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Bl lip E^^ittg Jl Jtrliiii| 


John J. Caulon, Printer, No. 20 Vesev Street. 






Story of the Sewing Machine. 




"With fingers weary and worn, 

With eyelids heavy and red, 
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags, 

Plying her needle and thread — 
Stitch ! stitch ! stitch ! 

In poverty, hunger and dirt, 
And still, with a voice of dolorous pitch — 
Would that its tone could reach the Rich ! — 

She sang the ' Song of the Shirt.' " 

N a back street of Boston two men sat one sultry 
August midnight upon a pile of boards. They were 
penniless and friendless ; they were smarting under 
failure and keen and bitter disappointment. Actual 
want stared them in the face and made them des- 


4 r]ic Story of the Scwiiig Machine. 

perate. And yet, upon the outcome of that midnight scene 
mighty issues hung quivering. All the world had a stake 
in the thoughts of those poor, friendless, desperate men. 
One of them had heard from across the seas the " Song 
of the Shirt ;" he had heard its sad echo even from the 
more prosperous homes of our own land, and its dismal 
chords had awakened in his breast a burning desire to still 
its horrible refrain, and carry relief and help to the weary 
seamstress. Golden visions, too, had floated before him 
of the princelv reward the world would offer for such 
service to its great sisterhood. 

With great difficulty he had persuaded two other men to 
join him. One furnished the scanty capital oi forty dollars; 
the other gave the use of his machine shop, workmen and 
tools. Day and night he had worked to produce a Sewing 
Machine, sleeping but three or four hours out of the 
twenty-four, and eating, generally, but once a day, as he 
knew the machine must be built for forty dollars or not be 
built at all. The hour of trial had come that very day. The 
machine had been completed and put together, and did fiot 
work I One by one the workmen left him in disgust, but 
still the inventor clung tenaciously to his purpose, and re- 
fused to yield to defeat. All were gone but this compan- 
ion, who held the lamp while the inventor worked. Loss 
of sleep, insufficient food, and incessant work and anxiety 
made him weak and nervous, and he could not get tiglu 
stitches. Sick at heart, the task Avas abandoned at last, and 
at midnight the worn and wearied men turned their backs 
upon their golden dreams and started for their lodgings. 
On their way they sat down upon the pile of boards, and 
were gloomily discussing the sad fate of the project, when 
his companion mentioned to the inventor that " the loose 
loops of thread were all upon the upper side of the cloth." 
Instantly it flashed upon the inventor Avhat the trouble was, 
and back through the night the men trudged to the shop, 

The Sewing Machine s Rivals. 5 

re-lighted the lamp, tightened a little tension screw, and 
in a few minutes Isaac Merritt Singer had produced the 
first Sewing Machine that ever was practically successful. 


6 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

It was a great stake which the world had in the gloomy 
midnight reflections of two desperately poor men, seated 
upon that pile of boards, thirty years ago ! Rarely has so 
much hung upon the thoughts of two humble men. That 
midnight scene settled the question whether woman should 
have a tireless helper in her weary task of stitching — 
whether or not the world should thenceforward have a ma- 
chine for sewing. Out of that lumber-pile conference 
came the Sewing Machine and all the mighty interests 
involved in its manufacture, sale, and use. It was the an- 
swer to the " Song of the Shirt ;" its dolorous tone had 
reached — not the rich — but a poor, struggling mechanic; 
and his invention has done for woman and for the home- 
circle v/hat no other invention ever has done. We look 
back upon James Watt, sitting before the open fireplace, 
watching the pot lid rise and fall with the then undiscov- 
ered power of steam, as the scene whence issued all the 
blessings which followed the Steam-engine. We think of 
Franklin flying his storm-riding kite and drawing down 
the lightning, as thereby bringing to us all the civilizing 
influences of the Telegraph. But neither of these men, if 
they could have looked down the dim vista of the coming 
centuries, and foreseen what their inventions should do 
for humanity, could have contemplated results more sur- 
prising than those which Isaac Merritt Singer lived to see 
crowning the invention which hung trembling upon the 
results of that talk upon that pile of boards! 

The Telegraph and Steam-engine live daily in the broad 
blaze of public view ; the Sewing Machine modestly hides 
itself away beneath three million of the nine million roofs 
of America. They are public blessings ; the Sewing Ma- 
chine is a purely domestic one. It earns a woman's dime ; 
they earn a railroad king's millions. They deal with the 
great arteries of trade and commerce ; it deals with the 
fireside circle. The Telegraph and Steam-engine proudly 

The Sewing Machine s Rivals. 7 

boast their alliance and familiarity with Capital ; the Sew- 
ing Machine contentedly takes up its humble quarters 
mainly with people who never drew a dividend in all their 
lives. Capital and wealth must run the former; slender 
and humble feet most often run the latter. The Loco- 
motive puffs defiantly in nearly every legislative hall ; the 
Sewing Machine sings its tireless tune to ears that would 
not know what ^^ lobby'' meant. The former haughtily 
issues its dictum to primaries and conventions ; the latter 
could not control a solitary vote. Steam and the Telegraph 
deal mainly with creation's lord; the Sewing Machine with 
his lowlier sister. 

A certain class of people are apt to underrate domestic 
affairs, simply because they are domestic, forgetting that 
the real progress of the w^orld is always made beneath the 
shelter of the homestead roof, not under the resounding 
domes of Senate Chambers ; and that a Nation's surest 
hope for greatness and for safety is found in the character 
of its homes, rather than in the shrewdness of its merchants 
or the skill of its artisans. It is the atmosphere of the boy's 
early home which clings like an indestructible and exhaust- 
less aroma to his entire life ; it is the influence and memory 
of what his home and his mother Avere which mould his 
after life, control his habits of thought, and make him a 
power for good or for evil in the world. And for the 
most part he remains unconscious of any such influence. 
He has imbibed it with his daily sustenance and inhaled it 
with every breath of his native air, until he involuntarily 
weighs everything, measures all affairs, and judges all men 
according to the standards and traditions that prevailed in 
the now hallowed precincts of his early home. 

Whatever, therefore, brings added comfort to the matron 
and the maiden ; whatever saves the busy housewife's time 
and increases her opportunities for culture ; whatever lifts 
any of the heavy household burdens, and disenthralls to 

8 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

any degree the women of our day, contributes an ever- 
augmenting influence towards the liighest and best progress 
of the world. 

And so the importance of the Sewing Machine in its 
influence upon the home ; in the countless hours it has 
added to woman's leisure for rest and refinement ; in the 
increase of time and opportunity for that early training of 


children, for lack of which so many pitiful wrecks arc 
strewed along tlie shores of life; in the numberless avenues 
it has opened for female labor ; and in the comforts it has 
-brought within the reach of all, which once could be at- 
tained only by the wealthy few, becomes so apparent that 
few, if any, will dispute its right to stand at least beside 
its powerful rivals, the Steam-engine and Telegraph. 

Growth of the Idea. 9 



^I^HE idea of sewing by machinery had been cherished 
W^. for a hundred years before the first successful ma- 
WT chine was built. 
-- The earliest attempt at sewing by machinery of 

which any authentic account exists was made as early 
as July 24th, 1755, when a machine was patented in Eng- 
land by Charles F. Weisenthal, having a needle with two 
points and an eye at mid-length. 

The next sewing machine was that of Thomas Saint, of 
England, who obtained a patent July 17, 1790. This man 
seems to have understood, with remarkable clearness, the 
main essential features of the invention, for his machine 
had a horizontal cloth-plate, an overhanging arm, at the 
end of which was a needle working vertically, and a 
" feed " working automatically between the stitches. These 
features have been preserved in every successful machine 
ever made. The needle was notched at the lower end, to 
push the thread through the goods, which had been pre- 
viously punctured by an awl. As the needle passed up- 
Avards, leaving a loop in the thread, a loop-check caught 
the loop and held it until the needle descended again, 
enchaining the thread of the new loop in the former one. 

In 1804 an Englishman, named Duncan, made a chain- 
stitch machine, having a number of hooked needles, which 
passed through the cloth and were supplied with thread 
beneath the goods by a feeding needle, whereupon the 
needles receded, each drawing a loop through the loop 
previously drawn by itself throvigh the cloth. 

In 1818 Rev. John A. Dodge, of Monkton, Vt., invented, 
and, with the assistance of John Knowles, an ingenious 

I o The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

mechanic, constructed a machine having the double-pointed 
needle and eye at mid-length. It made a stitch identical 
with the ordinary " back-stitch," and was furnished with 
an automatic device for " feeding " the work. Mr. Dodge 
never applied for a patent, nor attempted to manufacture 
any more machines, because of the great pressure upon 
his time as a pastor, and further on account of the bitter 
opposition of journeymen tailors, who denounced the ma- 
chine as an invasion of their rights. 

The first patent issued in America for a sewing ma- 
chine was that of a man named Lye, in the year 1826. 
Lye's device could hardly have contained any useful or 
striking features, for when the fire of 1836 destroyed all 
the Patent Office Records, it consumed all that remained 
of this machine. 

In the year 1830 Barthlemy Thimmonnier, a Parisian, 
invented a machine which operated much as Saint's did, 
except that the needle was crochctted, and, descending 
through the goods, pulled up a lower thread and formed 
a series of loops vipon the upper side of the goods. Eighty 
of these machines, made of wood, are said to have been 
used at one time in Paris, making army clothing ; but 
though patented in France in August, 1848, and in the 
United States September 3, 1850, it had too many defects 
to become anything more than an important step in the 
onward march of this great invention. 

Many other machines, of more or less merit, were con- 
structed before Mr. Singer made his machine, but all fell 
short of being practical and useful. The nearest approach 
to success prior to 1850 was made by Walter Hunt, of New 
York City, in the years 1832-3-4. His machine had a 
curved needle, with an eye near the needle-point, which 
was operated on the end of a vibrating arm. A loop was 
formed beneath the cloth by the needle-thread, through 
which a shuttle, reeling off another thread, was forced back 

1 2 The Story of the Sewing Mackific. 

and forth with each stitch, making an interlocked stitch 
like that now made by the best machines. George A. 
Arrowsmith, a blacksmith, of Woodbridge, N. J., being of 
a speculative turn, bought one-half of Walter Hunt's in- 
vention in 1834, and afterwards acquired the remainder. 
Soon afterwards, Adoniram F. Hunt, a brother of Walter, 
was employed by Arrowsmith to construct some sewing 
machines upon the same principle, but differing somewhat 
in arrangement of details from the original. These ma- 
chines were made and operated at a machine shop in Amos 
Street, New York City. Arrowsmith neglected to obtain 
a patent upon the machine for reasons which, in the light 
of events now past, make singularly interesting reading. 
He assigned three reasons for not procuring a patent : 
(i) He had other business ; (2) the expense of patenting ; 
(3) the supposed difficulty of introducing them into use, 
saying, it " would have cost two or three thousand dollars 
to start the business." There appeared also a prejudice 
against any machine which had a tendency to dispense 
with female labor. A proposition made by Walter Hunt 
to his daughter to engage in the corset-making business 
with a sewing machine was declined, after consultation 
with her female friends, principally, if not altogether, as 
she afterwards testified, "on the ground that the intro- 
duction of such a machine into use would be injurious to 
the interests of hand-sewers. I found that the machine 
would at that time be very unpopular, and, therefore, 
refused to use it." 

The neglect of Hunt and Arrowsmith to procure a 
patent upon this sewing machine Avas fraught with mo- 
mentous consequences a few years later, not only to 
them but to the entire sewing machine trade and the 
world at large. 

John J. Greenough, on February 21, 1842, procured 
the first sewing machine patent in America of which any 

Growth of the Idea. 1 3 

official record now exists. His machine sewed with two 
threads, both of which were entirely passed through the 
cloth at every stitch, the needles being pulled by pincers 
through holes previously bored with an awl. It was 
designed principally for leather work. 

R. W. Bean, of New York City, patented a machine, 
March 4, 1843, for making a "running " or basting stitch. 
Another machine, having two threads and generally 
like Greenough's, was patented December 27, 1843, by 
George R. Corliss, of Greenwich, N. Y. It had eye- 
pointed needles reciprocated in horizontal paths, through 
holes previously made by awls, the goods being fastened 
between clamps and fed in front of the needles. 

Another form of sewing machine, of which several 

varieties were patented between 1844 and 1850, adopted 

the somewhat primitive method of first crimping the 

, . . \ cloth and then 

forcing it up- 
on the needle, 
which was 
driven through 
a number of 
thicknesses at 
the same time, 
making a run- 
ning stitch. 

In the year 
1846, or over 
twelve 3'ears 
after Walter 
Hunt's machine was built, Elias Howe, Jr., having pro- 
bably ascertained that Hunt had never patented his 
machine, built a sewing machine upon the Hunt plan, 
adding two puerile devices (both of which were subse- 
quently abandoned as useless), cnJ procured a patent 

14 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

thereon in his own name. These devices were a " clipping 
piece " to control the unwinding of the shuttle-thread, and 
a " baster-plate," to which the work was basted, and thus 
hung vertically in front of the machine. This machine 
never became of real utility until the inventions of Mr. 
Singer, five years later, had been added to the principles 
of action applied originally by Hunt and appropriated by 
Howe. After Singer's inventions had been recognized as 
giving to the sewing machine a practical and immense 
value, Walter Hunt testified, under oath, as follows : 
" Elias Howe has several times stated to me that he was 
satisfied that I was the first inventor of the machine for sewing 
a seam by means of the eye-pointed needle, the shuttle and two 
threads, but said that he had the prior right to the invention 
because of my delay in applying for letters-patent." In the year 
1853, Hunt applied for a patent upon his invention, but 
was refused upon the ground of abandonment. 

Judge Charles Mason, Commissioner of Patents, in 
delivering his decision in May, 1854, vipon the evidence 
in Hunt's application, used the following language: " Hunt 
claims priority upon the ground that he invented the 
Sewing Machine previous to the invention of Howe. He 
proves that in 1834 or 1835 he contrived a machine by which 
he actually effected his purpose of sewing cloth with con- 
siderable success. Upon a careful consideration of the 
testimony, I am disposed to think that he had then carried 
his invention to the point of patentability. I understand 
from the evidence that Hunt actually made a Avorking 
machine in 1S34 or 1835. The papers in this case show 
that Hoive obtained a patent for substantially this same 
invention in 1846." 

Notwithstanding this, the Commissioner Avas forced to 
refuse Hunt's belated application, for the reason that an 
Act of Congress in 1839 had provided that inventors could 
not pursue their claims to priority in patents vinless 

1 6 TiLC Story of the Sewiu^' Mxckine. 

application was made witliin two years from the date 
when the first sale of the invention was made. Hunt 
had sold a machine in 1834, and had neglected to make 
amplication for his patent till 1853. 

Thus it was that one of the grandest opportunities of 
the century was missed by the man who should right- 
fully have enjoyed it ; the honors and emoluments of the 
great sewing machine invention passed to a man who 
neither had invented a single principle of action, nor 
applied a practical improvement to principles already 
recognized ; and Elias Howe, Jr., acquired the power, by 
simply patenting another man's invention, to obstruct 
every subsequent inventor, and finally to dictate the terms 
which gave rise to the great Sewing Machine Combination 
about which the world has heard — and scolded — so much. 

Howe's machine was not, even in 185 1, of practical 
utility. From 1846 to 1851 he had the field to himself, but 
the invention lay dormant in his hands. He held control 
of the cardinal principles upon which the coming machine 
must needs be built, and planted himself squarely across 
the path of improvement — an obstructionist, not an in- 
ventor — and when, in 185 1, Isaac M. Singer perfected the 
improvements necessary to make Hunt's principles of real 
utility, Howe, after long and expensive litigation, laid 
Sinri^er and all subsequent improvers under heavy contrib- 
ution for using the principles of Hunt, patented by himself. 

Morev & Johnson procured a patent February 6, 1S49, 
for a single-thread machine, making a stitch by a hook 
acting in combination with a needle. 

Lerow & Blodgett patented a machine October 2, 1849, 
the peculiar feature of which was that the shuttle was 
driven entirely around a circle at each stitch. This 
took a twist out of the thread at every revolution, 
and was soon abandoned, but not before Howe had 
sued the proprietors and laid them under tribute 

GroivtJi of the Idea. 1 7 

Allen B. Wilson invented a double-pointed shuttle, 
making a stitch at each passage of the shuttle, which he 

patented November 12, 
'■ 1850. 

Grover & Baker, 
February 11, 185 1, ob- 
tained a patent for a 
machine using two needles, 
one passing through the 
goods and the other op- 
erating beneath the cloth. 
Other patents, of more or less value, were obtained, 
but not yet had a sewing machine of any practical work- 


1 8 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

ing value been produced. Machines had been made by 
hundreds, factories liad been built for their manufacture, 
territorial rights had been sold for machines that con- 
tained more or less merit, but which would not and could 
not do continuous stitching. The idea of a successful 
substitute for woman's deft fingers at sewing had come to 
be regarded much as the member of Parliament viewed 
the project of an ocean steamship, when he offered to 
" cat the first ship that should cross the Atlantic by steam !" 
The sewing machine had bitterly disappointed those who 
purchased it for use in the household ; it had bankrupted 
those who sought to manufacture ; it had turned to ashes 
upon the lips of those who bought territorial rights. If 
any one had profited by it, it was the vendor of territorial 
rights. Indeed, a sewing machine patentee named Blodgett 
told Singer he was an idiot for presuming to make sewing 
machines to sell. They would not work, and the only 
money to be made out of the business was in " selling 
territorial rights." Deep-seated distrust pervaded the 
public mind, and well-deserved odium had settled upon 
the entire invention. Such Avas the state of affairs when 
Isaac M. Singer turned his versatile mind towards the 
Sewincf Machine. 


The First Singer Machine, 19 



t'^'^HE humble origin of the first practically successful 
sewing machine was told by Mr. Singer himself a few 
^ok years before his death. We reproduce the interesting 
" y narrative in his own language : 

I " My attention was first directed to sewing machines late 

in August, 1850. I then saw in Boston some Blodgett sewing 
machines, which Mr. Orson C. Phelps was emplo3-ed to keep in 
running order. I had then patented a carving machine, and Phelps, 
I think, suggested that if I could make the sewing machine practical 
I should make money. 

" Considering the matter over night, I became satisfied I could 
make, them practically applicable to all kinds of work, and the next 
day showed Phelps and George B. Zeiber a rough sketch of the ma- 
chine I proposed to build. It contained a table to support the cloth 
horizontal!}', instead of a feed-bar from which it was suspended ver- 
tically in the Blodgett machine, a vertical presser-foot to hold the 
cloth, and an arm to hold the presser-foot and needle-bar over the 

" I explained to them how the work was to be fed over the table 
and under the presser-foot, by a wheel having short pins on its peri- 
phery, projecting through a slot in the table, so that the work would 
be automatically caught, fed, and freed from the pins, in place of 
attaching and detaching the work to and from the baster-plate by 
hand, as was necessarj' in the Blodgett machine. 

" Phelps and Zieber were satisfied that it would work. I had 
no money. Zieber oflfered forty dollars to build a model machine. 
Phelps offered his best endeavors to carry out my plan and make 
the model in his shop. If successful we were to share equally. I 
worked at it day and night, sleeping but three or four hours out of 
the twenty-four, and eating generally but once a day, as I knew 1 
I must make it for the forty dollars, or not get it at all. 

"The machine was completed in eleven days. About nine o'clock 
in the evening we got the parts together, and tried it. It did not sew. 

20 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

The workmen, exhausted with almost unremitting work, pronounced 
it a failure, and left me one by one. 

" Zieber held the lamp, and I continued to try the machine; 


^ A 

but anxiety 
and inces- 
sant work 
had made mc 
nervous, and I 
could not get 
tight stitches. Sick 
at heart, about mid- 
night we started for 
our hotel. On the way 
we sat down on a pile of boards, and Zieber mentioned that the 
loose loops of thread were on the upper side of the cloth. It flashed 
upon me that we had forgotten to adjust the tension on the needle- 


The First Sinirer Machine. 


thread. We went back, adjusted the tension, tried the machine, 
sewed five stitches perfectly, and the thread snapped. But that was 

Persistent efforts have been made by interested par- 
ties to create an impression upon the public mind that 
it was Mr. Howe who first evolved order out of the 
chaotic essentials of the sewing macliine and brought it 
into practical use. Of this let the reader judge for him- 
self, after comparing the features of each machine set 
forth below. Let him note the features that are still 
preserved in every successful sewing machine and those 
which have been abandoned as practically worthless, and 
he will find little difficulty in settling for himself the 
merits of the respective claims of Howe and Singer. 



curved needle. {Now obsolete in I A straight 7ieed!e. {Now in general 
machines of this class.) I use.^ 

A ttced'e arm swinging like a pen- 
dulum in an arc of a circle. 
{^Now obsolete.) 


A needle bar moving vertically. 
{.Vo7u in general use.) 


A clamp, or '^ baster plate " from 
zvhic/t the work was hung ver- 
tically in front of the machine. 
In order to make a turn in the 
seam, the machine had to be 
stopped, the goods taken off from 
the plate, a7id then readjusted to 
it. {Now obsolete.) 

A horizontal table, upon tvhich the 
work was laid flat, by tneans 
of which it could be i:istantly 
and readily turned in any direc- 
tion. {Now in general use.) 

2 2 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 


A feed motion imparted to the baster- 
plate by the teeth of an inter- 
mittently 77ioving pinion, zvork- 
ing into the holes of the baster- 
plate, from which the work was 
suspended, which had to be re- 
adjusted every time a seam had 
been sewed the length of the 
plate. {No7u obsolete.) 



A feed motion imparted by means of 
a roughened feed wheel extend- 
ing through a slot in the top of 
the table. {Replaced by the pre- 
sent feed, similar in principle 
but improved in action.) 

Two shuttle-drivers, entirely dis- 
tinct frotn each other, which 
'^ threw" the shuttle from side 
to side, producing violent con- 
cussions, and liable to throw the 
shuttle drivers out of place. 
(Alow obsolete. ) 


Two shuttle carriers attached to the 
same bar, sliding steadily and 
regularly in a horizontal groove. 
{Now in general use.) 

A spring presser-foot by the side of 
the needle, to hold the work 
down. {Now in general use.) 

* * * 

r * * * 

# * * * * 

* * * * * 

An adjustable arm for holding the 
bobbin containing the needle- 
thread. {Noiv obsolete.) 

, 3 , 

A single acting treadle. {Now ob- I A double acting treadle. {New in 
solete.) I universal use.) 

' 9 

An eye-pointed needle. (Invented I Aii eye pointed needle. (Invented 
BY Walter Hunt.) I by Walter Hunt.) 

Great Oaks from Little Acorns. 23 

The tests of time and actual service have been applied 
to the original features of both machines, and these, at 
least, know no favoritism. It matters not in these tests 
how broad or loud is the claim of any man ; history may 
be blinded for a time, but the "survival of the fittest" is 
the inexorable law in useful inventions. 

None of the devices used by the man who claims to 
have " invented the sewing machine " can be found in any 
successful shuttle machine to-day. Thirty years of actual 
service have swept away every vestige of Howe's original 
machine except the eye-pointed needle, invented twelve 
years before by Walter Hunt, and used by both Singer and 
Howe. Meanwhile every feature of Singer's original ma- 
chine has been adopted by every successful machine builder 
of the class to which these machines belonged, with the 
single and unimportant exception of the adjustable arm; 
and in nearly every case when a device of Howe's has been 
found worthless, and been abandoned, it was Singer's 
device which was substituted, as the foregoing table ex- 
plicitly shows. In the clear light of such facts it is not 
difficult to understand to whom the world is really indebted 
for the inestimable boon of the sewing machine. 



tTARTING with a capital of forty dollars, and that 
borrowed from another man, this poor mechanic 
launched upon the stormy sea of commercial life. 
Y Discouragements and disappointments met him at 
I every turn. People had learned to look upon the 
Sewing Machine very much as we look upon the " Keely 
Motor." Every man who pretended to have a working 
machine was considered an impostor. Thousands had 

24 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

bought machines on the faith of inventors' statements, 
which they were obliged to throw aside as useless. Whoever 
now attempted to introduce the Sewing Machine must face 
all the consequences of previous failures, and this Mr. 
Singer quickly learned to his sorrow. Everywhere he 
found people imwilling to believe that a successful sewing 
machine had actually been built, and repeatedly he was 
shown to the door the moment he had stated his business. 

Mr. Blodgett advised him to give up manufacturing, 
and sell territorial rights. He said he was a tailor by 
trade and knew more about sewing than Singer possibly 
could ; that the Blodgett machine had been the leading 
machine in the market, and he covild rest assured that 
" sewing machines would never come into use." 

Still the undaunted mechanic struggled on in poverty, 
bearing up under reverses and disappointments, resolved 
to force an unwilling public to recognize the fact that a 
successful sewing machine could and actually had been 
made. Slowly he gained ground ; gradually he obtained 
access to the public ear ; by degrees he induced people to 
at least give his machines a test. A few hundred dollars 
borrowed from friends expedited the work of introduction, 
and just as the skies seemed to brighten, a new and for- 
midable trouble appeared. The news that Singer had 
made a machine which Avould actually do continuous 
stitching brought Elias Howe, Jr., to his door with the 
patent he had obtained upon another man's invention (as 
before stated), who claimed that Singer infringed his patent, 
and must pay him the modest sum of ^25,000 or quit the 
business. It did not take long for a man who had recently 
borrowed forty dollars to begin business, to decline pay- 
ing twenty-live thousand dollars tribute-money, and the 
consequence was that Singer found himself burdened with 
litigation that threatened to swamp him. 

At this juncture he called in the aid of Mr. Edward 

26 The Story of ike Sewing Machine. 

Clark, whose recognized legal and financial skill were 
taxed to the utmost to prevent the utter ruin of the in- 
ventor. Mr. Clark became an equal partner, and business 
was thenceforward conducted under the firm name of 
"I. M. Singer & Co." 

Other inventors were stimulated by Singer's success to 
vigorous efforts at making machines of practical utility, 
and the consequence was a series of infringements upon 
existing patents, resulting in a perfect epidemic of litiga- 
tion. Principal among the litigants was Elias Howe, Jr., 
whose patent enabled him to bring all the rest under con- 
tribution, and this he did, sueing right and left for several 
years. The patent of 1846 had made Howe complete master 
of the situation, and enabled him to dictate the formation 
of a combination, by the terms of which licenses were 
issued to manufacturers upon the payment of a heavy 
royalty for each machine manufactured. From this royalty 
Howe received the monstrous stipend of over two mil- 
lions of dollars, not because he had invented anything 
useful to the world, but simply because he had obtained a 
patent upon the inventions of another man ! 

From the outset, Singer & Co. resisted, at great ex- 
pense, the demands and pretensions of Howe, fighting 
single-handed the battle of the inventors and the great 
world which was waiting for cheap machines. Howe was 
endeavoring to establish a monopoly, strong and compact, 
which meant dear machines to the Aveary-fingered Avomen 
who were still singing the dreary " Song of the Shirt ;" 
Singer & Co. were struggling to throw the business open 
to fair and honest competition at moderate prices. For 
three years the unequal contest was continued against the 
monopoly. All the other manufacturers had yielded to 
Howe at the first, and were conducting their business 
without interruption under his licenses. They viewed the 
contest between Howe and Singer & Co. much as the 

28 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

traditional frontiersman's wife regarded a terrible struggle 
between her husband and a grizzly, merely remarking 
that " it didn't make much odds to her which won, but 
she allers loved to see a right lively fight." If Singer & 
Co. won, all the others would reap the full benefit of the 
victory without cost to themselves ; if Howe should win, 
they would be no worse off than they were before, and he 
would probably cripple their most formidable competitor. 
Meanwhile the business of Singer & Co. was suffering 
every possible obstrviction, while that of their competitors, 
now wholly uninterrupted, was making great strides. 

At last, in May, 1854, self-preservation dictated a witli- 
drawal from such a contest, and an agreement was made 
by Avhich Singer & Co. were to pay Howe a royalty upon 
each machine manufactured by them. Thus was taken the 
last and most important step towards the great Sewing 
Machine Combination, into which Singer & Co, were the 
last to enter, and then only when driven into it for self- 
preservation, after a long and exhaustive drain upon their 
means. In settlement of this suit, Howe received $15,000 
royalty, and the total sum paid to Howe by Mr. Singer and 
his associates, up to 1877, was over a quarter of a million 

By the year 1863, the annual sales of Singer machines 
amounted to 21,000, and agencies were established in the 
principal cities of the United States. In that year the firm 
was merged into an incorporated company, bearing the 
title of " The Singer Manufacturing Company," and both 
the original partners retired from the active management 
of the business, though they remained the heaviest stock- 
holders, and had seats in the Board of Directors. 

In four years' time the yearly sale of machines had more 
than doubled. In tvv^o years more even this large figure 
had been doubled. Two years more and the annual sales 
had again doubled, the sales of that year (187 1), amounting 

Great Oaks from Little Acorns. 29 

to 181,260 machines. In seven years more even this amount 
of business was doubled, the number of Singer machines 
sold in the year 1878 being 356,432. It would seem as 
if the extreme limit of business must now have been 
reached. But still the yearly sale increased, and, in the 
single year, 1879, the world bought the immense number 
of 431,167 Singer vSewing Machines, and, at the time of 
writing, it appears as though even this figure might be sur- 
passed for the year 1880. Three-fourths of all the sev\ung 
machines sold throughout the world in 1879 were " Singers." 
Perhaps no company ever before was officered as the 
Singer Manufacturing Company was at its organization 
in 1863. The business had been originally started by a 
penniless man upon a borrowed capital of forty dollars, 
and had brought to him and his partner a golden harvest. 
Both were now rich, and in stepping out they placed the 
control of the new Company in the hands of men who had 
risen to notice solely by their own merits and exertions. 
The new President, Mr. Inslee A. Hopper, had been an 
entry clerk with I. M. Singer & Co.; the Vice-President and 
General Manager was found in the person of Mr. George 
R. McKenzie, who had been a joiner and cabinet maker for 
the old firm at eleven and a half dollars a week. He was 
a hard-working mechanic, whose solid business worth and 
prodigious ability as an organizer and an executive took 
him by degrees to the post of General Manager of a busi- 
ness giving employment to forty thousand men, which post 
he fills to-day with eminent and acknowledged skill. The 
Secretary was Dr. Alexander F. Sterling, a physician of 
New York City, who possessed an unusual tact for busi- 
ness; and the Treasurer's post was assigned to Mr. William 
F. Proctor, who had spent years at a machinist's bench, 
and whose practical judgment and skill in mechanics are 
important elements to this day in the management of the 

30 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

In 1876 Mr. Hopper resigned, and Mr. Edward Clark 
was unanimously called to the Presidency of the Com- 
pany, and the active management of the business to whose 
early days he had devoted his abilities with such signal 

Nor are these the only instances where men have risen 
from the ranks to high position in the Singer Company. 
Many years ago, when the old firm was battling with 
poverty, Mr. Singer sent a bright, energetiCj but poor young 
man, to New Haven, Conn., to open an office and try to 
establish a business in Singer machines, saying to him, 
''Jim, we will send you all the machines you want, but 
not a cent of money." It was the practical application of 
the polite Southern phrase, " Root, hog, or die." The 
young man fought his way to business Avith desperate 
energy, and to-day is manager of the Central Office at 
Chicago, having a district covering several States and Ter- 
ritories, and has, within a single year, sold over two million 
dollars worth of Singer Sewing Machines. 

Another young man, who worked as a clerk at six 
dollars a week in this same New Haven office, is now 
manager of the imm.ense office at London, which manages 
the Company's business in Great Britain and Ireland, 
France, Spain, and Western Europe generally, also Af- 
rica, Australia, South America and the British Possessions 
of Asia. 

Not many years since, a bright German boy was em- 
ployed in the factory, carrying water for the men and 
doing odd jobs. He did his trivial duties well, however; 
so well that he was rapidly pushed forward. Step by step 
he was promoted, and now is manager of the great Singer 
office at Hamburg, Germany, which does a vast business 
throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and is pushing its 
way into Western Asia. Like the others, he began without 
friends or influence, and has won his present proud posi- 

32 The Stoi'v of the Seioing Machine. 

tion by faithful adhesion to duty in the humblest post, by 
modest energy and strict integrity. 

