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Singer, Isaac Merrit

Isaac Merrit Singer, 1811–75, American inventor, b. Rensselaer co., N.Y. As a child he lived in Oswego, N.Y. He patented in 1851 a practical sewing machine that could do continuous stitching. Although he lost a suit for infringement brought by Elias Howe, his company was already so well established that it took the lead in a subsequent combination of manufactures and pooling of patents. Between 1851 and 1865 Singer patented 20 improvements, including the yielding presser foot and a continuous wheel feed.

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"Singer, Isaac Merrit." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Singer, Isaac Merrit." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/singer-isaac-merrit

Singer, Isaac Merrit

SINGER, ISAAC MERRIT


In 1851 Isaac Singer (18111875), invented the first modern mass-produced sewing machine with an overhanging arm; this machine made it possible to sew any part of a garment. He also patented the foot treadle and the spring-equipped presser for holding down fabric while sewing with both hands.

Though people have been sewing for the last 20,000 yearsjoining pieces of material using bone needles, awls, and animal sinews for thread, or using iron needles which began in the fourteen centuryit was not until the eighteenth century, when mechanical sewing machines were invented, that sewing and the textile industry could grow into one of the largest and most basic industries in the world.

Arguably, it was Isaac Singer who brought sewing out of the dark ages of crude stitching into the modern industrial age of mass-produced clothing and upholstered furniture. The French were the first to manufacture the sewing machine and used it to speed up the production of army uniforms in 1841. However, the innovations that Singer made in 1851 while repairing a clumsy Lerow and Blodgett sewing machine brought about what is now regarded as the first truly modern and mass-produced commercial and domestic sewing machine in the United States. This sewing machine, the Singer Sewing Machine, has been known to U.S. households for generations.

Isaac Singer left home at age 12 to work for the next seven years at a variety of unskilled jobs. He had little formal education but much real-life experience. At age 19 he took a job for a few months as an apprentice, but he left this shortly and began a 9-year period of wandering from state to state. He earned a living by mostly relying on his mechanical cleverness and experience. A lover of music and theatrics, as well, Singer spent part of his early adulthood as an actor, traveling the country with a theatrical troupe known as the Merritt Players. Plagued by money problems, the group eventually disbanded, leaving Singer destitute.

Singer officially became an inventor at age 28, while working in Illinois. He obtained his first patent from the government in 1839 for a rock-drilling machine. Singer, however, quickly spent the money he made from that invention; he also sold the patent rights and left himself with nothing. Ten years later, at age 38, he patented a wood and metal-carving machine. He then obtained financing to build a small factory in order to produce this device. Life and business were looking up for Singer, but then a boiler explosion occurred in the factory, destroying it. And again Singer was left penniless.

In Boston two years later, while working in a machine shop repairing a sewing machine, Singer again tried his hand at inventing. His employer told him that if he could make a practical, reliable, and mass-producable sewing machine, his fortune would be made. Within a few hours Singer drew a sketch of a new kind of sewing machine, and he built a prototype within 11 days.

Singer immediately applied for a patent on this machine, which he received on August 12, 1851. He then organized what became I. M. Singer and Company and began manufacturing sewing machines. Though he had some competition in the market, the fact that his machine could perform continuous stitching, put it in great demand almost immediately.

Singer fought off law suits from other sewing machine manufacturers, but he had achieved success. By 1854, despite losing some of the law suits, his company had reached and retained a commanding position in the industry. Singer created improvements on his original design and attached the improvements to his original patent, creating what is called a pooling of patents, where many patented ideas are brought together into a kind of giant and complicated product patent, making it difficult to steal.

Singer's greatest service to the consumer, both in the home and in industry, was that he had developed the first domestic sewing machine brought into general use. He made his machines available to many people by creating a time-payment program for buyers, possibly the first such program in U.S. business. Singer also aggressively fought the psychological barrier to mass consumer sales of sewing machinesthe false belief that women of his era could not operate complicated machinery. Singer provided many demonstrations to manufacturers that anyone could use his sewing machine with a little training. Clearly the development of Singer's practical sewing machines and the ease with which they could be used contributed to the growth of the ready-made clothing industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Moreover, Singer contributed to the enhanced general employment of women.

Singer retired at age 51, a multi-millionaire. He lived a flamboyant life-style in New York City and throughout Europe, and left an estate of $13 million at his death in 1875.


FURTHER READING

Bissel, Don. The First Conglomerate: 145 Years of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. N.p., Don Bissel, 1999.

Brandon, Ruth. Singer and the Sewing Machine: A Capitalist Romance. New York: Lippincott, 1977.

Cooper, Grace R. The Sewing Machine: Its Invention and Early Development. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1976.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. Detroit: The Gale Group, 1998, s.v. "Isaac M. Singer."

Fucini, Joseph J. Entrepreneurs. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1985.

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"Singer, Isaac Merrit." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Singer, Isaac Merrit." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/singer-isaac-merrit

"Singer, Isaac Merrit." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved November 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/singer-isaac-merrit

Singer, Isaac Merrit

Singer, Isaac Merrit (1811–75) US manufacturer, inventor of a rock drill (1839) and of a single-thread sewing machine (1852). Singer's machine allowed continuous and curved stitching.

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"Singer, Isaac Merrit." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved November 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/singer-isaac-merrit