The American sewing machine industry was one of the first industries to use nearly interchangeable parts and mass production techniques.
In early America, garments were hand-sewn in the home or in garment factories by tailors and seamstresses. From the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, inventors patented various mechanical devices for stitching, but none was successful. In 1846, Elias
A young woman operates a treadle sewing maching in the 1920’s.
One inventor who succeeded was Isaac Merrit
Singer was a marketing master. He demonstrated his machine nationwide and reassured tailors and seamstresses that the new technology would enhance their output. The
By 1882, Singer’s company had sold approximately 800,000 sewing machines, exemplifying successful mass production techniques, use of nearly interchangeable parts, and worldwide marketing. Although the Singer Company was not the only sewing-machine manufacturer in the United States, its sales drove the American industry, and Singer’s penchant for suing competitors spawned the highly publicized “sewing-machine wars.” Because all sewing machines used elements originally patented by Howe, Howe successfully sued Singer and other manufacturers for patent infringement, guaranteeing him a share of every American-made sewing machine sold. The Singer Company continued to lead sales, producing 2.5 million sewing machines in 1913.
The sewing machine’s mid-nineteenth century mechanics remained virtually unchanged for over a hundred years, except for electric-powered advancements that eliminated the foot-operated treadle. By the late twentieth century, sewing machines had incorporated computer technology, such as memory cards and LED advice messages. In 2001, Singer introduced digitizing software, which became an industry standard for top-of-the-line sewing machine models. Three of America’s founding sewing machine companies remained in business into the early twenty-first century: Singer, White, and Wilcox and Gibbs.
Cooper, Grace Rogers. The Sewing Machine: Its Invention and Development. 3d ed. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985. Smithsonian Institution. Sewing Machines: Historical Trade Literature in Smithsonian Institution Collections. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2001.
Automation in factories
International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union
Retail trade industry
Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire