When delving into the history of the brother sewing machine, you are almost overwhelmed by a collection of the people credited with its invention. We generally think of Isaac Singer and Elias Howe as having the rights to claim this invention as their own, but when you investigate the details of its history, so many other names pop up as to make it really difficult to know exactly where all the credit should go.
Properly ascribing ownership of the genius behind the sewing machine is not a simple exercise. Over a period of a century, a stream of inventors had a hand in the creation of this device. Some had just a kernel of an idea; others developed a working machine but failed to secure a patent. What is clear, however, is that it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that the mechanized sewing machine for home use gained a following. Both Singer and Howe made millions from their role in its development and made sure that their names will forever be associated with the machine that changed our lives.
The true beginning of the sewing machine came in 1755 when Charles Wiesenthal, a German engineer who lived in England, secured the very first patent for a double pointed needle that had an eye at one end. This was his mechanical device designed to assist in sewing. 45 years would pass, however, before a complete machine to replace hand stitching was devised. in 1790, Thomas Saint, an Englishman, invented the machine. Unfortunately, he was not successful in introducing it to the world and no proof remains that he ever built a real device. It wasn’t until 1874 that sewing machine manufacturer William N. Wilson came across Saint’s drawings in the London Patent Office. He refined the design and built a working model.
Refinements and advances continued throughout the 19th century, with the first widely used machine being invented by Barthelemy Thimmonier in 1829. This French tailor established the world’s first company to produce machine-based clothing and contracted with the Government to make uniforms for the French Army. His factory was soon burned to the ground by tailors who feared losing their jobs to this industrialization.
In 1832, Walter Hunt came up with the first lockstitch machine in America. He developed the device without ever registering a patent. His enthusiasm for his invention waned quickly and he failed to establish a strong presence in the field, making first sewing machine ultimately patented in America the model presented in 1842 by John Greenough.
English inventor John Fisher was the first to effectively bring together the working pieces of 50 years of development, building the modern sewing machine in 1844. Problems with the filing of his patent opened the door to slightly later offerings by Howe and Singer securing history’s recognition as the earliest working modern machine. Singer obtained the legal right to this premier position through winning patent battles in the courts, with the result that when we hear the name Singer, we think “sewing machine.”