Sewing has been around for many years. Bone needles were discovered from as long ago as the Ice age. It wasn’t until the last 200 years and the advent of the Industrial Revolution that sewing using a machine came about.
Industrial sewing machines were a turning point in the history of the industrial age. Industrial sewing machines changed the way clothing was made and also more importantly the speed in which garments could be produced.
The industrial sewing machine changed the way a whole industry operated. It increased the speed of production which couldn’t be matched by hand. Industrial sewing machines as early as the 1900s had zig-zag stitching and used a swing needle. These features would not appear in the home sewing machines until much later.
The industrial sewing machines origins stem from England, France and also the United States of America. Many countries can claim to have a hand in the development of one of the most vital pieces of equipment that is used world wide. The truth is that lots of countries do all play a role in the advancements of the industrial sewing machine. The first patent for an industrial sewing machine was in 1790 by a man called Thomas Saint. This sewing machine would allow leather and canvas to be stitched. Like many early industrial sewing machines that followed this machine copied the action of the human arm when sewing. It wasn’t until 1807 when a new innovation by two Englishman, William and Edward Chapman saw an industrial sewing machine with the eye of the needle at the bottom of the needle and not at the top.
Industrial sewing machines were becoming so good at their job that they started to require less people in the industrial factories where these sewing machines were being used. A patent by the Frenchman, Bartheleémy Thimmonier’s, increased production of the French Armies uniform. As a result over 160 tailors were not required so they rioted, destroying all the machines and almost killing Thimmonier in the process. The patent he produced allowed for a industrial sewing machine to cross stitch using a curved needle.
In 1834, Walter Hunt an American, created an industrial sewing machine that produced a locked stitch from underneath the machine with a second thread. Hunt is also credited with inventing the safety pin. This industrial sewing machine design was however never patented. It was down to a fellow American Elias Howe who got credit for the invention of the sewing machine. In 1846 he designed and patented a machine which he made, while a friend helped him financially, so he could concentrate all his efforts on the industrial sewing machine. Howe tried to market his machine in England but on his arrival back to the United States in 1849 he realised that his machine had been copied by others. He sought financial backing and took the companies who copied his ideas to court. It wasn’t until 1854 that he won his cases, which turned out to be a landmark case in the history of patent law.
Howe’s main competitor to his machines was a man names Isaac M Singer. Singer’s industrial sewing machine design received a patent in 1851. The main difference between this machine and the other industrial sewing machines was that it had a arm which overhung a flat table and dropped the needle down. This allowed stitching from any direction.
With so many patents being made towards industrial sewing machines during the 1850’s Howe and Singer decided to create a “Patent Pool” along with two other manufacturers. Due to the 1860s when the civil war had broken out production of huge orders of civil war uniforms were required. This drove demand for industrial sewing machines and lead to Howe and Singer becoming the first millionaire inventors.