Riots, fire, near-death experience, fear of unemployment and patent wars were part of the foundation for the invention of the modern day sewing machine that can be purchased at Wal Mart for around $60.
As early as 1755, potential inventors of the sewing machine struggled with their ideas for the invention and either got frustrated and gave up, or patented their prototype and did not proceed any further.
A French tailor by the name of Barthelemy Thimonnier invented the first functional sewing machine in 1830. His sewing machine invention caused a riot to break out among the other French tailors, which resulted in Thimonnier’s garment factory being burnt down and Thimonnier’s almost being killed. Why the riot? Because the other tailors feared the new fangled sewing machine invention would create unemployment for them.
Four years later, in 1834, the first American straight seam sewing machine was invented by Walter Hunt. He did not proceed with the patent for it, because he had the same opinion as the French tailors, he feared it would bring unemployment.
If these early inventors and tailors could have had a glimpse into the future garment and tufting industry, they would have had no fear that the sewing machine would have brought of unemployment, and would have been working together to invent sewing machines much earlier.
In 1846, Elias Howe obtained a patent for a sewing machine invention, then spent the next several years defending his patent and trying to market his invention.
Isaac Singer came along in 1850 and mass produced the first commercially successful machine. The Singer sewing machine had a needle that moved up and down, by a foot-powered peddle, instead of the hand crank that previous sewing machine inventions had.
Patent wars ensued, with Isaac Singer winning, but having to pay royalties to Elias Howe.
Who would have thought that the simple peddle sewing machine that our mothers and grandmothers used, took almost 100 years to invent, caused a riot and legal battles?
I am fortunate to have inherited my mother’s old Singer peddle sewing machine. The five drawer wood cabinet has scratches and dings from years of use, the intricately designed wrought iron legs and pedal that bears the Singer name and logo. The sewing machine still works perfectly, making it’s one and only straight stitch seam, though I never use it. But when I sit down to sew at my electric powered sewing machine, with it’s many stitch patterns and attachments, I will have a new found appreciation, knowing the years of struggle that went into it’s invention.