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    

Pat.1875 Randall & Co. Leather Tooling Crimping Saddle Harness MachineWillcox & Gibbs Antique Sewing Machine, Hand CrankAntique Cast Iron Hand Crank Sewing Machine - Claw FootEarly 20th German Made Toy Sewing Machine W Bird + Fruit Decoration "the Little Comfort" Sewing Machine In The Original Box & With PapersAntique Gearhart Sock Knitting Sewing Machine Metal StandAntique Hand Crank Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine, Restored 1900Antique 1911-12 New Home Little Worker Hand Crank Child's Sewing Machine Shaw Patent New England Type Antique Chain Stitch Sewing Machine,early AmericanVintage 1953 Heavy Duty Monarch Sewing MachineWheeler&wilson Model #1w1,the Grand Dame Of Antique Sewing Machines,treadle,1872Vintage Willcox & Gibbs Chain Stitch Sewing Machine W Motor - No Reserve Je1Vintage Viking Husqvarna Type 19e Sewing Machine Grover & Baker #9. Unique Early American Antique Sewing Machine,treadle/cabinet.Incredible Antique White Family Rotary Treadle Sewing Machine Ornate Oak CabinetBeautiful Vintage Hand Crank Sewing Machine Gold Trim And Wooden CaseLarge Lot Of Vintage Sewing Machine Attachments"vintage Betsy Ross Sewing Great"Willcox&gibbs Hi-speed Lockstitch Type11a Vintage Sewing Machine Auto LubricatnViking Husqvarna Sewing Machine Foot Control - Oversized With CordAntique Treadle Sewing Machine Key For White Vintage Machine Triangle EndAntique Little Betty Hand Crank Sewing Machine - Black 1930's Rare Miniature Antique Casige German Sewing Machine Treadle White Sewing Machine Head Only Nice Working ConditionLot Of 2 Vintage Sewing Machine DrawersStudio Knitting Machine Sr 155 Ribber Ribbing AttachmentVintage Pfaff Sewing Machine 1222 With Some Attachments Etc. Made In Germany Vintage Pfaff Sewing Machine 1222 With Some Attachments Etc. Made In Germany Vintage Montgomery Ward 1980 Ms Convertible Sewing MachineVintage Cast Iron "clean Cut" Fabric Cutter Pinking MachineDearborn Sewing Machine American Blindstich The New Model Vintage Vintage Pfaff 130-6 Sewing Machine Manual & Plastic Cover & Other Paper ItemsDie Cast Miniature Collectable Pencil Sharpener - Sewing Machine (boxed)Industrial Vintage Thread Spool Holder Sewing Machine Antique Metal White Model 1099 Zig Zag Sewing Machine With Case And Books Uwc3 Sewing Machine Cabinet Keys 2 Have Triangle Ends. 1 Has A Sqiare End....niceEssex Miniture Machine Sewing Machine MetalGateway Red Hand Crank Child's Sewing Machine Made In Chicago Illinois18 Spools Of Vintage Coats & Clark Machine Embroidery Thread On Wood SpoolsLot Of 2 Vintage Metal Miniature Oil Maker, Sewing Machine 3 In OneSewing MachineMorse Sewing Machine Needles, Two 100 Pc Roll Pack Hax1(15x1/705) No. 18 (2-110)Vintage Sewing Machine Oil CansInstructions Kingston Sewing MachineAntique Treadle Sewing Machine Drawer PullVintage Sewing MachineInstructions For Using Wheeler & Wilson No.9 Sewing MachineThe New Home Sewing Machine Catalog And Sales Presentation Book, Circa 1914Lot Of Vintage Sewing Machine Needles & Coats & Clark's Tapestry Needles