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How Singer Won the Sewing Machine War

Posted on July 15, 2015

Singer Sewing Machine HistoricThe Singer sewing machine revolutionized the way the world created and repaired its fabric, and transformed not only the textile industry, but also global business itself. But a closer look at the Singer patent model, which is on display as part of the American Enterprise show at the National Museum of American History, proves that the machine's success was not just a matter of a brilliant invention whose time had come.

“Most Americans think that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” says the museum's Peter Liebhold, one of the curators of the new exhibition. “In fact, that’s not true. If you build a better mousetrap, it could sit and rot in the corner of your garage.”

For one thing, Isaac Merritt Singer could hardly claim to have invented the sewing machine. It was Elias Howe who created the original sewing-machine concept and patented it in 1846, charging exorbitant licensing fees to anyone trying to build and sell anything similar. But Singer—an eccentric entrepreneur, actor and father of about two dozen children from different partners—came upon a few ways to improve Howe’s model, such as a thread controller, and combining a vertical needle with a horizontal sewing surface.

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