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Singer Manufacturing Company records

1860-1878
 Collection
Identifier: 2526

Abstract

This collection helps to document the history of Singer Manufacturing Company during the period 1860 through 1880. After success in forming one of the first U.S. patent pools the Singer Company was ready to capitalize and built several new factories. Since the demand for family sewing machines had increased substantially, Singer made it economically possible to buy the new and improved machines by offering installment payment plans.

Dates

  • 1860-1878

Creator

Extent

0.5 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The Singer Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1863; twelve years after Isaac Merrit Singer (1811-1875) obtained patent no. 8294 on August 12, 1851 for his improved sewing machine. The machine took him less than 2 weeks to design and build. Singer was not interested in sewing machines or the sewing industry when he came to Boston in 1850 to promote and manufacture a wood carving machine he had invented. With his friend George Zieber, he obtained space in a small Boston machine shop. Singer's plan was to exhibit the wonders of his carving machine which he thought would revolutionize furniture making. It is reported that Singer's wood carving machine had been destroyed in an explosion. The machine shop owner, Orson Phelps, was becoming increasingly frustrated with repairs he was making on current sewing machines. Realizing what a master machinist Singer was, Phelps asked for his opinion on improving the machine. Singer immediately saw the weaknesses and soon had ideas for a better running machine. With capital supplied by George Zieber of $40.00, Singer had the model completed in 11 days.

The market was flooded with inferior sewing machines which had also been issued patents. Singer was sued by Elias Howe Jr. for patent infringement but would not pay the damages because Singer knew there was a patent issued prior to Howe’s' for a sewing machine - [Singer eventually paid Howe due to a lower court's ruling.] Isaac Singer met attorney Edward Clark in the 1850s, offering him partnership in Singer Manufacturing Company in exchange for Clark’s handling of all litigation. Noted attorney and entrepreneur Orlando B. Potter was president of Grover and Baker. The sewing machine war had begun and it was Potter that reportedly came up with the idea of forming a ‘patent pool’ by bringing together as many sewing machine patent holders and administering said patents as a commercial trust. By 1856, these four parties, I.M. Singer & Co., Wheeler, Wilson & Co., Grover & Baker, and Howe, owned the patents that covered the basic features of the sewing machine as a commercial product. Howe initially opposed it, but the others convinced him to join the patent pool by giving Howe special interests that included a royalty of $5 for each sewing machine sold in the United States and $1 for each sewing machine exported to foreign markets.

The patent pool lasted until 1877 when the last patent expired. The sewing machine war ended with Singer becoming the industry’s dominant manufacturer. I.M. Singer capitalized and was successful in building several new factories. The company also made it economically feasible to buy the new and improved machines by offering installment payment plans. As with televisions a century later, there was a sewing machine in almost every home across the country by the mid 1860s.

Scope and Content

This collection helps to document the history of Singer Manufacturing Company during the period 1860 through 1880. After success in forming one of the first U.S. patent pools the Singer Company was ready to capitalize and built several new factories. Since the demand for family sewing machines had increased substantially, Singer made it economically possible to buy the new and improved machines by offering installment payment plans.

The materials in this collection do not cover the patent pool. However, the 650 documents show the growth of the Singer Manufacturing Company and its numerous sales agents. The handwritten requests for employment, offers of ideas for sewing machine attachments, orders for machines and sewing supplies, as well as complaints are included in this archive. The New York Needle Company, Matteawan Hat Works, and many Singer agents’ orders can also be found. An interesting 1865 letter from Havana requesting items gives tips for shipping silk back to Havana without drawing the attention of C.H. (customs house) inspectors.

This archive has been divided into four series. Series I. Correspondence (1865-1878) contains incoming and outgoing correspondence that covers orders, complaints, requests for employment; legal communications from various attorneys, adjusters and insurance brokers, including a County Treasurer's office. There is also a letter from Singer Manufacturing Company’s Silk Factory and Case Factory. Series II. Agents/Dealers (1870-1872) is arranged alphabetically by agent name and are mainly orders. Series III. Advertisements/Notices (1870) include information of a Sheriff Sale of McLean sewing machines and attachments. Series IV. Singer Offices (1870-1876) which have been arranged alphabetically by state, are largely orders.

Access restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Singer Manufacturing Company Records
Status:
Online
Author:
Marsha C. Mills
Date:
2012
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400