Isaac M. Singer.
The greatest competitor of Mr. Howe was I. M. Singer. In 1850 there appeared
in a shop in Boston, a man who exhibited a carving machine as his invention.
Mr. Parton, in the Atlantic Monthly, said: "Singer was a poor, baffled
adventurer. He had been an actor and a manager of a theatre, and had tried his
hand at various enterprises, none of which had been successful." The proprietor
of the shop, who had some sewing-machines there on exhibition, speaking of them,
said: "These machines are an excellent invention, but have some serious defects.
Now if you could make the desired improvement, there would be more money in
it than in making these carving machines." This seemed to gently impress Singer,
and the friend advancing $40, he at once began work. According to Singer's
testimony in the Howe vs. Singer suits, the story of this wonderful man runs something like this:
"I worked day and night, sleeping but three or four hours out of the
twenty-four, and eating generally but once a day, as I knew I must get a
machine made for forty dollars or not get it at all. The machine was completed
the night of the eleventh day from the day it was commenced. About nine o'clock
that evening we got the parts of the machine together, and commenced trying it.
The first attempt to sew was unsuccessful, and the workmen, who were tired out
with almost unremitting work, left me, one by one, intimating that it was a
failure. I continued trying the machine, with Zieber, who furnished the forty
dollars, to hold the lamp for me; but in the nervous condition to which I had
been reduced, by incessant work and anxiety, was unsuccessful in getting the
machine to sew light stitches.
"About midnight I started with Zieber to the hotel, where I boarded. Upon the
way we sat down on a pile of boards, and Zieber asked me if I had not noticed
that the loose loops of thread on the upper side of the cloth came from the
needle? It then flashed upon me that I had forgotten to adjust the tension upon
the needle thread. Zieber and I went back to the shop. I adjusted the tension,
tried the machine, and sewed five stitches perfectly, when the thread broke. The
perfection of those stitches satisfied me that the machine was a success, and I
stopped work, went to the hotel, and had a sound sleep. By three o'clock the
next day I had the machine finished, and started with it to New
York, where I employed Mr. Charles M. Keller to get out a patent for it."
The trial resulted in favor of Howe, but of the two men Singer was in every
way the superior in business capacity. In fact; there never has been a
sewing-machine manufacturer that could compare with I. M. Singer. "Great and
manifold were the difficulties which arose in his path, but one by one he
overcame them all. He advertised, he traveled, he sent out agents, he procured
the insertion of articles in newspapers, he exhibited the machines at fairs in
town or country. Several times he was on the point of failure, but in the nick
of time something always happened to save him, and year after year he advanced
toward an assured success.
"We well remember his early efforts, when he only had the back part of a
small store on Broadway, and a little shop over a railroad depot; and we
remember also the general incredulity with regard to the value of the machine
with which his name was identified. Even after hearing him explain it at great
length, we were very far from expecting to see him one day riding to the Central
Park in a French diligence, drawn by five horses paid for by the sewing-machine.
Still less did we anticipate that within twelve years the Singer company would
be selling a thousand sewing-machines a week, at a profit of a thousand dollars
a day. He was the true pioneer of the mere business of selling machines, and
made it easier for all his subsequent competitors."
The peculiarity of the Singer machine is the chain stitch or single thread
device, but with the employment of an eye-pointed needle, and other appliances,
so as to make it admirably adopted for the general purposes of sewing. At Mr. Singer's death it
was found that his estate amounted to about $19,000,000.