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Elias Howe Sewing Machine

James Polk

Elias Howe Sewing Machine: James Polk was the 11th American President who served in office from March 4, 1845 to March 4, 1849. One of the important events during his presidency was the invention of the Elias Howe Sewing Machine.

Definition and Summary of the Elias Howe Sewing Machine
Summary and definition:
In 1846 the American inventor, Elias Howe (1819-1867) invented, built and patented the world's first practical and successful sewing machine. Elias Howe patented the first ever lockstitch sewing machine in the world.

The invention of the Elias Howe Sewing Machine changed the world by completely transforming and revolutionizing the shoe and clothing industry and the lives of ordinary people by providing the means to buy cheap, fashionable clothes. In 2004 the name of Elias Howe was added to United States National Hall of Fame.

Elias Howe Sewing Machine: Chainstitch v Lockstitch
Other inventors had made sewing machines using the chainstitch but Elias Howe invented his sewing machine to create the lockstitch. There as a problem with the chainstitch - the Chainstitch used a single thread that was looped on itself on the underside, when a break in the thread was followed by a slight pull, the chainstitch unraveled...

Unraveling did not occur with the lockstitch. The lockstitch was made by  using two threads. The two threads interlaced so as to form a neat stitch on both sides of the material. The needle pierced the fabric and a loop was formed in the thread, and at very same time, a shuttle carrying a second thread passed through the loop, making the lock stitch. The Elias Howe Sewing Machine use of the eye-pointed needle in combination with a shuttle to form the lockstitch.

How did the Elias Howe Sewing Machine work?
The Elias Howe Sewing Machine worked, using two threads by:

  • An automatic feed

  • A shuttle operating beneath the cloth to form the lockstitch

  • A needle with an eye at the point 

Time Saved: Elias Howe Sewing Machine compared to hand-made clothes
The Elias Howe sewing machine made a massive difference to the amount of time it would take to make clothes. When the Elias Howe sewing machine was invented it took 14 hrs. 26 minutes to make a Gentleman's shirt by hand. Using the sewing machine the time was reduced to just 1 hr. 16 minutes. A dress made of calico took 6 hrs. 37 minutes to make by hand and this was reduced to just 57 minutes using the Elias Howe sewing machine.

Time Saved using the Elias Howe Sewing Machine: Number of Stitches Per Minute
The Elias Howe sewing machine slashed the Number of Stitches Per Minute. Various tests were conducted and results verified that the average Number of Stitches Per Minute that could be sewn by hand = 23 stitches. The Number of Stitches Per Minute made by the Elias Howe sewing machine = 640. Amazing!

1863 Elias Howe Sewing Machine for kids
The design of the Elias Howe Sewing Machine evolved and by 1863 the Elias Howe Sewing Machine model  featured a footpress, and was on sale for home use and for light manufacturing.

1863 Elias Howe Sewing Machine Price
How much did Elias Howe sewing machine cost? The cost of the new invention varied over the years but by 1863 the sewing machine in the picture was on sale in London, England for 10 sterling which was equivalent to $30 US dollars at the time. To put the 1863 into perspective, $1 worth of 1863 dollars is now worth about $18, so the 1863 Elias Howe sewing machine would have cost about $54 in today's currency. The price would have been way out of reach to all but the wealthy at the time and the importance of the new Elias Howe sewing machines would have been sold to the clothing industry.

How did the Elias Howe Sewing Machine change the world?
The Elias Howe Sewing Machine really did change the world...

  • The Increased sewing speed led to cheap production costs

  • It significantly decreased the time required to produce an item

  • Ready-made clothing became available

  • The household sewing chores required to make new garments decreased

  • Clothes could be quickly and cheaply replaced, which led to a rise in the interest and desirability of fashion

  • The Elias Howe Sewing Machine transformed and revolutionized the clothing industry and the shoe making industry

  • Millions of new jobs were created throughout the world

Elias Howe Sewing Machine: Facts, Biography and Timeline for kids
Interesting Elias Howe Sewing Machine Timeline Facts and Timeline for kids are detailed below. The history of the Elias Howe Sewing Machine is told in a factual timeline sequence consisting of a series of short facts providing a simple method of relating the
history of the Elias Howe Sewing Machine.

1819: Elias Howe was born on July 9, 1819 in Spencer, Massachusetts

1835: Apprenticed at a textile mill

1838: Moves to Lowell, Massachusetts and works for Ari Davies with early sewing machinery

1841: Marries Elizabeth Jennings Ames

1845: Develops the lockstitch sewing machine and exhibits his first machine

1846: Patents sewing machine but no U.S. manufacturer is interested. Travels to England where it is sold, together with all British rights, to William Thomas

1847: Works with William Thomas in London to produce a machine to stitch leather

1847: Returns to USA to find his patent had been infringed by Isaac Singer. He sues Isaac Singer for patent infringement

1854: Wins patent protection in law courts and becomes extremely rich

1862: Enlists as a private in the American Civil War.

1867: Elias Howe died at the age of 48 on October 3, 1867 in Brooklyn, N.Y. as one of the richest men in the United States of America

US American History
1841-1850: Westward Expansion
Inventions & Inventors Timeline

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