1846 - Elias Howe Jr.'s Sewing Machine Patent Model

1846 - Elias Howe Jr.'s Sewing Machine Patent Model

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Sewing Machine Patent Model. Patent No. 4,750, issued September 10, 1846. Elias Howe Jr. of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
While working as a journeyman machinist, Elias Howe Jr. wrestled for years to find a way to mechanize sewing. With the family pinched by poverty, his wife sewed for others by hand at home. Watching her sew, Howe visualized ways to mechanize the process. In 1845, he built his first sewing machine and soon constructed an improved model, which he carried to the Patent Office in Washington to apply for a patent. He received the fifth United States patent (No. 4,750) for a sewing machine in 1846.
Howe’s model used a grooved and curved eye-pointed needle carried by a vibrating arm. The needle was provided with thread from a spool. Loops of thread from the needle were locked by a second thread carried by a shuttle, which moved through the loop by means of reciprocating drivers.
The cloth hung vertically, impaled on pins on a metal baster plate. The baster plate moved intermittently under the needle by means of a toothed wheel. The length of each stitching operation depended upon the length of the baster plate, and only straight seams could be sewn. When the end of the baster plate reached the position of the needle, the sewing was stopped. The cloth was removed from the baster plate, and the plate was moved back to its original position. The cloth was repositioned on the pins and the process was repeated until the sewing was finished. This resulted in an imperfect way to sew, but it marked the beginning of successful mechanized sewing.
Howe’s patent claims were upheld in court to allow his claim to control the combination of the eye-pointed needle with a shuttle to form a lockstitch. Howe met with limited success in marketing his sewing machine. Subsequent inventors patented their versions of sewing machines, some of which infringed on Howe’s patent. He quickly realized his fortune depended on defending his patent and collecting royalty fees from sewing machine manufacturers. These royalty licenses granted companies the right to use the Howe patent on their machines.
In 1856, after years of lawsuits over patent rights, Elias Howe and three companies, Wheeler & Wilson, Grover and Baker, and I. M. Singer, formed the first patent pool in American industry. The organization was called the Sewing Machine Combination and/or the Sewing Machine Trust. This freed the companies from expensive and time-consuming litigation and enabled them to concentrate on manufacturing and marketing their machines.
Currently not on view
Object Name
sewing machine patent model
Object Type
Patent Model
model constructed
before 1846-09-10
patent date
Howe, Jr., Elias
model maker
Howe, Jr., Elias
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Cambridge
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
wood (base material)
overall: 12 in x 9 in x 11 in; 30.48 cm x 22.86 cm x 27.94 cm
ID Number
catalog number
patent number
accession number
Patent Models
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Patent Models, Sewing Machines
National Treasures exhibit
Sewing Machines
Patent Models
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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