The Central Office managers at Cincinnati and St. 
Louis, each doing a large business and entrusted vrith 
great interests and responsibilities, began at the lowest 
round of the ladder, and have climbed unaided to their 
present positions. Surely there has been no royal road 
to position in this remarkable company. 

It is doubtful if the history of the entire Avorld can fur- 
nish an instance in which any single house, doing a legiti- 
mate business, has had a growth so stupendous within an 
equal length of time. The reader will remember that 
Arrowsmith, the purchaser of Hunt's first machine, failed 
to patent tlie invention because, among other reasons, it 
would require "at least three thousand dollars " to begin 
the business of manufacturing and selling sewing machines. 
Little did he dream that within thirty years a single com- 
pany would have millions of dollars invested in the 
manufacture of one form of sewing machine ! Arrow- 
smith urged for his fatal delay in procuring the patent 
to which he was then entitled, that the fees were so 
heavy — some $60 ! And now one company spends thou- 
sands of dollars annually in the various forms of adver- 
tising ! 

Still another reason urged by this enterprising smithy 
was that he " had other business." Yet, within thirty years 
a single company finds itself with over ten thousand em- 
ployes under regular salaries or wages, and thirty thousand 
more working the whole or part of the time on commis- 
sion. And this Company, investing many millions of 
money in its business, spending thousands every year 
in advertising, employing some forty thousand persons, 
eight thousand horses, and having its own locomotive and 
steamboat busy in transporting its machines and materials 
between New York and its great factory at Elizabeth, is, 

34 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

as the reader may have surmised, The Singer Manufac- 
turing Company. 

Its system of agencies embraces the entire civilized 
world, and even pushes its outposts across the boundaries 
into semi-civilized lands. All of the United States and 
Canada are covered with this grand network of agencies; 
Mexico, the West Indies, and South America are familiar 
with the name "Singer." Every nook and corner of Eu- 
rope knows the song of this tireless Singer, too, and so do 
the colonized portions of Africa, Asia, and Australasia. 
An immense business is done in Singer machines in Aus- 
tralia ; thriving agencies and sub-agencies may be found 
throughout China, Japan, and the Islands of the Indian 
Ocean. Calcutta has a large business in Singer machines, 
and even Cape Town and Transvaal, in South Africa, are 
giving the Singer agents an increasingly large patronage. 

On every sea are floating the Singer Machines ; along 
every road pressed by the foot of civilized man this tire- 
less ally of the world's great sisterhood is going upon 
its errand of helpfulness. Its cheering tune is understood 
no less by the sturdy German matron than by the slender 
Japanese maiden ; it sings as intelligibly to the flaxen- 
haired Russian peasant-girl as to the dark-eyed Mexican 
Senorita. It needs no interpreter, whether it sings amid 
the snows of Canada or upon the pampas of Paraguay; the 
Hindoo mother and the Chicago maiden are to-night 
making the self-same stitch ; the untiring feet of Ireland's 
fair-skinned Nora are driving the same treadle with the 
tiny understandings of China's tawny daughter ; and thus 
American machines, American brains, and American 
money are bringing the vyomen of the whole world into 
one universal kinship and sisterhood. 

The Principal Office of the Company is finely located 
in New York City, overlooking Union Square. From this 
office the general business of the Company is directed all 

36 The Story of tJic Sewing Machine. 

over the world. The American business is transacted from 
twenty-five centres, located in the larger cities, such as 
Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Pittsburgh, 
New Orleans, Richmond, Cincinnati, St. Louis, etc. Each 
Central Office is controlled by a manager, under whose di- 
rection Branch Offices are located tliroughout the territory 
assigned to his care. Under the Branch Office agent, again, 
are located subordinate offices in every town or village 
within his district where business seems to warrant it. 
The territory controlled by a Central Office often em- 
braces an entire State, and, in some cases, several States. 
In other instances two or more Central Offices are located 
within the same State. While the Central Office manager 
is charged with the general direction of all his Branches, 
and the Branch Office agent with the care and management 
of all his subordinate offices, yet the reader should not 
suppose these superior offices to be nothing but a sort of 
head-quarters for the officers of higher rank. Every Cen- 
tral Office is equipped with its force of canvassers, collec- 
tors, etc., and is expected to accomplish as much of the 
actual work of canvassing and selling as though it were 
the only office the Company ever opened. The same is 
expected of the Branch Office, and woe to that manager 
who cannot do duty as a private soldier, and make his 
own office an example in all respects to the smallest 
" sub !" It were better for him that the General Manager 
had never been born ! The Canadian business is similarly 
managed from two Central Offices : one at Montreal, the 
other at Toronto. All these twenty-seven Central Offices 
report to New York, and receive their instructions direct 
from the officers of the Company. 

The London office has immense interests confided to 
its care, as before stated. The South American business 
is managed from London, principally because England 
enjoys facilities of communication with that continent 

38 TJie Stoi'y of tJie Sewing Machine. 

which even Yankee enterprise has thus far neglected to 
secure for our own country. 

The business of Middle and Northern Europe and of 
Western Asia is managed from the Hamburg office, which, 
like the London office, makes a consolidated report to the 
principal office in New York. The total number of the 
Company's offices throughout the world is over 4,500, of 
which over one-third arc in the United States. 

The foregoing are but a few of the interesting details of 
the organization and management of this remarkable Com- 
pany, It is doubtful if any public or private corporation 
in the world can show so complete an organization. No 
bank is more scrupulously exact in every detail ; no army 
has a more systematic discipline. And while such a com- 
plete system is necessary to prevent so enormous a busi- 
ness, covering so much ground, from falling to pieces by its 
own weight, yet it is also true that the very completeness 
and compactness of this organization are themselves the 
best possible guarantees for the permanence and indefinite 
prosperity of this gigantic corporation. 


^x\UR lady friends may like to know how and where 

441 the " Singer " was made which has done such valued 

^; service in their homes, and as it is a most natural 

V desire, Ave are glad to be able to gratify the same. 

: We, therefore, cordially invite all who feel disposed 

to come along while we take a hurried, but, we hope, 

interesting glance at the various parts of this mammoth 


Leaving the City of New York by the New Jersey 

40 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

Central Railroad, we dash through a dozen pretty Jersey 
villages, cross Newark Bay upon a bridge which lacks 
but a few feet of being two miles long, rush past the 
walls of the great Singer Factory, and alight at the Eliza- 
bethport Station, just beyond. This is one of the seven 

railroad depots of the beautiful 
^^ City of Elizabeth, New Jersey. 

r^ Looking back down the track, 

we see a finely laid-out park, with 
well-kept walks, handsome shrub- 
bery and trees, and a profusion 
of flowers, in the centre of which 
stands a large fountain. This is 
the private park of the Factory, 
and is by far the handsomest in 
the city. The Singer Company 
bought an entire block in front 
of the Factory, and transformed 
it into a park which they main- 
tain at their own expense. Be- 
yond " Singer Park " loom 

'^^#^=e^, the massive proportions of the 


Singer Factory, four floors high, the upper story having a 
massive Mansard roof. The building is built of brick, 
iron and slate, with iron beams and girders, and is proof 
against those conflagrations which so often destroy human 
life in large manufactories. The front is constructed of 

The Great Factory. 41 

handsome pressed brick, and the structure is adorned with 
a tower in which a large clock shows the " hours as they 
fly " to all the neighborhood. 

