Who invented the sewing machine ?

The patent for the world’s sewing machine lay buried among a sheaf of papers relating to the manufacture of boots and shoes for many years before it was discovered. But for the curiosity of Newton Wilson, who found the specification by chance in London’s Patent Office Library one day in 1874, it might never have been found at all. Wilson realized that the patent for the sewing machine was granted to Thomas Saint, cabinet maker. Wilson also found that it incorporated the same perpendicular action and straight needle, patented later by Isaac Singer, the same pressing surface designed to hold the cloth taut and eye pierced needle patented later by Elias Howe and the same overhanging arm which is a basic characteristics of all sewing machines every today.

Sewing Machine - Straight Stitcher, Jones, 1920s - Museum Victoria

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The poor French tailor, Barthelemy Timonium’s career as the first sewing machine manufacturer began and ended in violence. Having built a prototype, he was convinced a fortune was waiting for him, but the tailors of Paris saw Thimonnier’s sewing machines as a serious treat to their own livelihood. In the factory where Thimonnier’s was engaged as supervisor and mechanic, the tailors smashed every machine beyond repair. Thimonnier was heartbroken and bewildered. He was also out of job.

Others who came later, won the rewards denied o the pioneers, including the Americans Elias Howe and Isaac Singer. They made the sewing machine into the first universally accepted labour-saving device for the home. Both these inventive men earned the rich rewards of their enterprise and vision, but it is an irony of fortune that if Thomas Saint’s original patent has been discovered 20 years earlier, the two wizards of the sewing machine would possibly have remained obscure and unrecognized as the forgotten cabinet maker.

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