Howe's Version of History
Issue 61 - 62
In the past issue we finished Singer's version of the history of the sewing machine and promised to follow it with a Howe propaganda version. It was allegedly written by one N Salmon but appears to have come straight from the Howe publicity department. This looks hard reading but gives a fascinating insight into Howe's thinking at the time
THE SUCCESSFUL development of the Art of Sewing by Machinery, is an invention destined to work a complete and beneficial revolution in an important and indispensable branch of the industry of the world; and to add as much to the comfort and welfare of mankind as any mechanical device that the mind of man has yet conceived or his ingenuity carried into effect. It is an invention which will assuredly mark an era in human progress: it is, in fact, the creation of a new art.
That the machine will accomplish an entire change in the universal labour of sewing, is now beyond a doubt-the "beginning of the end" has indeed already appeared; for its working power has been fully tested and established, and its capacity of production shown to be little less than marvellous, even in this age of astounding mechanical results. That vast beneficial social consequences will accrue from its use, is no less certain; for some of these have been actually experienced.
The sewing machine will infallibly liberate the sewing woman from the barren and hopeless slavery of the needle, to which the requirements of civilisation have hitherto bound her; it will prove a sure lever to effect her social elevation and be a powerful agent in ameliorating her moral and physical condition.
With the multitudes of professed sewing women redeemed from this pernicious and demoralising drudgery, and restored to their rightful position in the commonwealth, can any one doubt that society at large will derive a commensurate advantage, and a healthier moral tone be secured?
It is a question, however, that need scarcely be asked. The merest tyro in the study of political and social economy knows that the improved condition of any class must re-act beneficially on the whole community; and knows also that the influence of woman is unbounded, whether for good or for evil.
The wrongs and sufferings of the poor seamstress have long excited the pity and commiseration of the thinking public, and been the despair of social economists. Their woes have been dwelt on over and over again, with more or less graphic power and touching pathos; yet it is an undeniable truth that not a tithe of their privations and miseries has ever been revealed.
Noble-hearted Christians have made sympathising efforts to improve the lot in life of the sewing woman; but it is certain that, as commiseration is neither curative nor preventive, their superficial labours, however well-intentioned, have utterly failed to address the grievance.
Nay, more than this, we may be pardoned for believing that the philanthropists and social science savans who have sat in comfortable council on the condition of the poor needle woman, and dilated grandiloquently on the subject of woman's mission, have not even suggested a reliable or reasonable remedy. For what has been the specific which they have prescribed in the case, or the remedy which they have declared to be the right one?
Simply to withdraw from the narrow field of female employment the superabundant workers, and throw them into the wider but equally-crowded fields of labour occupied by men.
They would lighten one scale by taking out a portion of the weight, and transferring it to the other, already fully weighted: a mode of proceeding which, although it might effect the immediate object, is obviously not calculated to rectify the balance of male and female labour on any sure principle of reason or political economy.
The sartorial wiseacre who, in order to lengthen the cloth on which he was working, cut off a piece from one extremity to sew it on the other, did not betray less acuteness in the know-ledge or the adaptation of means to a permanent result.
So long as human nature remains what it was designed to be, the original law of its Creator to "increase and multiply" will be obeyed, and the celibate doctrines of Malthus be disregarded. This being so, it would seem to be equally a law of nature that females should come into the world in excess of males, and that the former should be chiefly dependent on the latter for their maintenance.
This is in truth the normal relation of the sexes; and in reality the toil of the man is the support of the woman so long as his ability lasts and so far as his power extends.
The progressive conditions of population and civilisation are, however, inexorable; these diminish this ability and restrain this power; and consequently place woman in the abnormal position of being her own bread winner; the burden of doing so for her, being one that the man can no longer take up or adequately bear.
This then is the root of the evil; and surely it is a most short-sighted and self-defeating mode of dealing with it, to lessen still more the ability of man to be the bread-winner for woman, by limiting or restraining his industrial resources within yet narrower bounds, and reducing the payment for his labour to a still lower rate.
The introduction of women into the employments of men must inevitably have this result; and therefore will be an aggravation of the evil rather than a cure.
In the highly artificial state of modern society, the pressure of a plethora of industrial population and a scale of remuneration for industrial labour reduced by competition to the minimum point, are conflicting forces that demand careful handling; and refuse to be adjusted by politico-economical aphorisms, platform platitudes, or quasi-philanthropic experiments. To deal with so vast and momentous a question in a superficial and transitory manner, it is downright empiricism.
What is wanted in order to effectually relieve the condition of the industrial labour market, is not the short-lived expedient of transferring labourers from one crowded field of industry to another which is equally overburdened-not the fatuous process of curtailing one end to lengthen out the other-not spasmodic and amateur tamperings with a grave social problem-but the widening of the old or the discovery of new fields of labour.
If we multiply woman's legitimate and congenial, and as it would seem natural avocations-open up entirely new sources both for her own and masculine occupation, the general amount of remunerative employment is beneficially increased, and the amelioration of her individual condition is effected and secured.
The range of industrial labour is at once extended, without introducing disorganisation into departments already occupied; and in the same ratio the well being of male and female workers is secured.
The long-sought-for panacea-the means of effecting the extension of the sphere of woman's employment-of redeeming her from the horrible and heart-breaking slavery and degradation of the needle, which has been her chief resource in every extremity of adverse circumstances, and often her sole reliance through life-the means of improving the social and physical and moral condition of the poor suffering oppressed seamstress, and restoring her to her rightful dignity of womanhood-this ardently desired means has at last been devised.
