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    

Antique Ornate Cast Iron Sewing Machine Fancy Pillar W/ Finial & Floral Paint1920s Casige Germany Pressed Steel Miniature Toy Sewing Machine 5" X 5"Antique Hand Crank Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine, Restored 1883Antique Wheeler & Wilson #4 ~flat Belt~ Treadle Sewing Machine ~cast Iron~ SmallLot Of Elna Supermatic Sewing Machine Accessories Cams Bobbins Feet Needles Etc.Union Special Sewing Machine 7400 Leather Workers Shop Antique Saddle Maker Tool~ ~ Toy Sewing Machine ~ * * S I N G E R * * Hand Crank ~ ~ With Wooden Box.Antique Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine W/accessories & Wood Case Repair/restoreAntique Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine Bronzed Cast Iron Base Art Nouveau PatternLittle Betty Miniature Sewing Machine Swiss Made Elna Diva 9000 Computer Sewing Machine ( Electric ) * See Video *Vintage 1950s Heavy Duty Precision Sewing MachineAntique Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine,1879. Tons Of Extras Hemmer.quilter.rufflerCute Wilcox And Gibbs Sewing Machine For Straight & Chain StictchL888- Vintage Artcraft Little Mother Red Metal Child's Crank Sewing Machine 1948 Hobby Knit - Vintage Knitting Kit/machine By Montello ProductsToy Sewing Machine WertheimEarly 1900's Reliable Hand Crank Vintage Mini Sewing Machine Smooth Running German Toy Sewing MachineRigby Cloth Stripping Machine Model H Exc Cond With Instructions Hooked RugL884- Antique Rare Vintage German Small Sewing Machine Mueller?~ ~vintage Blue ~ Little Mother ~ Toy Sewing Machine Hand Crank ~ ~sews !! ~ Antique Vertical Feed Sewing Machine With Original Bill Of Sale !!! Circa 1910Wheeler & Wilson Instructions For #9 Sewing Machine 1901Antique Childs Sewing Machine ----- JuniorElna Sewing Machine VintagePfaff 332 Sewing Machine With Accessories, Working Great, No Reserve!Antique Jubile Sewing Machine W/cabinet/treadleAntique Iron New Home Sewing Machine Treadle Base-steampunk Table/deskAntique Miniature Smith & Egge Cast Iron Sewing Machine - Rare Find!! - Xx 59dAntique Remington Sewing Machine Catalog Pamphlet Booklet Ilion NyCasige Germany British Zone Little Modiste Childs Sewing Machine Metal Toy LotWheeler & Wilson For #12 Sewing MachinePfaff 130 Sewing Machine Antique Vintage Antique Ornate Cast Iron Sewing Machine Fancy Pillar W/ Finial & Floral PaintLot Of Vintage Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine AttachmentsVintage Childs Sewing Machine --- Sew-o-matic Senior A 'straco' Machine Vintage Sewing American Pinker Quilting Leather Tool MachineAntique Willcox And Gibbs Sewing MachineVintage Sewmor Featherweight Model 505 Portable Electric Sewing Machine Works!New Home Vibrating Shuttle Lock Stitch Series A Sewing Machine Manual Orange MaVintage Tin Oil Can- Used Mini Thumb Pump Oiler 3" Tall - For Sewing MachineImproved Eldredge B Model Sewing Machine Instruction BookNecchi Bu Nova Series Sewing MachineVintage Toy Sewing Machine ~ Kay An Ee Sew Master Made In Us Zone Berlin GermanyVintage New Home Sewing MachineRare Antique Sewing Machine Exhibition CatalogVintage White Greist Sewing Machine Attachments In Tin Case1888 Davis Sewing Machine Instruction Book In GermanSewmor Model 404 Full Size Top Bobbin Sewing Machine Instruction BookVintage Free-westinghouse No.13 Type F Portable Sewing Machine Works*no Reserve*Vtg Toy Sewing Machine Kay An Ee Sewmaster Clamp Style Orig Box W GermVintage Sewing Machine Treadle Drawer Key And Locking MechanismsWhite Sewing Machine Book 13 Auto Lift1894 Old Sewing Machines Antique Engraving PrintVintage Free Westinghouse Sewing Machine 4 Vintage Mini Sewing Machine Cast Iron German Tin Casige Small Toy Blue BlackEarly 1860s Shaw And Clark Paw Foot Sewing MachineDamascus Auntique Sewing MachineVintage, Superior, Sewing Machine Oil, Moyer Bros.