This Day in the Law
August 12

Singer Sewing Machine Patented (1851)

On August 12, 1851, Isaac Singer received a patent for his sewing machine, which would go on to be one of the most famous and best-selling sewing machines in history.

Isaac Merritt Singer, born in 1875 in Pittstown, New York, was an inventor, actor, and entrepreneur. Singer’s older brother had a machine shop, and Singer went to work there after he ran away from home at age 12. It was there that he first learned the machinist trade that would become the basis of his fame and fortune. Singer, though, wanted to be an actor.

Singer obtained his first patent 1839 for a machine to drill rock. He sold it for $200,000 to the I&M Canal Building Company. With his new fortune, Singer found that he did not have to worry about money. Thus, he opted to return to his career as an actor. He went on tour, forming a troupe known as the Merritt Players, and appearing onstage under the name Isaac Merritt. The tour lasted about five years.

After the tour, Singer took a job in shop making wooden types for printing trade. After learning this trade, he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1846 and set up his own shop for making wood type and signage. Here he developed and patented a machine for carving wood and metal. Unfortunately, Singer’s prototype was destroyed in a fire. He then moved to Boston, a good place for the printing trade, and set up a show room for his prototype in a machine shop.

Singer found that he had very few orders for his woodcutting machine, and looked for another way to make money. Coincidentally, Lerow & Blodgett sewing machines were being constructed and repaired in the machine shop where Singer set up his showroom. Singer studied the sewing machines, which were difficult to use and difficult to produce. He noted that the sewing machine would be more reliable if the shuttle moved in a straight line rather than a circle, with a straight rather than a curved needle. Singer was able to obtain U.S. Patent number 8294 on his improvements on August 12, 1851.

Singer went on to found the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which still manufactures sewing machines today.