The great discovery has not, however, been made by eminent social science doctrinaires or illustrious philanthropic dilettante. The honour has been reserved for and the blessing conferred by a humble proletarian, a hard-handed son of toil.
In a word, the power of effecting this great and humane achievement resides, without any possibility of question, in the new art of sewing by machinery which ELIAS HOWE the American has invented and applied, and placed practically before the world in his Automatic Sewing Machine.
Before entering on a description of the characteristics and capacity of this marvelous machine -marvelous alike in the beautiful simplicity of its construction, and the adaptability of its power to almost every requirement of sewing used-it will be instructive and interesting to present a few facts from the chequered life of its inventor, ELIAS HOWE.
They will prove how a man of genius can vanquish difficulties, how a firm will and fixed purpose can conquer circumstances, and how a brave heart can bear the sorest buffetings of adversity.
They will show conclusively that the trials encountered the suffering patiently borne, and injustice endured, which has been so often the bitter experience of those whose inventions have been real benefactions to mankind-has been the sad and painful experience also of the Inventor of the Sewing Machine.
ELIAS HOWE was born in Spencer, Massachusetts, USA, on the 10th of July, 1819. His parentage was respectable; his father being in the station of life which would be known in England as that of a small farmer and mill owner.
The Government of the United States wisely providing for its citizens the means of properly educating their children, to the State school young Howe was sent at the usual age.
His attainments there were of the ordinary description; and on his leaving, when it became necessary to select a trade, the calling of a "machinist", to use an American expression, was chosen for him.
It should be more properly said, perhaps, that the lad made the choice for himself; for, conformably to the law of inventive natures, he had long felt an impulse towards the science of mechanics, and given proofs that the bent of his mind lay in that direction. A "machinist" therefore young Howe became; and the evidences were not long wanting to show that he had chosen his right vocation in life.
It will not be necessary to specify those early proofs of his mechanical genius; but it is proper to state that while still a youth he constructed the first photographic apparatus that was ever used in America.
If it were possible to assign a date for the birth of an idea in the mind, we might say that before he reached the age of 21, Elias Howe had conceived the fixed notion of an automatic sewing machine.
A creative genius will brood over a mixed and indistinct "mass of many images" until some indefinable agency gives to one of these mental embryos a greater prominence; it then takes shape as a distinct thought - thoughts are the moulds of things; and the conception becomes in due season developed into a visible and actual reality.
In the instance of Howe's sewing machine, its inventor gave his active attention to its construction so early as the year 1840; but how long previously to that date it was that the thought of forming such a piece of mechanism first occurred to him, is unknown.
The growth of mechanical creations, is slow; and the mental process undergone before their material realisation, long and arduous. Howe found it impossible to give so much time to the perfection of his conception as he could have desired; for at this period he had other and more pressing demands on his attention.
He had, although so young, really taken up the burden of life; and was a married man, with a wife and children dependent on him, at the age of 22. Early marriages are customary in America; but it may be questioned whether that is a wise usage which leads a man to give "hostages to fortune" at so early a stage in the journey of life.
Howe consequently found himself compelled to give his chief attention to the cares and responsibilities of his position as a married man. These taxed his utmost exertion; but they could not force him to abandon his cherished idea.
On the contrary, he dwelt on it incessantly; and perhaps more earnestly than ever; for he provided himself with thread, needles, and such mechanical appliances as he could carry in his pocket; and worked on the elaboration of his invention in the intervals of daily labour at his trade.
In the hours of the night he gave himself up to it entirely; and, in brief, the subject grew upon him so irresistibly, that in 1844 he felt himself compelled to devote the whole of his time and attention to its development.
His circumstances were very straitened; but convinced of the feasibility of reducing his design to practical operation, and encouraged by promised of support, he laboured energetically and incessantly in the construction of the machine.
Howe was then-early in December, 1844- residing in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, and Mr George Fisher, the publisher of a weekly newspaper of that town, gave him active and substantial encouragement. It would seem, in fact, that at this period he was living wholly at the charge of Mr Fisher, who was the only one besides the inventor himself who had any confidence in the success of the machine.
Indeed, with the common experience in this respect of all great inventors or discoverers, Howe was looked upon by his acquaintances and neighbours as very visionary in seeking to accomplish anything of the kind, and Mr Fisher was considered nearly as mad in encouraging and assisting him.
Notwithstanding the scepticism of others, he had firm faith in his own ability to produce a practical machine; and worked at it without intermission in a garret of his friend's house.
In that lonely garret his brain laboured and his hands toiled to develop and perfect his invention; and there it was that, early in the month of April 1845, after five years of unremitting toil and ceaseless devotion to the task, the first Automatic Sewing Machine was constructed and finished for practical operation. A wonderful piece of mechanism, truly to issue from such a workshop! - and the triumph of its completion, a fitting reward for the genius that had conceived it and the ingenuity that had carried it to perfection.
The dream of his young life is accomplished, and the great brain-worker stands at the foot of the ladder of fame. Now God grant him in this the hour of his need, the blessing of patient perseverance.
However great may have been his previous struggles, however much he may have endured and suffered-his struggles, his sufferings, and his endurance, are as nought compared with those he must now inevitably encounter.
To test the operating power and practical utility of the invention, two suits of men's clothing, of fine broadcloth, were made by the machine, July 1845; that is to say, all the seaming and stitching work was performed by it; one suit being worn by Howe and the other by Mr Fisher.
The work was perfectly well done, and so firm that it outlasted the cloth. The stitches, known as the "lock" stitch were made at the rate of 160 in 30 seconds; the average rate of hand-sewn stitches being about 30 in 60 seconds.
