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    

Circa 1900 Antique Cornely "s" Couso Brodeur Embroidery Lace Sewing MachineAntique German Miniature Hand Crank Sewing Machine - Hand-painted, Crank TurnsMorse Fotomatic Model 4400 Sewing Machine Beautiful Condition!!! Au1271Vintage 1930's Original Stitch Mistress Child's Sewing Machine - Works NicelyCast Iron Stitchwell Cast Iron Toy Sewing Machine W/ Orig Box Free ShippingEarly 1870's Beckwith Sewing MachineVintage Baby Blindstitch Sewing Machine, Schmetz 29-34Merrow 60 Sewing Machine And ManualMachine Embroidered Natural/green 'irish Shamrocks' Tablecloth; UnusedVintage White Sewing Machine Model 970 For Repair Or PartsBarbours Pure Flax Sinew 7 Cord 1 Lb Thread For Lock Stitch MachinesVintage Necchi Bf Sewing MachineAntique Casige Pre Wwii German Toy Sewing Machine Tole PaintedBeautiful Casige Childs Sewing Machine Pre Wwii Made In GermanyVintage Sewing Machine Foot Control Pedal Model 77 Works 115 Volts Ac DcAntique Moldacot Patent Pocket Sewing MachineVintage Antique Systeme Avrial Legat Sewing MachineCirca 1870's Antique Wanzer "a" Hand Crank Sewing Machine 1870's Antique Victorian Shepherd Rothwell & Hough Jones Eclipse Sewing Machine Circa 1900 Antique F & W Foley & Williams Automatic Chain Stitch Sewing MachineCirca 1880's Antique Heberling Running Stitch Hand Crank Sewing MachineEarly 1870's Antique Atlas Hand Crank "c" Frame Sewing Machine "the Countess"Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Stand Shinny Black Gold Heavy Duty Lady Platt Deluxe Class 15 Sewing Machine JapanVintage White Sewing Machine Cabinet Table W Plug & WiringVintage 1940 Betsy Ross Green Metal Miniature Sewing MachineAntique Sewing Machine Clamp Crank Automatic Pat. 1897 Toy Cast Iron + ExtrasVintage Ruby New Home Treadle Sewing Machine With Cabinet* Vintage * Lindstrom * Toy Sewing Machine Rare Wood Grain * Really Sews *Antique / Vintage Columbus Fabrics Corp Pinking Machine Triple Zig Zag WheelSewing Machine Model 3600 Riccar Heavy Duty Counter TopOriginal Antique Mason Sewing MachineVintage Sewing Machine CabinetVintage Husqvarna Viking Automatic Type 21 Sewing Machine Made In SwedenVintage Sewing Machine Storage Bench - Stool 1977 Bicentenial Fabric #9942Swinger Sowing Machine Early 1900s Great Condition Vintage Heavy Duty Industrial Strength Adler Belvedere Sewing Machine WatchvideoRare Antique Elias Howe Sewing Machine Metal, Underneath, Dust Cover-bottom Vintage Antique White Sewing Machine July 1912 #1809958 Steampunk RestorationAntique Davis Vertical Feed Ornate Sewing Machine Works Good Has AttachmentsNew Home Sewing Machine Leather Treadle BeltAntique Key For ~ White ~treadle Vintage Sewing Machine Side & Center DrawersVintage Greist Simplex Sewing Machine Attachments, 14 Pieces With Box, VgcKids Sewing MachineVintage Domestic Rotary Sewing Machine W/oh So Much MoreA Danbury Mint Conversation Piece Pewter Thimble --a Vintage Sewing Machine--Vintage Lot Of Sewing Machine Needles 2 Boye Wooden Case Plus OthersBarbours Wood Spool Of Machine Thread, 3 Cord, No. 501894 Vintage Sewing Machine Antique Engraving PrintVintage Modernage De Luxe Precision 202 Sewing Machine W/ Pedal Case