Passing through the light and handsome offices, we 
find ourselves in what at first sight appears to be another 
park, shut in on three sides by long lines of high build- 
ings. This is, however, not designed for a park, but is 
nothing more than the superbly-kept Factory Yard, em- 
bracing ten or twelve acres. Asphalt walks run down and 


across, connecting the various buildings that skirt the 
yard with each other, and with the dock at its foot. 
Beside and between the walks, every square foot of ground 
in this immense yard has been seeded with grass, whose 
green and well-kept borders are here and there fringed 
with shrubs and flowers. The walks are neatly kept, and 
though over two thousand workmen tramp daily through 
the yard, vve will not see a bit of dirt as big as a filbert 

42 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

anywhere.* Up and down run railroad tracks from the 
main gate to the dock, with branch tracks to each shop 
door. These tracks aggregate over five miles in length, 
and are in constant use in bringing coal, iron, and lumber 
from the Central Railroad track outside, or the dock at 
the foot of the yard, or carrying car loads of machines to 
one or the other outlet. For this purpose the Company 
owns a locomotive, the " I. M. Singer," which puffs away 
busily at its work from morning till night. Here are long 
sheds, beneath which cars are being loaded with Singer 
machines for Chicago, St. Louis, or San Francisco. There 
are long trestles opposite the foundry doors, upon which 
coal cars, direct from Pennsylvania mines, are pushed by 
the "I. M. Singer," and their contents deposited "where 
they will do the most good." Iron, sand, and lumber cars 
are sent similarly to the exact spot where they are to be 
worked up, and so an immense cost of handling is saved. 
At the dock, which lies along Staten Island Sound nearly 
a thousand feet, the Company's steamer " Edward Clark," 
is taking on board a cargo of machines for New York 
City, or perhaps for some European steamship lying in 
New York Bay. 

Taking it for granted that all women are methodical, 
we must ask our fair visitors to go with us to the foot of 
the yard, and begin studying the manufacture of sewing 
machines just where the manufacturer is obliged to begin 
making them — at the foundry-. 

Passing the great piles of pig-iron and the greater heaps 
of coal, we enter the foundries. Upon yonder high plat- 

* An amusing instance recently occurred in a Southern State of the use to 
which these grass plats could be put by persons whose tender consciences would 
not permit outright lying. A man interested in selling a cheap imitation " Singer," 
sent a letter to a Southern paper, enclosing a spear of grass which, he said, he 
'"had plucked in the yard of the Singer Factory," as evidence that the Singer Com- 
pany was falling into decay, and its great factory being overgrown with grass and 

TJie Great Factory, 

great lumps of coal into the 

blazing, roaring mouth of a 

fiery furnace ; and presently 

they stop throwing in coal, 

and begin to pitch in heavy 

bars of pig-iron, while the 

furnace hisses aloud with its 

fervent heat till it reminds us of Nebuchadnezzar's. At 

the foot of this furnace or "cupola" two or three men are 

catching the molten iron in a huge pot on wheels which, 

44 ^/^<? Story of the Sewing Machine. 

when full, is drawn to another part of the foundry, and 
there another lot of men surround it, their hand ladles are 
poured full, and away they hurry with their hot and hea\'y 
burden to fill the long rows of moulds which cover the 
floor. Four such cupolas are breathing out great blasts of 

fire at their tops, and running streams of fier}^ liquid iron 
at their bases. Three of them have a capacity for melting 
eight tons of iron each per hour, and the other converts 
six tons of pig-iron into liquid each hour. The morning 

The Great factory. 45 

hours are occupied by the moulders in making moulds in 
sand of the various parts to be cast ; and for about two 
hours in the afternoon the cupolas send out their sparkling 
streams, and the men fill the moulds with molten iron. 
When sufficiently cooled, the moulds of sand are knocked 
to pieces and the iron taken out and thrown into piles 
about the floor, while the sand is shoveled up and moistened 
for another day's moulding. Four hvindred men are em- 
ployed in this immense foundry, which melts up sixty-five 
tons of iron every day in the week. The ground floor of 
the foundry has an area of over fwo acres. Imagine a two- 
acre field filled every day with iron castings of Singer 
sewing machines ! 

And this is only a part of the iron work composing the 
machine. Much of the machine is composed of steel and 
wrought iron, which starts on its trip from the Forging 
Shop, instead of the Foundry. The portions cast in the 
foundry embrace the machine legs or " stands," the " arm " 
and "bed," the balance-wheel, band-wheel and a few minor 
parts. These parts, after cooling and being removed from 
the moulds, are taken to the Rumbling Room, 50 feet wide 
and 200 feet long, and put into revolving barrels filled with 
small five-pointed cast iron stars, which tumble about the 
barrels among the castings for hours together, and by 
the constant friction v/ear off all the sand and roughness. 

The machine legs or stands then go to the Drilling 
Room, where the screw-holes are drilled out, and thence 
to the Japanning Room, where a set of grimy men, in half 
undress costume, souse them into a vat of liquid japan, 
after which they are put into great brick ovens, and left 
for several days for the japan to thoroughly bake and 
harden. This gives them a handsome, black, glossy finish 
and prevents rust. The other cast-iron parts are similarly 
treated, except the *' arm " and "bed;" these, after being 
firmly secured together, are japanned and scoured down ; 

46 The Story of the Seiving Machine. 

then japanned again, and again scoured down. A third 
japanning and scouring is then given and they go to the 
Ornamenting Room, of which we shall see something 
shortly. The wheels, and other parts which work against 
other portions of the machine, go before japanning to the 
Milling Department, an immense shop 1,250 feet long, upon 
two floors, and 50 feet wide, where they are put upon a 
lathe and shaved off with steel knives to the exactness of 
a hair. 

Next above the Rumbling Room we come to the Forg- 
ing Shop. Here numbers of great drop hammers are 
stamping out, at a single blow, the steel and wrought iron 
parts of the machines. These hammers weigh from three 
hundred to fifteen hundred pounds each. They are made 
with a "die" on their face, and the bed or anvil on which 
they drop has a corresponding die, so that a bar of hot 
iron held on the anvil is, by a single blow of the falling 
hammer, converted into a shuttle, a feed driver or a com- 
pletely formed lever. Even the shuttle, which looks so 
much like a little boat, is made with a single blow of a 
huge drop hammer, which converts a square bar of iron 
in an instant of time into a perfectly formed shuttle. It is 
afterwards taken to another room, where another machine, 
with just one vigorous pusJi, forces the shuttle through a 
sharp-edged aperture in a steel die, which trims off all 
unevenness and every bit of steel that may have projected 
beyond the edges of the die in the drop hammer. In 
another room the shuttle is drilled Avith holes for the 
thread ; in another it is polished on an emery wheel, and 
in yet another is fitted with the little check spring, and 
then, after receiving the bobbin, it is ready for service in 
your Singer machine. The Forging Shop is 423 feet long 
and 50 feet wide. 

Leaving the Milling Department, each article is passed 
to the Inspection Department for " Parts," where every 

The Gi'cat Factoiy. 

piece or " part " is ex- 
amined and measured 
with an accurately 
made steel gauge, and 
only such as are found 
to be exact and true 
to the thousandth part 
of an inch, are permit- 
STOCK ROOM. ted to go on to the 

Stock Room. The rejected parts (and such is the accu- 
racy of the machinery that these are comparatively few) 
go again into the furnace to be made over from the begin- 
ning. It is largely owing to the impartial rigidity of these 

48 The Story of the Sewiiig Alachine. 

inspections that the Singer machine has become so famous 
for evenness of Avork and for immunity from the periodical 
" fits " of misbehaving which so often afflict machines of 
other makes. 

And so the Singer Company makes no second grade 
articles, and puts nothing but the very best material and 
workmanship into any of its machines, finding, by practical 
experience, that it pays to put just as good parts into its 
cheapest as into the highest priced pearled and ornament- 
ed cabinet machine. Indeed, the only difference between 
the cheapest genuine Singer and the most costly machine 
is in the finish, decorations and cabinet work. All the 
working parts are exactly the same. 

The carefully inspected parts, after passing muster, are 
sent to the General Stock Room, Avhere long rows of cases, 
extending nearly to the high ceiling, receive each sort into 
its appropriate box or shelf. Thence they are distributed 
in due proportions to the Assembling Department when 
called for. The Stock Room is 50 feet wide and 180 feet 

Our fair friends will remember that we left the machine 
heads and bed plates in the Japanning Room, being scovired 
down after japanning. We must go back to them in order 
to keep up the connection. After being carefully scoured, 
the heads are sent to the Ornamenting Department, where 
skillful workmen pencil out, with a fine camel's hairbrush, 
the designs of flowers and scroll work which ornament 
that portion of the machine which rests upon the table. 
The rapidity with which these pretty and often intricate 
designs are traced is wonderful. Look at your machine at 
home ; observe all the gilded ornamentation and design, 
and then fancy a man doing such a machine head " off- 
hand," without the least guide for hand or brush, at the 
rate of 100 machines a day ! As quickly as the penciling is 
done the machine is seized by another man, holding in his 

TJie Grcal Factory. 49 

hand a book of gold leaf, which he deftly lays over every 
pencil-line. The gold leaf firmly adheres to the "sizing" 

laid on by the brush and 

the rest is rubbed off by a 

single touch of another 

man who passes a piece 

of soft cotton batting over 

it. The whole is then 

varnished with the best 

quality of v/hite varnish 

and placed in a huge 

oven, where it bakes till it has become perfectly dry, hard 

and glossy. The Ornamenting Room is 125 feet long and 

75 feet wide. 