When the machine was (subsequently to application for letters patent) taken to the Quincy-Hall clothing manufactury in Boston, it obtained even a higher rate of speed. It was worked there daily for two weeks, in a room where some 210 persons were engaged in sewing. They brought portions of their work, such as coat seams, to the machine to be worked; and the machine did it, better and faster than they could have done it themselves.
The machine was in fact pitted against five girls, the best and quickest workers in the establishment, each girl having one piece of cloth, and the machine five pieces, all of the same length, and the seams, which were the inside seams of coat sleeves, also of the same description
The girls sewed much faster than they were in the habit of sewing and at a rate which they could not have maintained for a day, or even for an hour; but they were beaten by the machine, which was operated by Howe himself and worked by hand.
The seaming made by it was the neatest and strongest, and fit for any use in the trade. It remained some 10 days in the establishment of John Simmons & Co, where its working capacity and superiority to hand sewing was clearly demonstrated.
The machine was then taken by Howe and Mr Fisher to Washington, in September, 1845, with the intention of procuring a patent on the invention. For that purpose Howe placed his machine and specification in the hands of Dr Jones, and that gentleman undertook to obtain it. His papers were filed as a caveat in the patent office, September 22nd, 1845, and his application for a patent was completed May 17th, 1846. It was granted September 10th, 1846.
At the same time one-half of the interest in his invention and patent was conveyed by Howe to Mr Fisher. The consideration was a nominal sum of $500 (though a much larger sum, viz $10,000, was at Mr Fisher's instance inserted in the dead) for the assistance that Howe had received from Mr Fisher in maintenance and lodging for himself and family while labouring at the completion of his machine.
After this transaction, Mr Fisher's interest being amply secured, the warmth of his friendship for Howe appears to have taken a sudden chill; at all events, it is clear that he declined to afford him any further active assistance, pecuniary or otherwise.
The sum in which Howe was indebted to Fisher was not a very large one to be sure; but it served him sell enough as a reason for abandoning Howe to his own resources. These at that time might be expressed in one word-they were absolutely nil, that is, so far as money means were concerned.
Not only had he, in this sense, none whatever of his own, but in addition to his obligations to Mr Fisher, he was also indebted to his father for assistance received in money, board, and lod-ging.
As he had liquidated the claims of Mr Fisher by the sale to him of one half of his patent; so he appears to have had no other course left than to part with the remaining half of the patent to his father in satisfaction of his claim also. The assignment was accordingly made, September 21st, 1846, for the nominal sum of $1,000.
Therefore the inventor of the automatic sewing machine now stood absolutely denuded of all legal right or title to or interest in his grand invention.
For what equivalent? For the consideration pure and simple of some certain portion of daily bread had and obtained for himself and family while he was engaged in the invention and elaboration of his machine.
What his feelings must have been in finding himself thus stripped of his inherent rights to his invention can easily be imagined; nor was it at all likely they were rendered any the less poignant from the fact that his rights and title had passed to his friend and his father. (It must, however, be remarked that as regards the latter the assignment was in some slight degree a precautionary measure).
He had invented and produced a wonderful machine, perfect in all its parts, and of almost inestimable value, both as a piece of industrial mechanism of vast productive power, and as a humane labour-saving agent; yet had derived no other advantage from it than being enabled by disposing of his rights and property in it to discharge some claims against him, incurred for the common necessaries of life.
Was this to be his sole reward for the long labour of invention and the slow toil of construction? A piteous case enough, if we reflect on it, to be compelled to pay so largely in the fine gold of genius for a poor pittance of the bread that perisheth!
Although at this period Mr Fisher seemed disposed to allow his share in the patent to remain dormant, Howe's father took active steps to introduce the sewing machine of his son into public use.
Indeed with this object he had, previously to acquiring his own assignment of patent rights, offered Mr Fisher $5,000 for his share, but the offer was declined; a clear proof that Mr Fisher's inaction in the matter was not attributable to any doubt or misgiving as to the ultimate public success of the invention, or its practical utility.
The inventor's brother, Amasa B Howe, who had been residing in Louisiana for some time, but arriving on a visit at Cambridgeport had been induced to remain, also gave his assistance in endeavouring to place the invention before the public.
Howe himself, who had no longer any legal interest in it, seemed to have no other course open to him than to leave his invention in their hands, and return to daily work at his trade.
He had, however, in the summer of 1846, constructed another machine besides the original one and the patent office model. His brother, being of an energetic, enterprising character, saw that, although no profit from the invention was likely to accrue to the inventor in the United States, something might be done with it in Europe where the patent would be the sole property of the inventor.
He therefore suggested that a machine should be taken to England; and being under an engagement to proceed thither, offered to be his brother's agent in the business. The suggestion and offer were accepted, Mr Howe, Snr advancing the money to defray the necessary expenses.
Accordingly Mr A B Howe proceeded to England in October 1846. In the month of November following he disposed of the invention and machine: the purchaser being Mr William Thomas, a manufacturer of stays (ie corsets) etc, in Cheapside, London.
The exclusive right in England to the machine and invention was sold and conveyed to Mr Thomas for 250-two hundred and fifty pounds for an invention of which 13 years later was estimated at $90,000,000 to the United States alone. And as 250 is the sum total the struggling and unknown genius ever received for the use of his invention in England, it might be concluded that he was content to sell it absolutely and without reservation for that amount.
