The invention and development of the sewing machine has seen a number of patents being granted, beginning from the 18th century.
British inventor Thomas Saint who was also a cabinet maker, designed a sewing machine in 1790. Saint’s sewing machine used a single thread to form a chain stitch in leather. A stitching awl was used to punch holes in the leather before threading with the help of needle. Saint obtained the patent for his design but was unsuccessful in making a working model of the machine.
The first practical sewing machine was designed by Barthélemy Thimonnier, a tailor from France. He received a patent from the French government in 1830. Unlike others, Thimonnier was able to manufacture the machines. He even received a contract to mass-produce uniforms for the French army. However he had to face disappointment when a mob of angry tailors burnt his factory and destroyed 80 machines fearing that the invention would cause their business to suffer.
The sewing machine as we know it today was first made by Walter Hunt, an American in 1832. Hunt has many inventions to his credit including the safety pin which he invented to pay off a debt of $15. Hunt introduced the lockstitch method wherein two threads, one from a spindle above and the other from below, interlocked forming a ‘lockstitch’. Hunt also used an eye-pointed needle for the first time. He never patented his machine since he didn’t want his invention to be the cause for unemployment.
Elias Howe, also an American designed a machine similar to Hunt’s and patented it in 1846. His design was imitated by several others and Hunt found himself fighting a number of lawsuits in order to protect his patent. One of the lawsuits which Hunt fought was against Isaac Merritt Singer who used the same lockstitch method which Hunt had patented. Hunt won the lawsuit and received royalties from Singer. Ironically, it was Singer who went on to commercially mass produce sewing machines. His machines were powered by a treadle or foot pedal as opposed to the earlier machines which were hand cranked. He became the largest manufacturer of sewing machines worldwide.