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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Singer Sewing Machines

In 1855, American inventor and businessman Isaac Singer patented the sewing machine motor. The Singer company began to market its machines internationally and won first prize at the Paris world's fair that year.

Singer's parents divorced at a young age and Isaac ran away from home to join a traveling stage act called the Rochester Players. After finding work as a joiner and lathe operator, in 1839, Singer obtained his first patent for a machine to drill rock, selling it for $2,000 (over $600k in today's value).

He developed and patented a "machine for carving wood and metal" in 1849 and traveled to Boston to display his invention at the machine shop of Orson C. Phelps. Lerow & Blodgett sewing machines were built and repaired in Phelps' shop and difficult to produce and to use. Phelps asked Singer to take a look at the sewing machines to see how he could improve them. Singer found that the sewing machine would be more reliable if the shuttle moved in a straight line rather than a circle, with a straight rather than a curved needle. In 1851, Singer obtained US Patent number 8294 for his improvements, going on to work on the Singer sewing machine.

While the Singer sewing machine was the first complex standardized technology to be mass marketed, it was not the first sewing machine, leading to a patent battle with Elias Howe, inventor of the lockstitch machine. This eventually resulted in a patent sharing accord among the major firms.

I.M. Singer & Co developed marketing strategies that not only focused on the manufacturing industry but on the individual user. He emphasized the role of women, evoking ideals of virtue, modesty, and diligence. Many tradespeople relied on sewing as a livelihood suffering from poor wages, which declined in response to the improved productivity gained by the machine sewing. Singer offered credit purchases and rent-to-own arrangements, allowing people to rent a machine with the rental payments applied to the eventual purchase of the machine. Singer sold globally through the use of direct-sales door-to-door canvassers to demonstrate and sell the machines.

Singer's reputation began to decline and in 1863, his company was dissolved and reformed as The Singer Manufacturing Co, with Isaac Singer still owning a percentage of shares. He retired to London and passed away in 1875, leaving his $13M fortune to twenty children (he was rumored to have at least 26).

Singer Corporation went on to diversify, going into real estate in the late 1800's, making Norden bomb sights and M1 Carbine rifle receivers for the US Government during World War II and in the 1960's, acquiring the Friden calculator company and General Precision Equipment Corporation. In 2004 the sewing business and the Singer trademarks were sold to a private U.S. investment firm and in 2006 it became part of SVP Worldwide, today selling...sewing machines.

Hopefully I stitched up well for you. No? Huh...


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