But unless Amasa Howe and Elias Howe are utterly regardless of truth, and indifferent to the obligation of an oath, their sworn and attested affidavits before the Commissioner of Patents in New York, tell a very different story. In pursuance of this sale and conveyance to him by Mr Amasa B Howe, Mr Thomas took out English letters patent for the invention of Elias Howe's automatic sewing machine, on the 1st of December 1846.*
Footnote* The invention was entered as "a communication" and described to be "Machinery for sewing or stitching fabrics, so as either to unite or ornament the same". The patent bore the number 11,464.
Mr Thomas being extensively engaged in the manufacture of stays, etc-employing, as he informed Mr A B Howe, no fewer than 5,000 hands -such an invention as Howe's sewing machine could not fail to be of immense advantage to him, if adapted to the special requirements of his business. He proposed, therefore, that the inventor should come to England, and adapt the machine to the sewing of stays and corsets, the chief specialities of his manufacture.
He offered to furnish him with every facility for effecting this object; and as a further inducement said he would pay him a salary of 3 per week. It may be thought that the inducement might have been a little stronger; and that the weekly wages of 3 were hardly commensurate with the considerable advantage prospectively derivable from the employment of the sewing machine, combined with the services of the inventor. Let that, however, pass.
A man in the position of Howe cannot always hold a nice balance between his interests and his necessities. Therefore, when his brother returned to America after effecting the sale of the machine and invention in England, and laid the proposition of the purchaser before him, he resolved to accept it.
He took this resolution with the less reluctance, perhaps, as he had not in the interval of his brother's departure and return succeeded in inducing his earlier friend Mr Fisher to take any decided steps to work the invention.
The few efforts which he made in this direction were not so continuous or energetic as to satisfy Howe's earnest desire to get his machine into use in the United States. After his departure for England, Mr Fisher did, however, essay to get the patent into operation; and for this purpose had some dozen machines constructed.
In pursuance of his resolution to proceed to England, Howe made arrangements for leaving Cambridgeport. In thus severing himself from his home in order to develop more fully the merits of his machine in London, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the weekly wages of 3 was not the sole inducement, but that he probably had some expectation of subsequently deriving further benefits from his invention, and thus more materially improving his circumstances; but whether he had sufficient grounds for such an expectation, it is now needless to inquire.
His means were so straitened that he could not take his family with him; and he was compelled to leave his wife and three children in the care of his father. But his brother Amasa, who it would seem, was resolved to follow the fortunes of the sewing machine a little further, decided to accompany him.
They both took a steerage passage, and sailed from Boston on the 5th of February, 1847; and they arrived in England on the 1st of March following.
On the arrival of Howe in London, Mr Thomas immediately provided him with a place to work in, and supplied the necessary tools, and other facilities for adapting the machine to sewing stays, corsets, etc. Howe commenced his labours at once; and in a very short time produced a machine that fully answered the purpose. It was tested by working on cloth and on paper the various movements necessary in the sewing of stays, and performed its work perfectly.
Other machines to the number of eight or nine were subsequently constructed during the time Howe remained with Mr Thomas; and they all worked satisfactorily.
The first automatic sewing machine used in Europe was thus established in England, in perfect practical operation. Its fortunate proprietor had now before him the sure prospect of a great success, as the reward for his enterprising policy in securing to himself, first the invention, and then the inventor to adapt it to the requirements of his business.
The prospect before Howe was not so cheering or promising; it was in truth quite otherwise. He had indeed the satisfaction, and that no doubt was great, of seeing his invention in active and remunerative use; still his feeling of gratification as a successful inventor could not fail soon to give place to a widely different one in presence of the fact that his invention was in one sense no longer his own, and that while the working of his machine was productive of great and increasing pecuniary gain to its proprietor, the profit only reached its inventor in the form of weekly wages paid to him as a workman managing it for the benefit of an employer.
This then was the relative position of the patentee and Howe-the former being the beneficiary proprietor and the latter the inventor and paid operator of the first sewing machine introduced into the field of sewed manufactures in England. It was a position abnormal, and contrary to the law of natural justice, but inevitable under the force of circumstances.
The first machine having proved successful, and his brother having constructed and perfected another for Mr Thomas, Mr Amasa B Howe returned to the United States, satisfied that the invention was in a prosperous way.
This could scarcely be said to be the case with the inventor. Yet, naturally desirous to have his family near him, after his brother's departure he was so ill-advised as to send for them from America, the money being advanced to him to pay for their passage to England.
This step was most unfortunate in the result. Howe's circumstances were very little if at all improved; and although Mrs Howe, like a true wife and woman, came gladly to the home which her husband had been enabled to provide for her and their children, she arrived only unhappily to fall ill.
The anxieties which she had already undergone had been severe; and the new ones encountered were not less so; and before their combined influence, and probably affected also by the change of climate, here naturally delicate constitution gave way.
This was a heavy blow to Howe and a painful aggravation of his position; but it was not the only one which he had to confront and to endure:
- "When misfortunes come,
"They come not singly, but in battalions",
is a truth that few have not felt the force of in the battle of life, at one time or another.
If Howe had never been sensible of this before, he had bitter experience of it now; for coupled with his wife's ill health, his children were seized with sickness. This was bad enough; but worse remained behind. In an evil hour, he had consented to indorse a bill for 100; and being utterly unable to meet it when it fell due, he was sued on it, arrested, and thrown into the Queen's Bench prison; whence he was eventually liberated only on taking the poor debtor's oath.
The list of Howe's misfortunes was not yet completed. His cup of suffering in fact was not half filled; nor had it received its bitterest ingredient. For this experience also he had not long to wait; indeed it was presented to him with all the celerity which the circumstances of the case would admit of, and came to him in the shape of dismissal from his employment.
