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The Sewing Machine’s Early History

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The sewing machine is one of the most important machines ever devised. Its early history involves the contributions made by myriad of inventors. While the early history of the sewing machine is somewhat cloudy, its later pathway is much clearer. Important people were involved in fully developing the modern machine

Before the sewing machine was invented, garments, home decor items, and all fabric items were sewn by hand. Like most inventions, the history of the sewing machine is a bit murky; there is some confusion as to who really invented the machine first. It was actually a series of events and inventions by a number of contributors that evolved into one of the most popular machines ever used.

Some attempts were made in the 18th century but the ideas were not patented.

Genuine progress occurred in 1830, when the French government granted a patent to Barthelemy Thimonnier. Within a decade of receiving of his patent, Thimonnier had a factory running with 80 machines. Parisian tailors feared Thimonnier’s machines would replace hand sewing, putting the craftsmen tailors out of work. Late one night a group of tailors stormed the factory, destroyed every machine and caused Thimonnier to flee for his life. He started again, produced a vastly improved machine, and was set to go into full-scale production. But the tailors attacked again. France was in the grip of revolution, so Thimonnier could expect little help from the police or army. He fled to England with just one salvaged machine. For all his accomplishments, he died a pauper.

Had things gone a bit differently, Thimonnier’s name may have replaced Singer’s name today. However, Thimonnier’s machine faded away with him.

Most historians agree that the basic sewing machine was invented by Massachusetts farmer Elias Howe, who completed his first prototype in 1845. One year later it was patented and Howe tried to stimulate interest within the tailoring trade. But the world wasn't yet ready to replace hand sewing. Despite months of demonstrations, Howe could not make a sale. Desperately in debt, Howe sent his brother Amasa to England with the machine in the hope that it would receive more interest on the other side of the Atlantic. Amasa could find only one corset maker named William Thomas, who eventually bought the rights to the invention and arranged for Elias to come to London to further develop the machine. The two had major personality conflicts, and eventually Elias, now penniless, returned to America. When Elias arrived back home, he found that the sewing machine had finally caught on and that dozens of manufacturers, including Isaac Singer, were busy making machines. While Singer did pioneer aggressive sales tactics, he did not invent any notable sewing-machine advances. But that the story does have a somewhat happy ending. Both Singer and Howe reached a legal agreement and lived out their days as multimillionaires.

The sewing machine helped women have more time for other interests. Clothing, curtains, and so many more practical, everyday items no longer took days or weeks to complete. The world was on its way to being industrialized and the sewing machine certainly helped it on its way.



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