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]

Sensibility Vintage Images

Sensibility Vintage Images

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    

Vintage Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine New York NrRare Antique Florence ~flat Belt~floral~ Treadle Sewing Machine HeadAntique Victorian Old Best Moldacot Pat. Sewing Machine In Early Advertising TinRare Antique 1870s Agenoria Sewing Machine By Maxfield & Co Agenoria Works Rare Antique ~ Sloat's Elliptic~pat.1858~ Pre-civil War Era Sewing MachineAntique 19th C Marks Bros American Gem No. 1 Metal Toy Sewing Machine RareAntique / Vintage Davis Sewing Machine Head Unknown Antique Machine - Fluting Iron ? Sewing Tool ? Patent Model ? What Is ItAntique L. Bulasky Hat Making Sewing Machine Rare!!!Willcox And Gibbs 1800s Sewing Machine Willcox&gibbs Treadle Sewing Machine/back Door Parlor Cabinetw/attachments&bookVintage Casige Toy Sewing Machine - Made In GermanyElna Supermatic 722010 Swiss Made Sewing Machine, Good Condition Usa 110v Cast Iron Toy Sewing MachineThe American Sewing Machine Co. Sewing Machine, 1800sVintage Essex Miniature Sewing Machine With Instructions - 214Pretty Swarovski Crystal Memories Sewing Machine In Original PackagingWillcox & Gibbs Antique Sewing Machine, Wonderfull Workmanship And Quality Knitting Machine Gearhart Circa 1900'sVintage Soviet Russian Hand-crank Child's Sewing Machine Toy 5 Tubes Boye Needles Antique Sewing Machine Treadle Hand Crank Wood Case VintageAntique White Rotary Sewing Machine Flowers Prop Restore DecorationVintage Early Childs Size Sewing Machine Working W Extras Intricate Paint VgcVintage Kid German Sawing MachineAntique Lindstrom Little Miss Electric Childs Toy Sewing MachineVintage Bing Werke Hand Crank Toy Sewing Machine Vtg Baby Lock Ea-605 Sewing Serger Machine Juki Babylock With PedalVintage Chandler Rotary Pinking Machine Shear Cast Iron Tool Pinker Sewing CutVintage Dressmaker Sewing Machine Cams S5-2402Boye Shuttle Bobbin Antique Sewing Machine Treadle Hand Crank Wood Case VintageAntique Standard Sewing Machine With Table In Excellent Condition Two 1874 Daily Graphic Newspaper With Long Articles On First Sewing Machines#1352 Vintage Estate Find Elna Supermatic Switzerland Sewing Machine & Case OldRare Vintage Regina Mccalls Portable Ac/dc Sewing Machine W/light Normal WearAntique Oak Sewing Machine Attachment Puzzle Box With Some AttachmentsVintage Elna Grasshopper Sewing Machine Supplementary Instructions BookletVintage 1940's E-6354 White Rotary Portable Electric Sewing Machine Case PedalVitage Child Sewing MachineTwin Size Machine Pieced Around The World Patchwork Quilt Top /#j-10taArtcraft Precision Deluxe Sewing Machine Knee Pedal Japan 15-91 Clone? PartsSewing Machine Foot Pedal / Control Necchi Newhome5 Westinghouse / New Home Cc1221 Sewing Machine Rotary Needle / Sz 1Vintage Package Of 25 White Sewing Machine Needles Rotary Fr No. 0 Cold SwagedAntique Frister & Rossman Hand Crank Sewing Machine W/ Case & Orig. Manual (579)Vintage Western Electric Sewing Machine W/ Original Wood Box And Foot PedalLeather Belt For The "standard" Treadle Sewing Machine Janome Sewing Machine Model # 781fa Made In Japan Bobbin Case & Parts Only Antique Key For ~ White ~treadle Vintage Sewing Machine Side & Center DrawersAntique / Vintage Zeidler Patent Improved Gravity Seam Dampener Machine New York