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The Textile Revolution

History of the Ready-Made Clothing Industry

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a rich and splendid assortment of ready made clothing & furnishing goods

George Blanchard Gentlemen can, at all times, find a rich and splendid assortment of ready made clothing & furnishing goods

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After the sewing machine was invented, the ready-made clothing industry took off. Before sewing machines, nearly all clothing was local and hand-sewn, there were tailors and seamstresses in most towns that could make individual items of clothing for customers.

Ready-Made Clothing

About 1831, George Opdyke (later Mayor of New York) began the small-scale manufacture of ready-made clothing, which he stocked and sold largely through a store in New Orleans. Opdyke was one of the first American merchants to do so. But it was not until after the power-driven sewing machine was invented, that factory production of clothes on a large scale occurred. Since then the clothing industry has grown.

Ready-Made Shoes

The Singer machine of 1851 was strong enough to sew leather and was adopted by shoemakers. These shoemakers were found chiefly in Massachusetts, and they had traditions reaching back at least to Philip Kertland, a famous shoemaker (circa 1636) who taught many apprentices. Even in the early days before machinery, division of labor was the rule in the shops of Massachusetts. One workman cut the leather, often tanned on the premises; another sewed the uppers together, while another sewed on the soles. Wooden pegs were invented in 1811 and came into common use about 1815 for the cheaper grades of shoes: Soon the practice of sending out the uppers to be done by women in their own homes became common. These women were wretchedly paid, and when the sewing machine came to do the work better than it could be done by hand, the practice of "putting out" work gradually declined.

Sole-Sewing Machine

That variation of the sewing machine which was to do the more difficult work of sewing the sole to the upper was the invention of a mere boy, Lyman Blake. The first model, completed in 1858, was imperfect, but Lyman Blake was able to interest Gordon McKay, of Boston, and three years of patient experimentation and large expenditure followed. The McKay sole-sewing machine, which they produced, came into use, and for twenty-one years was used almost universally both in the United States and Great Britain. But this, like all the other useful inventions, was in time enlarged and greatly improved, and hundreds of other inventions have been made in the shoe industry. There are machines to split leather, to make the thickness absolutely uniform, to sew the uppers, to insert eyelets, to cut out heel tops, and many more. In fact, division of labor has been carried farther in the making of shoes than in most industries, for there about three hundred separate operations in making a pair of shoes.

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