1851 Singer's Sewing Machine Patent Model

Sewing Machine Patent Model Patent No. 8,294, issued August 12, 1851
Isaac Merritt Singer of New York, New York
The eighth child of poor German immigrants, Isaac Singer was born on October 27, 1811, in Pittstown, New York. As a young man he worked as a mechanic and cabinetmaker. For a time he was an actor and formed his own theatrical troupe, The Merritt Players.” Needing a steadier income, Singer worked for a plant in Fredericksburg, Ohio, that manufactured wooden type for printers. Seeing the need for a better type-carving machine, he invented an improved one.
In June 1850, Singer and a partner took the machine to Boston looking for financial support. He rented display space in the workshop of Orson C. Phelps. Here Singer became intrigued with the sewing machine that Phelps was building for John A. Lerow and Sherburne C. Blodgett. Analyzing the flaws of the Lerow and Blodgett sewing machine, Singer devised a machine that used a shuttle that moved in a straight path—as opposed to theirs, which moved around in a complete circle. He visualized replacing their curved horizontal needle with a straight, vertically moving needle. Phelps approved of Singer’s ideas and Isaac worked on perfecting his machine.
For his first patent model, Isaac Singer submitted a commercial sewing machine. He was granted Patent No. 8,294, on August 12, 1851. These commercial sewing machines were built in Orson C. Phelps’s machine shop in Boston. The head, base cams, and gear wheels of the machine were made of cast iron; to fit together, these parts had to be filed and ground by hand. The machine made a lockstitch by using a straight, eye-pointed needle and a reciprocating shuttle. The specific patent claims allowed were for: 1) the additional forward motion of the shuttle to tighten the stitch; 2) the use of a friction pad to control the tension of the thread from the spool; and 3) placing the spool of thread on an adjustable arm to permit thread to be used as needed.
Always the showman, Singer relished exhibiting his invention at social gatherings and was masterful in convincing the women present that the sewing machine was a tool they could learn to use. The machine was transported in its packing crate, which served as a stand; it contained a wooden treadle that allowed the seamstress to power the machine with her feet, leaving both hands free to guide the cloth. This early, heavy-duty Singer machine was designed for use in the manufacturing trades rather than in the home.
Object Name
sewing machine patent model
model constructed
before 1851-08-12
patent date
Singer, Isaac M.
Physical Description
iron (mechanisms material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 16 in x 17 in x 12 in; 40.64 cm x 43.18 cm x 30.48 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
patent number
Patent Models
National Treasures exhibit
Patent Models
Patent Models, Sewing Machines
American Enterprise
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
National Treasures exhibit
Patent Models
American Enterprise
Patent Models, Sewing Machines
American Enterprise
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
depicted; referenced
Janssen, Barbara Suit. Icons of invention : American patent models
Janssen, Barbara Suit. Patent Models Index
Sewer, Andy; Allison, David; Liebhold, Peter; Davis, Nancy; Franz, Kathleen G.. American Enterprise: A History of Business in America
Publication title
The Sewing Machine: Its Invention and Development
Publication author
Cooper, Grace Rogers
Publication URL
Publication title
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL
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