howe sewing machine

This sewing machine is one of the earliest models built by Elias Howe, the American inventor and entrepreneur who is most closely associated with this invention. Howe actually did not invent the sewing machine. Various models were in production from as early as 1790, but Howe perfected the design and was the first person in the United States to hold a patent on the sewing machine. His patent, no. 4750, was issued in September 1846.

Howe’s sewing machine was one of the quintessential developments in the Industrial Revolution. It made the mass production of inexpensive clothes possible, coinciding with industrial developments in creating textiles on a large scale, especially in England and Germany. These two developments changed the world forever. Urbanization, the rise of a working class and the development of mass political movements–modern capitalist democracy, and its antithesis, Communism–are all linked to these technological and economic factors. The water-powered looms that hummed in factories in Manchester and Lowell in the 1840s, spitting out bolts of cloth to be sewn by Howe’s machines, had a huge effect on the world.

This particular machine was brought to England in 1846 by Amasa Howe, Elias’s brother. It is on display in the Science Museum in London, UK.

The photo of the Howe sewing machine is owned by the Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library.