There need not be any very great feeling of surprise created by this. The actual position of Howe at that moment has unfortunately been the position of many a poor and struggling genius before him; as it will no doubt be that of many others after him; for it must be considered that when an orange has been sucked, or a cocoa-nut broken, and the rich juice and pulp extracted, there is nothing more to do, than to throw away the Flaccid fruit or the cracked nut-shell as the case may be; that when the lesson is learned, there is no further need to keep the book open; and that when the work is accomplished, it is fully to retail the workman.
These instances are not, however, cited as directly illustrating the true reason of Howe's discharge; but as generally indicative of the experience of men whose genius is their only wealth, and with special reference to poor and struggling inventors - a class which has reduced not a few of the greatest benefactors of mankind.
With his wife suffering from ill health, his children sick, and himself without employment, Howe was in the position that tries a man to the uttermost. The iron of adversity had already entered; and by the difficulties he now experienced it was driven home.
He was worse off than he had ever been before. The ignus fatuus hope of better fortune in England which he had expectantly followed across the Atlantic had proved to him, what such, will-o'-the-wisp allurements have proved to so many, "a delusion, a mockery, and a snare;" and had landed him in a quagmire of distress, where there was no helping hand outstretched to extricate him.
In Cambridgeport he was at home, in the midst of his relations and friends, who aided him as an inventor struggling against circumstances, as far as they were able; and where he could as a last resource turn his hand really and profitably to his trade.
In London, on the contrary, he was in a foreign land, in the midst of strangers; and though his case might not be precisely that of the unfortunate traveller of whom we read that he was left naked and wounded by the way-side; there are in it nevertheless some points of a certain degree of suggestiveness.
In the United States he was simply an inventor, whose rights to his invention were one half transferred fully, but not irrevocably, and the other half ostensibly transferred also, but really only in abeyance (for the assignment to his father was merely a temporary and precautionary arrangement), so that he had there the probability of regaining at least a part of these rights; and was absolutely free to take his invention to another country and there dispose of it, for his own sole benefit.
Thus the situation, though depressing enough, was not utterly hopeless. In England, however, he was an inventor, whose rights to his invention had absolutely and irrevocably passed from him to sale and transfer to an enterprising manufacturer and man of capital, for a very trifling sum; and without, as it is alleged by the English patentee, any reserved rights whatever by way of royalties for the issue by him of licenses to others to use Howe's invention.
Whether the disposition which had been made of his patent rights in each case, was the most judicious that under the circumstances could be effected, is by no means clear.
It is clear, however, that here was a grand creation, a beneficent invention, a marvellous triumph of mechanical ingenuity, of vast productive power, and capable of adaptation to an endless variety of manufacturing uses, brought into the sphere of industrial life, which it was calculated to extend and stimulate - an invention destined to increase the wealth of the nation, and the well being of individuals to an extent which is beyond computation, which probably even the inventor himself never wholly imagined, and which is already, although only in the infancy of its operation, almost beyond estimation-here, we repeat, was this great fact abundantly manifest.
And here also, by the side of it, was the lamentable fact, that the gifted inventor himself was enduring the direst extremities of penury, as a discharged workman-a phrase which in general has only too sad a significancy for those who win by daily toil their daily bread; but in Howe's position it possessed a still more deplorable meaning, for he was a stranger in a foreign land. The keen consciousness of unrewarded merit, and the sharp pang which men in like circumstances, will feel, must in his case have been acute indeed.
The painful experiences of life are manifold; and it is difficult to say whether any given state is more prolific of them than another; but it will surely be allowed that in this respect the condition of Howe at that period could scarcely be surpassed.
He was even reduced to the necessity of borrowing from a sympathising working man, whom he had known while in Mr Thomas's employment, a shilling or two at a time, to procure food for his family, repaying these loans by pledging articles of wearing apparel.
He was prostrate, but did not despair, as no brave man ever does: and at this critical junction a friend appeared in the person of the captain of an American ship; who generously consented to give Mrs Howe and the children a passage on credit to the United States.
This was a great relief to Howe, since it would leave him a freer man to fight his battles; but it was obtained by the greatest sacrifice he had yet made to his misfortunes.
Provisions and some little outfit for the journey must be provided. How to obtain them was the all-absorbing question. In the midst of his privations and sufferings. Howe had clung with all the tenacity of parental fondness to the little machine he had constructed with so much patience and skill in the attic at Cambridgeport-that eldest-born sewing machine-the monument to his genius-the consummation of his fervent hopes and earnest desires.
He loved it, as they only can love, who have cultivated a thought until it has become a palpable reality. He must tear the ideal love from his heart, and choose between it and the wants of his wife and children.
A father's love has no choice; and Howe sacrificed the first born of his genius to the necessities of the first born of his affections. *
Footnote * This machine and the original American letters patent were redeemed in April, 1849, by Hon Anson Burlingame, of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, Member of Congress, who kindly undertook a commission from Howe for that purpose. This gentleman was subsequently appointed by President Lincoln, US Minister to Austria.
To further indicate his helpless condition at this period, two more instances may be given. They are very painful and pathetic, and portray such abject privation, as for the sake of human nature, it is to be hoped do not often fall to the lot of a man of genius to experience.
The first occurred on the day fixed for the departure of his wife and little ones. Some essential articles of family underclothing came home from the washerwoman. But Howe, having neither money nor the means of procuring it to pay the laundress, the woman refused to leave them; and poor Mrs Howe had to go on board without them.
