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September 10, 2015

10 Sep 1846: patent for sewing machine

On this day in 1846, Elias Howe was granted a patent for his sewing machine. It was not the first sewing machine, but it had several features (still in use today) that those before did not.

Howe was a laborer who made scientific equipment, but a lifelong disability made physical work increasingly difficult as he got older; in 1843, two years after his marriage, he was fired for inability to produce. Howe was 25 when he completed his first machine in 1845, but he failed to receive a single order, even after a public demonstration in which the machine easily defeated several seamstresses.

The machine had an automatic feed, and formed lockstitch seams, also known as single-needle stitching. The needle itself had an eye located at the bottom end, an important innovation.

Howe’s main competition was Isaac Singer, who marketed a knockoff. Howe sued and won, eventually earning $2 million in royalties for his creation, the patent for which expired in 1867 – the same year Howe died, at age 48. Howe’s heirs failed to maintain his legacy, and Singer’s name became synonymous with the sewing machine.

Image: image from the original patent

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