Origins of The Sewing Machine.

We receive many enquiries from students, etc. wishing to know who invented the sewing machine.
The timeline given below shows that it is difficult to credit any one individual with the invention of the sewing machine. It would be better to conclude that the basic principles of the modern machine came about through the combination of various ideas pursued by a number of individuals working on the task.
Practical everyday machines became commercially viable during the 1850s, but not without the amalgamation of a number of individual key patents.

In America, this coming together of important patents was not a smooth one. The courts became a battleground for claim and counterclaim during the early 1850s. The mêlée that ensued only became resolved in 1856 with the formation of the "Sewing Machine Combination". Wheeler Wilson & Co, I.M.Singer & Co, Grover & Baker, and Elias Howe formed this cartel by pooling their individual patent rights. At a stroke, the costly litigation battles ceased.

Other manufacturers were allowed to produce machines under licence, however this was expensive, and the charge that the Combination was to blame for keeping machine prices beyond the reach of the masses for years does hold some weight.
The Combination, which had controlled production in the US for so many years, was finally dissolved in 1877, following the expiration of all the key patents.


1755 London based German, Charles Frederick Weissenthal patented a two pointed needle to be used for mechanical sewing, however there is no reference to an accompanying machine.
1790 English cabinet maker Thomas Saint was granted a patent for a machine to be used for boot manufacture. An awl pierced the leather and this allowed a needle to pass through. A later attempt to replicate the machine showed that modifications were needed for it to work.
1804 A French patent was granted to Thomas Stone and James Henderson for a machine which attempted to imitate hand sewing.
1810 German inventor Balthasar Krems built a chain stitch machine for sewing caps. There are no patents for the device.
1814 Austrian tailor Josef Madersperger worked for many years on the subject, with patents awarded between 1814-1839, but tangible success was limited.
1818 America's John Adam Dodge and John Knoles were reported to have produced a single thread machine. There appears to be little evidence of real success and no patents were sought.
1826 First US patent relating to sewing machines was awarded to Henry Lye. Unfortunately all details of the specification were lost in a subsequent fire. It is, however, unlikely to have proved a substantial claim.
1830 Possibly the first working sewing machine was built by Frenchman Barthélemy Thimonnier. The first of three patents was awarded in 1830. Using a barbed needle, his wooden framed machines produced a simple chain stitch.
1833 American Walter Hunt produced the first double lockstitch sewing machine. Success was limited for it could only produce short seams in a straight line. The device was not patented.
1842 John J Greenough of New York patented a leather stitching machine. A working model was made and exhibited, but investment was unforthcoming and it appears never to have gone into production.

George H Corliss, also from New York, patented a machine similar to Greenaugh's, however this device incorporated twin needles.

In the same year, and again from New York, W Benjamin Bean was granted a patent for a simple running stitch machine.

1844 Englishman John Fisher patented a two thread machine incorporating an eye pointed needle and a shuttle. The device was recorded as "for the production of lace", but in actuality it encompassed all the essentials of a sewing machine.
1846 Elias Howe patented a shuttle machine, the machine was to feature a curved & grooved, eye pointed needle.

Charles Morley and Joseph Johnson patented what in essence was the first American chain stitch machine.

John Bachelder was granted a US patent for a vertical, straight reciprocating eye pointed needle, together with a feed mechanism and a yielding presser foot. (These crucial patents for the development of the modern sewing machine were eventually bought by Singer.)

Again in the USA, Sherburn C Blodgett patented a revolving shuttle and automatic tension machine.

1850 Allen B Wilson's first patent. A reciprocating shuttle machine was envisaged.

Allen B Wilson patented his rotary hook.

Isaac Merrit Singer's first patent - wheel feed and tensioning device.

William O Grover received an American patent for his now well-known double chain stitch machine.

1852 Further developments by Allen B Wilson, this time the stationary bobbin.
1854 Allen B Wilson received the latest of his important patents, this time for his four motion feed.
1857 James E A Gibbs patented a machine which incorporated the now famous chain stitch rotary hook.
1858 Charles Raymond was granted a US patent for a hinged presser foot acting as a cloth feed.
1861 Raymond patented his important improved looper.

March 2002

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