One of the earliest sewing machines on display at Nevada State Museum
On the second floor of the Nevada State Museum located in the history gallery, you’ll find one of the earliest known Singer sewing machines. It has a patent date of 1849 stenciled on the side. However, after careful research, historians believe the machine was built in 1855.
Isaac Merritt Singer didn’t invent the sewing machine, and he never claimed to. Elias Howe of Boston invented the first practical sewing machine in 1846. Five years later, in 1851, Singer patented improvements on Howe’s machine.
Singer’s improvements made a big difference. He built the first sewing machine with a needle that moved up and down, rather than the side-to-side. Singer’s machine was also the first to be powered by a foot pedal. Earlier machines were all hand cranked. He had even figured out that sewing machines would be more reliable if they used a straight needle rather than the curved needle that had been used in the past.
But Singer had a problem. His machine used the same lockstitch that Elias Howe had patented on his earlier machine. Howe sued Singer for infringement on his patent, and won the case in 1854.
This meant that Singer had to pay Howe a royalty on every sewing machine his company made.
But despite losing the lawsuit, Singer gets credit for building the first commercially successful sewing machine. Within two years of forming his company in 1851, Singer became the leading manufacturer of sewing machines in the United States. One could be purchased for $125 with payments of $5 a month.
Singer’s name is as closely associated with sewing today, as it was when he produced this early model more than 150 years ago.