The other occurred in the evening of the same day. The weather was exceedingly stormy; it had been raining heavily all day, and the rain still poured down in torrents. Mrs Howe's health was so much broken down, that she was wholly unable to walk to the dock where the ship in which she and her children were to embark was lying.
A conveyance therefore must be procured; and as Howe had no money he deprived himself of an article of his wearing apparel, which he pledged to pay for a cab. Surely it but rarely happens that a father whose wife and children were going away from him on a long mid-winter voyage has been compelled to part from them under circumstances such as these!
The second separation of Howe from his family is replete with a touching pathos, on which it is not necessary to dwell. It will suffice to state that they arrived safely in New York (in the winter of 1848-9); and, being entirely destitute, went to reside again with his father.
That "heaven helps him who helps himself" is an aphorism universally held to be true; but its truth ought to be received with diffidence, and accepted with a difference. It is well to believe in the possibility of receiving such assistance; but it is better not to expect it. It is good for a man to have faith in the aid of heaven, but it is wiser to rely only on his own exertions.
Such force of manhood, such capacity of achievement may reside in him, will surely become developed and be made healthier and stronger, by exercising the potential virtue of self-reliant action; and if thereby he may not always be enabled to conquer his difficulties, he will at least succeed in preventing his difficulties, he will at least succeed in preventing his difficulties from conquering him. And that is in itself a victory.
After the departure of his family, Howe turned again to the weary battle before him with what heart he might. It had gone sorely against him hitherto; and the struggle he had now to wage was just as desperate as ever, the prospect before him no less gloomy than before.
But he braced himself for the encounter, set his face manfully against his embarrassments, and turned a deaf ear to the suggestions of despair. That he could still do so, bespeaks the possession of a fixed power of will as admirable as it is rare.
There being no likelihood that, under the existing circumstances, he would derive any advantage in England from the successful and profitable use of his invention, and being without employment or the prospect of obtaining it, his situation was daily becoming worse.
He therefore directed all his energies to procuring the means to enable him to return to the United States; where there was still the probability of improving his position by retrieving a portion of his patent rights, and putting his invention into operation. Accordingly, he hired a small room in the house of a friend and resolved to construct another sewing machine.
This friend, to whom allusion has been previously made, was Charles Inglis, a Scotsman, native of Edinburgh (at the present time residing in Bridgeport, Connecticut), a coachmaker, whose acquaintance Howe had made shortly after arriving in London, and while engaged with Mr Thomas in building sewing machines. This seams to have been the only true friend that he met with in England.
The first great difficulty of procuring materials having been surmounted, he succeeded in borrowing some tools to work with, and prosecuted his labour early and late. Always temperate, he lived with the most rigid economy, which was indeed an enforced condition and differing only a very little from actual destitution.
How severe his privations were, it would be difficult adequately to describe. But it will give some idea of the extremity of distress which he endured while thus engaged, to state that he had one day borrowed a shilling from Inglis, for the purpose, as the latter discovered, of purchasing some beans, which he saw him cook and eat in his own room!
With the statement of this fact, there is no further need to describe the hardships which Howe experienced at that time to obtain even the necessaries of life. It tells its own tale with a distinctness that requires no comment to point its force.
The machine which was to be the means of enabling him to escape from this dire strait, was at length completed; and he had the good fortune to find a purchaser in the person of a working man, who agreed to pay him five pounds for it; but not in money.
Howe had to take a note of hand or acceptance for it; and this acceptance his friend Inglis got exchanged into cash for him; but was obliged to pay 20 shillings for the discount. Howe had thus only 4 to receive.
This of course was not sufficient to defray the expenses of a journey to America and provide provision for the voyage; but his friend Inglis having resolved to emigrate to the United States, advanced what other money was necessary; and the two friends took their passage to America in an emigrant ship.
It may be readily imagined that a man in the position of Howe would not have had a great amount of luggage to take with him, or that the expense of its conveyance to the place of embarkation would be great. He had in point of fact very little encumbrance in that respect; but small as it was, he could not afford to pay for transporting it to the ship and he actually put it into a handcart, which he drew himself to the docks.
This last illustration of the poverty which the inventor of the sewing machine endured while in England, is perhaps as forcible as any of the many instances that have been adduced. How he fared on board the ship which carried him back may be best gathered from the fact that he was a steerage passenger, and that the ship was crowded with emigrants, it being the active time of the season.
The vessel arrived at New York in April 1849. When he landed, Howe had a half-crown in his pocket as the sum total of his wealth in money; his wealth in property was on the same diminished scale, being little more than the clothing he stood up in: for although he had been able to retain possession of some few articles of wearing apparel, bedding, and such like household matters, while in England, these debris of his domestic disasters had been embarked as freight on board another ship at or about the time of Mrs Howe's departure from England, and the vessel being totally wrecked near Cape Cod, everything was lost.
Howe thus returned to the United States, shipwrecked in a double sense, a much poorer man than when he set out for England. He had gone thither to develop his invention, with the reasonable hope of thereby improving his circumstances, and with an expectation, as alleged, of deriving some benefit beyond the amount actually paid him for his patent rights, or as wages.
There was, in fact (as appears by affidavit sworn before the Commissioner of Patents at New York) a very strong expectation entertained by Elias Howe that he should possess an additional interest in the form of royalty on every machine sold or licensed in England. This was he alleges the hope and expectation with which he had left the United States.*
*Footnote: A simple "expectation" or a mere "verbal understanding" does certainly appear an exceedingly loose way of preserving a future contingent interest in such an invention. And it must, in fairness to Mr Thomas, be stated that he positively denies that any such expectation, or understanding could have existed.
