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    

Early 1860s Mme Demorest Running Stitch Sewing MachineAntique Sewing MachineAntique Randall & Co Leather Harness Saddle Cutting Machine Pat. 1887Original 1873 Patent Model Of Mechanical Sewing Machine With Patent Office TagAntique Muller Model 1b ~in Rare Red Velvet Case~ Toy Hand Crank Sewing MachineElna Grasshopper Vintage Portable Sewing Machine With Case - Works WellAntique Toy Sewing Machine Muller 18 Treadle Head5681: Super Rare Excelsior Automatic 19th Century Sewing Machine Dual Arm CrankVintage 1950s Heavy Duty Necchi Lelia 514 Sewing MachineWheeler & Wilson Treadle Antique Vintage Sewing Machine No 8 R1346Vintage White Rotary Sewing Machine With Oak CaseElna Lotus Compact Sewing Machine Made In Switzerland Just Serviced & Sweet!Vintage Antique Relaible Toy Cast Iron Sewing Machine*1907* Frister & Rossmann Hand Crank Sewing MachineAntique Vintage Sew-rite Childs Toy Sewing MachineAntique Toy Sewing Machine * * Stitchwell * * With Original Box It Sews Perfec !Antique Hand Crank Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine, Restored 1894, Willcox DecalsRare Red... Antique Tiny Muller Model ~0~ Toy Hand Crank Sewing Machine In Box!!Vintage Swiss Made Elna Model 50 Grasshopper Sewing MachineCasige Toy Sewing Machine No.241/1sp. Made In Western-germany / Original BoxVintage National Reversew Sewing Machine W/ Travel CaseAntique Early 1900's Child Sewing Machine Germany Little Red Riding Hood MotifVintage Little Miss ~lidstrom Hand Crank Toy Sewing Machine , Sews Perfectly.Vintage Franklin/domestic Sewing Machine & Hardwood CaseVintage Davis Sewing Machine And Georgeous Walnut CaseVintage 1880s Mcdowell Garment Drafting Sleeve Machine Tool Book Lot RareWheeler Wilson #8treadle Sewing Machine Cast Iron Base Wood Table VintageVintage Very Neat Hand Made Miniature Sewing Machine Black Forest Germany MovingMinty German Vintage, Antique Child's Sewing Machine W/ Orig. Clamp!!!Vintage Magic Needle Deluxe Precision Sewing Machine, Gorgeous Turquoise, EstateAntique Original Willcox & Gibbs Automatic Silent Sewing Machine Antique White Sewing Machine Co. Table Legs Base Vintage Industrial Steampunk1940's Child's Betsy Ross Electric Toy Sewing Machine Model 707 Works'the Free' Sewing Machine Catalog Early 1900'sWilcox & Gibbs Vintage Sewing Machine Little Modiste * Casige * German Metal Toy Sewing Machine * Stork Scissor *Child's Antique Little Hustler Hand Crank Sewing MachineVintage White Rotary Sewing Machine 1928-1931 Model Gorgeous Lots Of Pics Nice3 Sewing Machine Cabinet Keys 2 Have A Square End. 1 Has A Triangle End...niceNice Antique National B. Eldredge Chain Stitch Sewing Machine, Wrench, & GuideAntique Wheeler And Wilson Treadle Sewing Machine W/ Coffin Top 4 Drawers Heavy Metal Sewing Machine Figural Pin Cushion 1927 Antique Sewing Machine Great Working ConditionVtg Barbour's Pure Flax Sinew 6 Cord 1 Lb Black Thread For Lock Stitch MachineVintage Easy Punch Automatic Embroidery Machine Only Tested Works GreatAntique Franklin Sewing Machine And Table. Still Works!!Leather Belt For The "white" Treadle Sewing MachineMeasuregraph Model 171 Dress Clothing Fabric Quilt Measure Sewing Machine ToolVintage Original 1920's Minnesota Sewing Machine Instructions Manual SearsVintage Bicor Mini Sewing Machine Battery Operated Model 705 1894 White Treadle Sewing Machine, Restored W/23k Gold Leaf TrimmingSewing MachineVintage Universal Sewing Machine Attachment That Makes ButtonholesVintage Accessories Tin W/sewing Machine Needles, Oiling Can And Odd Parts Vintage Sewing Machine Oil Can, Unique With Finger Handle And CapVintage Treasured Keepsake Souvenir Atlantic City Pewter Thimble W/ Slot MachineEasy Sew Cordless Portable Sewing Machine Old Sewing Machine Built In TableMagic Zig-zag Sewing Machine Model 150 Owner's Manual 1954 & Guarantee Bond