Singer may be the name most associated with sewing machines, but the company’s founder, Isaac Merritt Singer, was by no means the device’s inventor. In fact, Singer didn’t even hold the machine’s first patent. That achievement belongs to Elias Howe, who patented the lock-stitch sewing machine in the United States in 1846. Like Singer, Howe got rich off the sewing machine, but not for making them. After successfully defending his patent in court, and renewing it in 1860, he reaped a $5-per-machine royalty from licensees between 1854 and 1877, a windfall that made him the world’s second richest man.

Besides Singer and Howe, other sewing-machine manufacturers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries included Wheeler & Wilson, which won awards in the 1860s for its buttonhole machines, and was especially well known for its hemmers. These treadle machines ranged from the stripped down Old Style Hemmer mounted on a plain walnut surface to silverplated and mother-of-pearl machines, whose legs and working components were hidden behind fancy wooden cabinetry, befitting their status as symbols of wealth.

Willcox & Gibbs machines were built by a Providence, Rhode Island, clockmaker named Brown & Sharpe. While the company produced treadle and hand-crank models for home use, it was also known for its industrial machines, including one strong enough to sew together straw hats. Grover & Baker was another late 19th-century maker, as were American, Domestic, Finkle & Lyon, and Boston-based Hunt & Webster.

One curious corner of antique sewing machines are figurals, which hide the working parts of sewing machines within cast animals. Kimball & Morton, a Glasgow, Scotland, manufacturer, is perhaps best remembered for its lion-shaped concoction—two models were produced, one in 1868 and a second in 1902. Other Kimball & Morton machines of note included the Stitch in Time, which was modeled after the "Fiddle Base" Jones sewing machines from Manchester, England.

In a class by themselves are the machines made and sold by Sears Roebuck & Co. In the 1890s, Sears sold copies of the Singer 12 made by Goodrich Sewing Machine Company of Chicago. In the decades that followed, Sears also contracted with National for sewing machines (so did competitor Montgomery Wards), as well as the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Ohio and the White Sewing Machine Company of Massachusetts.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Sewing Machine Collector

Sewing Machine Collector

Geoff and Norma Dickens' reference site on vintage toy sewing machines from the late 1800s. Browse the images alpha… [read review or visit site]

Sense & Sensibility Patterns

Sense & Sensibility Patterns

An extensive collection of photos and ephemera illustrating changing fashion styles from 1795 to 1959. Includes por… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare~ Antique F.w. Muller No.20 ~small Cast Iron~ Toy Hand Crank Sewing MachineAntique Rosewood Sewing Machine Needle Case By C. D. Wheeler * 1859 Patent DateAntique Ornate Decorated Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine With Foot Pedal & Case.Antique Hand Crank Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine, Restored 1894, Willcox DecalsAntique Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine Wood Carrying Case.1900Vintage Swiss Elna Green Supermatic Sewing Machine With Case And Extras Rare!!!!Antique,bayerische,bavaria Skeleton Frame,toy Sewing Machine,tsm,child's,rare!Rare Early 2nd Model Antique Davis Low Arm ~vf~ Treadle Sewing Machine HeadAntique Cast Iron Child Sewing Machine Hand Crank No 59917Antique Advertising Cabinet Photo, Sweet Girl Demonstrates Howe Sewing MachineRare Find~ Antique Wheeler & Wilson No.8 ~ Sewing Machine Attachments & More!!!Antique Cast Iron Charles & Paul Fur Sewing MachineAntique Advertising Cdv, Girl Demos Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machine, NeedleworkAntique 1800's Willcox & Gibbs Cast Iron Chain Stitch Hand Sewing MachineAntique Frigga Hand Crank Sewing Machine 1898 + Accessories.Antique Willcox And Gibbs Sewing Machine Rare Muller Child's Sewing Machine5 Tubes Boye Needles Antique Sewing Machine Treadle Hand Crank Wood Case VintageVintage 1940s Betsy Ross Miniature Sewing Machine Hand Crank Art Deco GreenAntique Davis Sewing Machine, Extremely Detailed Painted Design Clear Name ListeSmall Antique Sewing Machine May Be Toy Or Sale Sample.Vintage Visetti Precision Deluxe Sewing MachineSeidel & Naumann Regina Hand Crank Sewing Machine In 1930 + Accessories.Boye Shuttle Bobbin Antique Sewing Machine Treadle Hand Crank Wood Case VintageVintage Little Betty Toy Sewing Machine#284 Vintage White Brand Model 265 Sewing Machine & Manual & Attachments Sew OldVintage Raico Sewing Machine & Case4 Tubes Boye Needles Antique Sewing Machine Treadle Hand Crank Wood Case VintageVimtage Sewing MachineLot Of 28 Vintage Sewing Machine Instruction Book Manual Featherweight Sewing MachineVtg White Treadle Sewing Machine Sewing KitKing Size Machine Pieced Patchwork Quilt / #j-19qcToy Sewing Machine Miniature Sewing Machine-lighter-redRare Vtg. Morse Sewing Machine Zig Zag Model 300-f Heavy Duty W/design Cams EucOriginal Instruction Manual & Accessories For Elgin S-1145 Sewing Machine1 Cornely "l" Embroidery Machine Needlebar End OriginalVintage 1940's Casige Toy Sewing Machine Germany Gesch M 1470 Stampinsisters** Vintage 1920s ** Stitchwell ** Cast Iron Toy Sewing Machine ** Really Sews **1 Cornely "fb" "fbn" Embroidery Machine Stand Up Ribbon Guide Miniature Sewing Machine-lighter-greenVintage-elna Sewing Machine Manuals-2-original1870 Weed Sewing Machine Letter & Envelope2 Cornely "fb" "fbn" Embroidery Machine Stud And Nut For Mountin The Guide 1 Cornely "k" Embroidery Machine Needlebar End OriginalVintage Mercury Electric Sewing Machine 701 Knee Pedal 702 Foot Pedal Switch Usa