- Singer, Isaac Merritt
- [br]b. 27 October 1811 Pittstown, New York, USAd. 23 July 1875 Torquay, Devonshire, England[br]American inventor of a sewing machine, and pioneer of mass production.[br]The son of a millwright, Singer was employed as an unskilled labourer at the age of 12, but later gained wide experience as a travelling machinist. He also found employment as an actor. On 16 May 1839, while living at Lockport, Illinois, he obtained his first patent for a rock-drilling machine, but he soon squandered the money he made. Then in 1849, while at Pittsburgh, he secured a patent for a wood-and metal-carving machine that he had begun five years previously; however, a boiler explosion in the factory destroyed his machine and left him penniless.Near the end of 1850 Singer was engaged to redesign the Lerow \& Blodgett sewing machine at the Boston shop of Orson C.Phelps, where the machine was being repaired. He built an improved version in eleven days that was sufficiently different for him to patent on 12 August 1851. He formed a partnership with Phelps and G.B. Zieber and they began to market the invention. Singer soon purchased Phelps's interest, although Phelps continued to manufacture the machines. Then Edward Clark acquired a one-third interest and with Singer bought out Zieber. These two, with dark's flair for promotion and marketing, began to create a company which eventually would become the largest manufacturer of sewing machines exported worldwide, with subsidiary factories in England.However, first Singer had to defend his patent, which was challenged by an earlier Boston inventor, Elias Howe. Although after a long lawsuit Singer had to pay royalties, it was the Singer machine which eventually captured the market because it could do continuous stitching. In 1856 the Great Sewing Machine Combination, the first important pooling arrangement in American history, was formed to share the various patents so that machines could be built without infringements and manufacture could be expanded without fear of litigation. Singer contributed his monopoly on the needle-bar cam with his 1851 patent. He secured twenty additional patents, so that his original straight-needle vertical design for lock-stitching eventually included such refinements as a continuous wheel-feed, yielding presser-foot, and improved cam for moving the needle-bar. A new model, introduced in 1856, was the first to be intended solely for use in the home.Initially Phelps made all the machines for Singer. Then a works was established in New York where the parts were assembled by skilled workers through filing and fitting. Each machine was therefore a "one-off" but Singer machines were always advertised as the best on the market and sold at correspondingly high prices. Gradually, more specialized machine tools were acquired, but it was not until long after Singer had retired to Europe in 1863 that Clark made the change to mass production. Sales of machines numbered 810 in 1853 and 21,000 ten years later.[br]Bibliography12 August 1851, US patent no. 8,294 (sewing machine)Further ReadingBiographies and obituaries have appeared in Appleton's Cyclopedia of America, Vol. V; Dictionary of American Biography, Vol XVII; New York Times 25 July 1875; Scientific American (1875) 33; and National Cyclopaedia of American Biography.D.A.Hounshell, 1984, From the American System to Mass Production 1800–1932. TheDevelopment of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, Baltimore (provides a thorough account of the development of the Singer sewing machine, the competition it faced from other manufacturers and production methods).RLH
Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. Lance Day and Ian McNeil. 2005.