We give both statements entirely without prejudice on one side or the other, solely for what they are worth; and in the first case simply alluding to what have been alleged as facts in affidavits sworn and attested.
That he was bitterly disappointed, his hopes miserably blighted, and his expectations (whether well founded or not) never realised-his own destitute state on returning, no less than the helpless condition of his family on their arrival, sufficiently shows.
He had been paid the weekly wages of a workman so long as his services were needed, and no longer; he had been induced most unwisely to send for his family from America, a step which later added so cruelly to his embarrassments; he had been plunged into a debtor's prison; and had suffered besides all these ills of poverty, a thousand mental pangs that do not go in the catalogue.
As regards the expectation of deriving some prospective profit that, as already observed, has never been fulfilled; for Elias Howe has received no advantage whatever from the profitable wor-king of his invention in England, beyond the 250 originally paid for it.
Howe's experience in England as an inventor was of the bitterest kind; but it is to be hoped the unfortunate knowledge which he then acquired will not have induced him to believe that the English people cannot recognise or will not reward struggling genius;-and doubtless long before now the inventor of the sewing machine has received such proofs of English liberality as will have somewhat modified his earlier impressions.
Arriving in New York all but penniless, Howe, accompanied by Inglis, went to a cheap boarding house for emigrants, until he could procure the means of proceeding to join his family. For this purpose he sought and readily obtained employment, and the day after his arrival he went to work as a journeyman machinist.
A letter which he received from his father some 10 days subsequently, gave an alarming account of his wife's health, urged his instant return, and enclosed a $10 bill to defray his expenses. Of course he lost no time in obeying such a summons. He found his wife in the last stage of consumption; and about a fortnight after his return home, she died in his arms.
Poor Howe had to borrow from his brother-in-law, Mr H Tucker, the clothes in which he followed her to the grave! Mr Tucker also bought shoes and the necessary articles of mourning for the children.
Worn out in mind and body, bowed down by the storm of adversity that had burst with such pitiless violence on his devoted head- it needed but his last shock utterly to prostrate him.
Oh! For some prescient harbinger of hope and of courage to whisper in his ear, in this darkest hour of his life, "yet a little while, and the gloom of misfortune shall be succeeded by the bright sunshine of success-the keen pangs of poverty be obliterated by the possession and enjoyment of unbounded wealth;-thy invention shall become recognised as a practical reality-and they genius publicly rewarded by the high authorities of thy country." *
* Footnote: Since the foregoing pages were written, the Civil War in America has unhappily broken out. Elias Howe, with characteristic energy and ardour, has thrown himself heart and soul into the struggle, ranging himself under the banner of the few who are really contending for a principle, and fighting for the freedom of the slave.
His valuable services and colossal fortune have been placed at the disposal of the government.
His first gift was several batteries of rifled cannon, fully horsed and equipped; his next, to clothe two entire regiments; and finally, when the exigencies of the war rendered the force of example imperative and necessary, he enlisted personally and bodily himself.
He was offered the chief command-he refused, on the ground that he was a businessman - did not possess a military education and consequently would not dare to undertake the leadership care, and responsibility of a thousand men.
No minor position would tempt him, and putting on the uniform of a private, he presented himself in the ranks of his Connecticut Regiment taking with him his only son, a splendid young fellow of 19.
Such an act of pure patriotism is unfortunately rare, were it otherwise; another issue of this lamentable struggle than the one which now seems imminent, might yet be possible.
From Issue 62:
The automatic sewing machine
BEFORE entering on a description of the Sewing Machine invented by Elias Howe, jun, it will be well to give a brief glance at some of the attempts to construct such a piece of mechanism which preceded his invention. For Howe does not claim to be the originator or the sole inventor of the Sewing Machine; there were many machines with this object designed or constructed before his; though as his was the first that perfectly accomplished its purpose, such a claim, if it were made, might be readily and justly admitted.
He merely seeks, however, to be regarded as the inventor of his own invention-that is, of the first Automatic Sewing Machine that has ever practically answered its purpose; a machine differing widely in its construction from every attempt of the kind previously made, and on the principle of which all other sewing machines that have succeeded it are more or less modelled. The latter, with a few exceptions, are too various and numerous to specify; nor, as they represent no mechanical excellence or commercial value, is there any special need to do so; but of some of the former a brief description may be desirable, and will certainly be found interesting.
We will first mention the invention of John Duncan, for which a letters patent were granted in England, 30 May, 1894. This was in reality not a sewing machine at all, and bore no relation to the art of sewing seams by machinery, except in so far as it was an apparatus for loosely interlocking threads. It never made a seam of any kind; and was in fact intended for ornamental tambouring or embroidery only, and even for that purpose had very little value. It had nothing whatever in common with the invention of Howe, except the use of an eye-pointed needle, which was a subsequent modification on the original contrivance; and no useful knowledge could possibly have been derived from it as a guide to Howe.
In 1807, and again in 1821, English letters patent were taken out by James Winter, for what were termed "improvements in sewing machines". Both patents were for stationary clamps, similar to saddler's clamps, for the purpose of holding gloves for hand sewing; and they each described indexes or grooved immovable lips for the clamps, to guide the points of the needles as these were moved by the operator.
It had no kind of resemblance to the invention of Howe, or of any part of it, or to that of any other person.
Henry Lye, of Philadelphia, obtained a patent 10 March, 1826, for an invention for sewing leather; but no record or model has been found, to indicate the principle of the contrivance.
