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Stitches - The History of Sewing Machines

More on the Walter Hunt Sewing Machine & Patent Infringement

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Isaac Singer Sewing Machine

Isaac Singer Sewing Machine

Morgue File
Introduction: The History of Sewing Machines

The 1834 eye pointed needle sewing machine of Walter Hunt was later re-invented by Elias Howe of Spencer, Massachusetts and patented by him in 1846.

Each sewing machine (Walter Hunt's and Elias Howe's) had a curved eye pointed needle that passed the thread through the fabric in an arc motion; and on the other side of the fabric a loop was created; and a second thread carried by a shuttle running back and forth on a track passed through the loop creating a lockstitch.

Elias Howe's design was copied by Isaac Singer and others, leading to extensive patent litigation. However, a court battle in the 1850s conclusively gave Elias Howe the patent rights to the eye pointed needle.

The court case was brought by Elias Howe against Isaac Merritt Singer, the largest manufacturer of sewing machines for patent infringement. In his defense, Isaac Singer attempted to invalidate Howe's patent, to show that the invention was already some 20 years old and that Howe should not have been able to claim the royalties from anyone using his designs that Singer had been forced to pay.

Since Walter Hunt had abandoned his sewing machine and had not filed for a patent, Elias Howe's patent was upheld by a court decision in 1854. Isaac Singer's machine was also somewhat different from Howe's. Its needle moved up and down, rather than sideways, and it was powered by a treadle rather than a hand crank. However, it used the same lockstitch process and a similar needle.

Elias Howe died in 1867, the year his patent expired.

Other Historical Moments in the History of the Sewing Machine

On June 2, 1857, James Gibbs patented the first chain-stitch single-thread sewing machine.

Zig-zag Stitch Machine

Helen Augusta Blanchard of Portland, Maine (1840-1922) patented the first zig-zag stitch machine in 1873. The zig-zag stitch better seals the edges of a seam, making a garment sturdier. Helen Blanchard also patented 28 other inventions including a hat-sewing machine, surgical needles, and other improvements to sewing machines.

Electricity

The first mechanical sewing machines were used in garment factory production lines. It was not until 1889 that a sewing machine for use in the home was designed and marketed. By 1905, the electrically-powered sewing machine was in wide use.

Continue > Elias Howe Biography or Walter Hunt Biography

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