50 The Story of the Sewing Mae/ime. 

The larger parts of the machine having now been 
japanned and ornamented, are brought to the "Assembling 
Room," and at the same time the small working parts are 
brought from the Stock Room, and here all these parts 
are "assembled," or brought together, and each placed in 
its proper position within or upon the machine head. Each 
of these parts has been so nicely fitted, and so accurately- 
worked by the machinery which made it, that when the 
numerous and varying pieces come together in the assem- 
bling process, it requires little and often no adjustment 
whatever, and each fits in the place made for it, resulting 
in a complete and harmonious whole. Connecting with 
this Department is the Adjusting Department, where long 
rows of machines on benches arc being run by steam at a 
very high rate of speed. This is yet another of the many 
testing processes through which your family " Singer " has 
gone in order to insure the absolute perfection of its work- 
ing parts. Up and down these long rows of humming 
machines, skillful and patient mechanics are passing, nar- 
rowly watching each machine to see if it runs smoothly and 
properly. If a wheel revolves unevenly here, or a " bear- 
ing " pinches or is too loose there, back goes the machine 
to have the deficiency remedied, after which it must again 
pass the same ordeal. The Assembling and Adjusting 
Departments are 50 feet wide, and occupy a length of 
1,100 feet on two floors. The views in these rooms cannot 
be adequately described, and we therefore give our readers 
accurate full page representations of the same. 

Next comes the Machine Inspection Department, 200 
feet long and 50 feet wide. Here the machines are again 
inspected by competent artisans, and if perfect in every 
respect are passed over to long rows of girls, Avho put them 
through the further test of stitching, and see that they are 
capable of producing an absolutely perfect stitch. Over 
fiity girls are constantly employed in this particular work. 

5 2 The Story of the Sewing Machine, 

The next process is what is technically known as " set- 
ting up." The Setting Up Department is 460 feet long 
and 60 feet wide, and here the stands and tables are put 
together and placed in long rows ; the complete machine 
head is properly fastened in its place, the belts and treadle 
are adjusted, and the machine stands on its table ready for 

Only one more operation is necessary for transporta- 
tion, and that is packing or crating the machine. This is 
all done in the Shipping Department, which is 230 feet long 
by 60 feet Avide. The boxes and crates have already been 
completely made up in the Box Shop, and nothing remains 
but to put the machine into the box or crate, as the case 
may be, drive three or four nails, mark the package with a 
Stencil plate for its proper destination, on New England's 
shores, on the great prairies of the West, amid the savannas 
of the South, or, perhaps, across the seas, lower it upon 
the elevator to the great shed, where it is loaded upon 
the cars. If its route lies via New York, it is placed upon 
a platform car, which the Company's own locomotive, 
the " I. M. Singer," draws to the dock to be shipped on 
board the Company's boat, the " Edward Clark." 

A few parts of the machine require to be smoothly 
polished in order to secure the very best working capacity, 
and these are sent to the Polishing Room, which is a study 
of itself. Black wheels of all sizes are here revolving with 
great speed; some are rolling around on a horizontal axis, 
some are whizzing rapidly on a perpendicular axis, and 
from all of them the streams of fiery sparks are flying in 
unceasing currents, throwing the grimy room and the dark- 
ened forms of the busy workmen into a still darker back- 
ground. This Department is 125 feet long and 50 feet wide. 

Another room is devoted to the manufacture of the 
steel springs used in the machine. In another large de- 
partment, 200 feet long, screws are being made by auto- 

54 The Story of the Sewing Machi7te. 

matic machinery. In another room, loo feet long, the tools 
are made and repaired, and here a large force of skilled 
workmen is constantly employed. In still another room, 
filled with electro baths, the silver plated attachments are 
covered with their silver coats. 

The Button Hole Department is 150 feet long and 50 
feet wide, and here the new Singer Button Hole Machine 
is put together. This is an intricate and wonderful piece 
of mechanism, by which an expert operator can make 
from 1,500 to 2,200 button holes a day, and sew the same 
thoroughly. This machine has but recently been intro- 
duced into general use, but has come rapidly into favor 
with manufacturers, especially tailors and makers of shoe 
uppers. It makes and works a complete button hole in 
cither cloth or leather, and has come so extensively into 
favor that the Button Hole Department has outgrown its 
original quarters, and must be considerably enlarged. 
This, indeed, is true of almost every Department in the 
entire factory. When this great establishment was built, 
in 1873, it was thought a good week's work to turn out 
4,000 complete machines ; but at this time its weekly 
product is upwards of 8,000 complete machines. Besides 
these, the Singer Company's other factory at Glasgow, 
Scotland, is turning out between 4,000 and 5,000 complete 
machines each week, and yet the offices throughout the 
United States and Canada are complaining of the injury 
their business receives because they cannot get enough 
machines. The factory at the time of writing is largely 
behind its orders. Enlargements of various departments 
have been made from time to time, but the demand is yet 
far ahead of the capacity for production. 

The Needle Department is one of the most interesting 
features of the entire establishment. Here a coil of steel 
wire of fine quality is put into a machine, which straight- 
ens, then grooves it on both sides above and below the 

The Great Factory. 55 

spot where the eye of the needle should be, and cuts it to 
proper length. A girl then takes a handful of needles, 
and, feeding them into a machine, punches the needle eye 
at a single blow. Then they are ground down to a point ; 
after which they are tempered, and then the inside of the 
needle eye is polished out to prevent its cutting the thread. 
The whole needle is finally polished, and nothing more 
then remains but counting the shining bits of steel and 
packing them away in boxes for the trade. The Needle 
Department gives employment to 100 men and 50 women. 

Below the main building is a three-story brick build- 
ing 200 feet long, in which the cabinet work is partly done. 
The Company has a large factory at South Bend, Indiana, 
where most of the black walnut tables, covers, and cabinet 
cases are made. Portions of these are sent to Elizabeth- 
port in a partly finished condition, and all such receive 
their finishing in this shop. 

Still below is another similar building, the " Box 
Shop," where some sixty men are employed in making the 
packing boxes and crates in which the machines are 
shipped from the factory. The Box Shop cuts up for this 
purpose no less than 300,000 feet of pine and spruce lumber 
every month. 

To run this immense establishment, six stationary steam 
engines are required, which have a combined strength of 
one thousand horse power. It takes twenty-two boilers, 
averaging seventy-five horse power each, to furnish the 
steam for running these engines and heating the buildings. 
The floors of the buildings have a combined area equal to 
thirteen acres of ground ; and every square foot of the en- 
tire area is in constant use. The whole premises, includ- 
ing the fine dockage, covers no less than thirty-two acres 
of ground. 

Such, in brief, is the factory where your Singer ma- 
chine was made, dear reader. It is believed to be the 


The Story of the Sewi7ig Machine. 

most complete, systematic, and best-equipped in the world. 
It is believed to be the largest establishment in the world 
devoted to the manufacture of a single article. It gives 
employment to over 2,300 men and women, and when it 
"shuts down" to take the annual account of stock, it 
takes 200 men to do it ; and this they call " shutting up 
the factory !" The men are paid off every Monday, instead 
of every Saturday, and thus in more than one family the 
wife and children have had cause to bless the kind fore- 

thought which removed temptation from the path of some 
easily persuaded man, and saved him and his week's earn- 
ings to themselves. 

