We probably take the sewing machine for granted, oblivious to its development and the long, often hazardous, road to success. The story begins in Europe and reads like an extended NATO exercise with American, British, French and German inventors taking part
Sewing machine 
It all began in London in 1755 with Mr. Wiesenthal who invented the eye pointed needle, prompting Thomas Saint to lodge a patent for a sewing machine. Saint never built his machine and it was Barthelemy Thimonnier, a Parisian tailor, who is credited with building the first working model built in 1830. Sadly Thimonnier never became rich from his invention and was lucky to escape with his life when the tailors chased him out of Paris afraid that his invention would make them redundant.
Thimonniers sewing machine
Thimonniers sewing machine
For the next part of the story we must cross the Atlantic to America where, in 1833, Walter Hunt, an American Quaker with an expensive wife and a family of daughters, built a working sewing machine. Hunt was always short of money as the women in his family loved to shop but he was confident that this new invention would be the end of all his financial woes. There was a public outcry when news of his invention hit the press and he was forced to abandon his plans for fear of putting the poor seamstresses out of work. Hunts machine was left on the shelf gathering dust whilst he figured out a way of paying the household bills. He finally came up with a new invention that made money; the safety pin!
Howes patent model
Howes patent model
In 1846 an American, Elias Howe ignored public opinion and lodged both a patent and a working model of a lock stitch sewing machine. Howe tried to sell his machines both in America and Europe but people were sceptical of his new device. It took the ingenuity, determination and super-salesmanship of Mr. Singer, to introduce sewing machines into the home.
Isaac Merritt Singer was a poor Russian immigrant who dreamt of becoming an actor but had to be content with a job as a toolmaker. He was asked to repair one of Howes machines and decide that he could improve on the design. In 1851 Singer founded the largest sewing machine company in the world.
Singers first sewing
machine, the model 1Singer
Singers first sewing machine, the model 1
He enjoyed demonstrating his invention whenever he had the opportunity and was the first person to introduce hire purchase to help sell his machines; the sewing machine was here to stay!
Singer had the reputation of being something of a ladies man. He married five times, and fathered at least twenty-two children. In 1867 his business partner, Edward Clark, became concerned that this lifestyle could be detrimental to their business and suggested that Singer and his family move to Europe. They lived in Paris for a short time before moving to Devon, England, where Singer died in 1875. After Singers death, his young widow, Isabella, returned to Paris and amongst other things, posed for Bartholdi as the model for the statue of Liberty.
Text by Brenda Dean, photographs by Peter Dean, see more of Brenda and Peter's work at www.quiltersinternational.com