Object of the Month
by Amanda Mather
The sewing machine was invented in 1755 by a German, but was not really a thing that got off the ground until the mid-1850’s in America. The sewing machine has an oddly tumultuous history.
It looks like Singer, as in Isaac Merritt Singer, ripped the thing off from a gent named Elias Howe. When Howe went over to England to promote his new, miraculous machine, Singer took advantage and started making and selling the machines state side. Howe eventually won a patent infringement case against Singer.
As the 1850s wore on, more and more inventors got into the mix, each of them coming up with a new and better way to improve the sewing machine. Eventually, the back and forth patent infringement and inevitable suing got so bad that it became known as “The Sewing Machine War.” Finally, all of these inventors came together and decided it would be best for all parties to start “The Sewing Machine Company.”
This company then licensed all these different sewing machine innovations to different start up companies that wanted to try their hand at the sewing machine business. But, in the end, it was Singer that won the day. First, the partners removed Isaac Singer from the company and second they began a “buy now, pay later” marketing campaign that allowed people to afford their machines without having the cash up front. The Singer Company invented the concept of the payment plan, AKA credit. These sewing machines found their way into every store big or small.
Now, as far as the social implications of the sewing machine were concerned, at least in a domestic setting, the sewing machine helped set women free. It used to take about 14 hours to sew a shirt! With a sewing machine that time was cut to about an hour. This freeing up of time was one of the things that lead to women being able to do something other than making everyone socks — like fighting for suffrage, leaving the house, getting jobs, going to college, etc.!
The Singer pictured above, once belonging to great grandma Strine, can be found in the Tiendita (general store) at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, where you could put some money down and get your very own Singer Sewing Machine!