The Singer operatives are among the most thrifty of 
mechanics. In every case of injury to any of its em- 
ployes, the Company has dealt with great generosity, and 
many are the households from which much of the black 
shadow caused by sickness has been chased by the sub- 
stantial aid it has afforded. Nor do the hands leave this 
work alone to their employers. Hardly a man is stricken 

The Reason Why. 57 

by disease among their ranks but his comrades interest 
tiiemselves in his case ; and if pecuniary aid is required, 
the subscription list goes around till every want is sup- 
plied at the sick man's home. 

These kindly offices are not confined even to these 
ample limits. When" the ghastly Yellow Fever Spectre 
was carrying dismay and death throughout the Southern 
States, the employes of this great factory made up, in less 
than four days, the splendid sum of $4,100, and sent it out 
on its errand of mercy to men whom they had never seen 
nor known. 

The factory hands have organized among themselves 
several very creditable associations. One is a fine Rifle 
Team, to which the Company contributed a handsome 
badge for an annual prize ; another is a Brass Band of 
excellent reputation, besides several Ball Clubs having 
very good records. 



fHERE is a valid reason for everything in this world, 
whether we are able to find it or not, and for all this 
wonderful growth and Aladdin-like success there is a 
TT reason too. In 1872, when the great Chicago fire had 
: impoverished thousands of the residents of that city, 
the Relief Committee undertook to furnish sewing ma- 
chines to all the needy sewing-girls who might apply. 
Each girl was permitted to choose her machine from 
among the sixteen different kinds kept by the Committee. 
The total number of women who took machines was 2,944, 
and of this number 2,427 chose Singer machines, and the 
other 517 women distributed their choice among the fifteen 

58 The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

other kinds of machines. These poor women expected to 
earn their living on these machines, and there must have 
been some reason why such an overwhelming majority of 
them took "Singers" instead of machines of other make, 
each of which was loudly proclaimed by its manufacturers 
to be the "best in the world." 

The Singer Machines have been awarded the first pre- 
mium over all others more than two hundred times, at 
great World's Fairs, at State Fairs, and at County Fairs 
in every part of the United States. 

As we have before stated, three-quarters of all the 
sewing machines sold throughout the world in 1879 were 
" Singers," and there must be a reason for that. When 
any one style of machine, used in millions of homes, leads 
all the other kinds to such an extent as that, there must 
be some way of accounting for it all, and if our readers 
choose to read on they will shortly discover why. 

An interesting fact in this connection was related to 
the writer recently by Mr. Galland, a large manufacturer 
of ladies' garments, whose factories are located at Scran- 
ton, Pennsylvania. The Gallands use several hundred 
sewing machines in their factories, operating them by 
steam. They had machines of many different makers 
originally, but gradually, as these machines wore out, 
had been replacing them with " Singers." The reason 
assigned was that they had noticed, from time to time, 
that when a Singer machine became vacant, the girls who 
worked on machines of other kinds were clamorous to 
obtain the Singer and leave their own ; and, when ma- 
chines of other make were vacant, the girls were full of 
excuses for not taking them, but seemed desirous of 
waiting for the next vacancy, in hope of getting a 
" Singer." These observations led to inquiry from their 
master mechanic, who explained that the girls working 
on "Singers" lost less time in repairing, and in those 

6o The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

peculiar sewing machine " fits," than the girls who oper- 
ated other machines. At this point the pay rolls were 
consulted by the inquiring proprietors, and there the 
Avhole secret lay exposed to view ; for the work was paid 
for by the piece, and the rolls showed that the girls oper- 
ating Singer machines were earning from one dollar to 
two-and-a-half dollars a Aveek more than the other oper- 
ators ! 

Here then is the open secret of the Singer Machine's 
favor with the people. It is so simple that a child can 
understand it; it is so strong that a bungler can hardly 
get it out of order, and every part (as we have seen) is 
made with such scrupulous exactness out of the best ma- 
terials, fitted in its place to the thousandth part of an inch, 
and tested and re-tested so many times before it is permitted 
to leave the factory, that it does not get the " fits " which 
try a woman's patience, destroy the fruits of her labor, and 
consume her time in vexing attempts to coax the machine 
back to duty. A gentleman wrote to the Company quite 
recently that he had a Singer Machine bought twenty-three 
years ago, and in use all that time, which sews perfectly 

Many people sit bewildered by the immensity of the 
Sewing Machine trade, and wonder what becomes of all the 
machines. The answer is very simple. If the trade is large, 
the world is larger still. Carefully prepared statistics show 
that the entire world contains at the present time not over 
six million sewing machines, good, bad, and indifferent. 
The United States alone contain nearly ten million families. 
But fully one million machines are not in homes but in 
factories, operated by steam, driven at the highest possible 
speed, and consequently wearing out in a few years. 
Therefore, if all the machines in the world were brought 
here they would supply only half the families of our own 
land. The civilized countries of the globe, where sewing 

The Reason Why. 6i 

machines are now being introduced, have over seventy- 
million families, not including China, Japan and India, 
where a trade is being rapidly developed. In a word, the 
sewing machine is now being offered to a population of not 
far from a hundred million families, and the world con- 
tains not more than six per cent, of the number of ma- 
chines necessary to supply them, without considering the 
enormous consumption of machines in shops and factories. 
It is plain, from these figures, that great as the trade has 
grown from the small beginning, it is yet in its infancy. 
Nevertheless, it has proved, except in a few instances, one 
of the most hazardous of enterprises. Probably as much 
money has been lost in the sewing machine business as has 
been made. The introduction of steam into manufactures 
and commerce has wrought changes so marked and rapid 
that none but keen and careful stvidents of their own 
times could keep track of them, and thousands of good 
men have gone down because they had not considered the 
new elements introduced, particularly into manufacturing 
industries, by steam and improved machinery. These have 
brought in a subdivision of labor which our forefathers 
scarcely dreamed about, and v/hich we have seen in our 
trip through the factory. It is almost incredible what 
speed a mechanic acquires whose task consists in perform- 
ing one single brief operation, and repeating it over and 
over a hundred times an hour for months and years. We 
watched, with wondering interest, a man varnishing the 
under surface of the machine bed-plate. The space to be 
varnished was about a square foot in area, filled with ob- 
structions and angles, every one of which must be touched 
with his brush. The operation was reduced to an exact 
science. His left hand caught the machine arm in just 
such a place every time ; his brush went into the pot in 
just such a way ; just so many sweeps it gave this way, 
exactly so many that way, and with precisely such a toss 


The Story of the Sewing Machine. 

every time it was spun across the table to his assistant. 
Spring and summer, fall and winter, that man did nothing 
but wipe that brush just so many times across that square 

foot of iron, and 
he did it with a 
precision and rap- 
idity that was 
marvelovis. The 
quickest painter 
we ever saw could 
not do one ma- 
chine while he 
would finish five. 
And this is but 
a type of several 
hundred different 


operations into 
which labor is subdivided here, and which, by such sub- 
division, is so cheapened that employers whose capital and 

The Reason Why. 63 

business will warrant it, can pay labor a good price and 
yet drive out competitors who are without large capital, 
large business and skill to use the advantages which are 
thus available. On this rock many sewing machine manu- 
facturers have split without, perhaps, knowing that it was 
only the lack of a large demand for their machines, and 
the absence of a large and well-directed capital which 
v/recked them. In the last few years over fifty sewing 
machine companies have failed, and swamped large nom- 
inal capital in the aggregate. 

The lesson is almost too obvious to justify the form- 
ulating of a prophecy that the sewing machine business of 
the future is likely to concentrate in a comparatively few 
corporations, whose skill, capital and facilities will be 
sufficient to bring out the best machines, made of the best 
materials ; paying their skilled operatives liberal wages, 
and yet enabled, by this sub-division of labor, to offer them 
to the people at a price within the reach of all. 

Such is the story of the Sewing Machine from its paltry 
aPxd inauspicious beginning. Such were the struggles and 
trials of the man to wliose genius the world owes the vast, 
incalculable, and forever accumulating benefits of this 
great invention. And when we try to conceive what the 
world would be to-day if the Sewing Machine and all its 
concomitant blessings were suddenly removed from among 
its inhabitants, we look at this record of his achievements 
and rich triumphs, and rejoice that the common experience 
of inventors was not realized in the Sewing Machine 
invention, but that in this instance, at least, a great 
mechanician lived to see his 



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