who invented the sewing machine

Who Invented the Sewing Machine? A Brief History

Can you imagine life without the sewing machine? These days, we take this clever contraption for granted, but it was one of the most revolutionary who invented the sewing machine in the 19th century. Before the sewing machine was patented, every piece of clothing was sewn by hand – a severe chore that could take days to finish a single garment! So, who invented this time-saving wonder that would transform the textile industry? The origins of the sewing machine go back centuries, with many inventors contributing innovations along the way.

Early Attempts at Mechanical Sewing

Some of the first attempts at mechanical sewing were made in Europe in the late 18th century. In 1790, the English inventor Thomas Saint created an early prototype of a sewing machine design. It featured a needle bar that passed the needle and thread through fabric placed under it on a horizontal table. However, Saint’s design never progressed past the prototype stage.

In 1830, the French tailor Barthelemy Thinner patented the first practical sewing machine to use the chain stitch. Thimonnier’s machine sewed straight seams for making soldiers’ uniforms, but it was destroyed in a factory fire during worker unrest. The troubled start hinted at the resistance some craftspeople would have towards sewing machines replacing hand sewing.

American inventor Walter Hunt built America’s first sewing machine in 1832-1834. The machine he designed incorporated an eye-pointed needle and a shuttle bearing a second thread to construct a lockstitch.

However, Hunt decided not to patent his machine, and the design was forgotten.

Elias Howe Invents the Lockstitch Sewing Machine

Elias Howe Invents the Lockstitch Sewing Machine
Photo credit: freepik

Elias Howe was the first American to patent and commercially produce a lockstitch sewing machine. Howe was a mechanic working in Boston when he began tinkering with sewing machine ideas in 1845. At the time, earlier sewing machine pioneers had failed to produce a reliable machine.

After much trial and error, Mr. Howe successfully patented his own lockstitch design in 1846. It used two separate threads – an upper thread carried by the needle and a lower thread in a shuttle. The needle had an eye at the pointed end instead of the top, allowing it to easily pass through the fabric. Howe signed a deal with a corset maker to build his machines, but they failed to catch on.

Howe faced serious challenges bringing his revolutionary American invention to the marketplace. People continued hand sewing, while some manufacturers stole his patents. Eventually, he would have to fight for recognition as the original inventor of the lockstitch machine.

Isaac Singer Improves the Sewing Machine

Elias Howe’s lockstitch concept was greatly improved and popularized by Isaac Merritt, a singer. Born in 1811, Singer was a tinkerer who worked with machinist Orlando B. Potter to refine Howe’s design in the early 1850s. Singer wanted to create a user-friendly, practical sewing machine for home use.

After splitting from Potter, Mr. Singer made several key innovations. He designed an upright machine with a foot treadle instead of a hand crank, allowing continuous stitching. The needle moved vertically instead of horizontally for more effortless piercing and could be powered at much higher speeds. Singer’s machine could sew 900 stitches per minute!

In 1851, Singer founded the Singer Sewing Machine Company along with lawyer Edward Clark. His high-quality, mass-produced domestic machines caught on widely and appeared in American homes. Singer aggressively protected his patents while pushing Howe’s earlier contributions out of American history.

The Sewing Machine War

The struggle for ownership of sewing machine patents blew up into the “Sewing Machine War” between elias howe and isaac Singer in the 1850s. Howe’s original patent from 1846 was set to expire in 1867, after which copycats could go into production. He needed to defend his claim as the original inventor of lockstitch machines.

Howe sued Singer and other companies in the early 1850s for patent infringement, winning some cases but also racking up debts. Singer countersued, claiming his own patents superseded Howe’s. After years of legal wrangling, the two men faced off in court in 1856. Howe won the case and a royalty on every Singer’s sewing machine.

To resolve the confusion over patents, major sewing machine companies eventually pooled their intellectual property. They formed the first US patent pool, the Sewing Machine Combination, in 1856. Royalties were shared under this cooperative monopoly until the last patents expired in 1877.

Impact and Legacy

By the 1870s, sewing machines had transformed from experimental inventions to ubiquitous domestic appliances. Industrial sewing machines changed the landscape of garment manufacturing. Today, sewing remains one of the most popular hobbies, with countless patterns and machines available.

Elias Howe and Isaac Singer became celebrity inventors who embodied the American dream. They rose to fame and fortune through ingenuity and entrepreneurship. However, their bitter feud obscured the incremental contributions of early pioneers like Hunt and Thimonnier.


Who made the first sewing machine?

The pioneering functional sewing machine emerged in 1830, the brainchild of French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier. It used a chain stitch to sew straight seams.

When was the sewing machine patented?

American inventor Elias Howe patented the lockstitch sewing machine in 1846. This was the first machine to use two threads and a needle with an eye at the tip.

Who industrialized the sewing machine?

Isaac Singer improved on Elias Howe’s design in the 1850s and mass-produced domestic sewing machines through the Singer Sewing Machine Company. This made them widely accessible.

What impact did the sewing machine have?

The sewing machine revolutionized garment production in the Industrial Era. It enabled readymade clothing and freed women from tedious hand sewing at home.

How did Elias Howe and Isaac Singer contribute?

Howe invented the lockstitch concept but faced challenges bringing it to market. Singer made key innovations and aggressively marketed improved sewing machines.

Who were some other pioneers?

Walter Hunt built an early American sewing machine but didn’t patent it. Barthelemy Thimonnier created the first chain stitch machine.

The sewing machine was one of the most groundbreaking creations of the industrial revolution era. It removed the drudgery of hand sewing, empowered women in their domestic roles, and enabled the rise of the readymade clothing industry. So, while many minds contributed to its evolution, Howe and Singer deserve recognition for ultimately bringing this brilliant innovation to the world. The next time you sew on a button or hem a pair of pants, remember the fascinating history behind that whirring mechanical wonder!


Main image: freepik

Priti Nandy
Priti Nandy
Articles: 169

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