
Elias Howe's patent (top) and machine
1851 - undeterred Singer eventually created an improved version of the sewing machines of the time and was granted an American patent in 1851.
Isaac Singer's first patented machine
Throughout the rest of the decade so many patents were applied for it became known as the Sewing Machine War.
1856 - the Sewing Machine Combination was formed. Isaac Singer, Elias Howe, Nathaniel Wheeler, Allen B.Wilson, Grover and Baker pooled their patents meaning that all other manufacturers had to purchase licenses and pay $15 per machine. This lasted until the last patent expired in 1877.
1874 - William Newton Wilson found Saints' drawings, made adjustments to the looper and built a working machine. This machine is currently owned by the London Science Museum.
William Newton Wilson's sewing machine
That was by no means the end of the story, but from now on, people were trying to improve on existing designs. Tweaking the stitching method, making the appearance of the machines more elaborate and indeed adapting them to use electricity when the time came.
I think you'll agree that the history of the humble sewing machine is a very colourful one, and maybe the lesson to take away from this story is that you don't need to keep re-inventing the wheel. The fact that Charles Frederick Wiesenthal thought of designing a mechanical way to sew, didn't mean that the idea couldn't be explored by other (many other) inquisitive minds.
What isn't acceptable is simply copying someone else's intellectual property, as Isaac Singer found to his cost.
However, as creative people we are continually re-imagining and building upon previous ideas and practices, developing them, adding our own twist and making them unique. That's what makes our beautiful world go round.
Until next time...