A patent was taken out 17 July, 1830, by M Thimmonier, for a machine for making tambour "stitches" by means of a crochet hook and an instrument which was called an "accrocheur" in the patent. Its relation to the art of sewing seams by machinery was, however, exceedingly small. It was, briefly, a machine for supporting cloth, for puncturing it, for drawing a loop of thread through the puncture or hole, and for holding this loop in a position to be entered by the puncturing instrument or awl; it had no means of tightening the 'stitch" properly ; it had no needle; but only a crochet hook; it was not an automatic machine, for it had no mechanism for feeding the material to be sewn.
On the contrary, it would not make a single "stitch" so called unless the material was moved forward by the worker, who for this purpose would have to watch its operation closely in order to make the pull or movement at the proper moment.
Though it was capable of making stitches, it could not fasten two pieces of material together by means, and the stitches were at irregular intervals and loosely made; it had no "feed" motion, nor was it in any way possible to add such a device to the principle of its construction.
The next attempt was that of Alexander Temple, whose model was deposited in 1841. It was an instrument designed for sewing leather; it had clamps that moved automatically, and a double-pointed needle that passed through the material by means of reciprocating fingers, one on either side of the clamp. There was an awl to make a hole for the needle to pass through; and also devices apparently designed to catch up the loose end of the thread; with other contrivances which might be intended for drawing up the stitch. No further step appears to have been taken by the inventor beyond the depositing of his model; and it was not adapted to any practical use whatever.
Letters patent were granted in England on 4 May 1841 to Newton and Archibals, for a machine for making short lengths of ornamental stitching"' it was in fact intended to produce ornamental tambour work on gloves, or material to be made into gloves. It had no means at all of sewing seams, and the apparatus recorded in the patent for making the tambour "stitches" was very similar to that described in the later modifications already referred to as having been made in the Duncan machine. The glove or article to be ornamental was clamped fast in a frame, while the ornamenting was performed by several needles acting in connection with hooks. The frame in which the glove was stretched was only long enough to contain it, and was closed at both ends. It had no mechanism whatever for giving a "feed" or supply motion, and no means for holding a piece of cloth so that a seam might be sewed. It had consequently no relation to the sewing machine of Howe; in which the essential features are a combination of stitching mechanism, and holding surfaces; and without which no practical sewing machine has been constructed since his invention.
On the 21 February, 1842 and again on the 12 February, 1846, letters patent were granted to John J Greenough. The machine described in the patent and specification sewed a seam by passing the end of the thread through the leather or other material intended to be sewn. As this necessitated the use of short lengths of thread, it differed widely from Howe's and all other later machines; the invention of Howe providing for the passing of the thread through the material in loops only, delivering the threads in lengths as required from a spool or bobbin. The needle also was entirely different, it was pointed at both ends, the eye being in the middle; it passed completely through the material and was seized by moving mechanism alternately on each side. The mode of fastening the thread was by making a knot in it at each stitch passed through the cloth; being in this respect also totally unlike Howe's and later machines. The article to be sewed was held in a clamp and there was no mechanism for effecting the progression of the material; which is an essential feature in Howe's machine.
These instances are all the attempts to produce a sewing machine (except one) previously to 1846, that need be alluded to. They were all entirely different in principle from the invention of Howe; which introduced for the first time the art of sewing seams by automatic machinery, achieving its object practically and perfectly.
One other sewing machine was, however, devised which was so like that of Howe that it demands particular consideration. *
* Footnote: It raises, in fact, the interesting and important issue: Is the Sewing Machine an American or an English invention? Unquestionably, must be awarded to John Fisher, junr, of Nottingham, the rare merit of having produced the complication of threads known as the "shuttle stitch", and the "interlocked" or "chain stitch"-but he did not "originate" or "invent" them, he was unconsciously treading in the footsteps of Howe, who had anticipated his invention by a few months only;-and there can be little doubt that had he at that time intended a sewing machine, he could easily have added (as he did at a later period) the required mechanism for "feeding" and "tightening" the "stitch". But he was working on the elaboration of a lace-making machine (in all probability the idea of a "sewing" machine had never entered his head); and an exquisite and wonderful lace-making machine he produced, but a lace-making machine only. The praise due to him for his invention, which evinced great genius and mechanical powers of the very highest order, is greatly enhanced by the fact that he was only in his 19th year when he perfected it, and there were in it upwards of 19,000 separate pieces of mechanism. But Elias Howe, junr, the American, must ever be recognised as the sole and original inventor of an automatic and practical sewing machine.
The similarity lies in the mode of carrying and interlocking the thread; the prime difficulty which had baffled all previous essays to construct a sewing machine-but an obstacle which the inventive genius of Fisher and Howe surmounted. Beyond this resemblance, there was very little in common between the two; and in priority of invention, Howe's preceded the other as a whole and perfect automatic sewing machine for seams, and being practically used in the manufacture of garments.
But as a claim to the absolute priority and sole invention of the primary and essential model of carrying the thread and fastening the stitches, which is the grand characteristic of Howe's machine, has been set up on behalf of the invention alluded to, it will be necessary to give a more full and detailed notice of it, than was needed in the case of any of those previously mentioned. This claim of prior and exclusive invention in the mode of making and fastening stitches, it may be here observed, has given rise to much litigation with the English patentee of Howe's machine.
The patent now to be considered, was enrolled on the 7th day of June, 1845, and was taken out by Fisher and Gibbons of Nottingham. In their specification, they describe it to be "machinery for making ornamental figures or designs on lace or net, or other fabric" but it does not appear that it was originally intended to sew cloth or any similar fabric. It is, in reality, an embroidering machine, of the same general class as the Duncan contrivance; and the circumstances under which it was produced, the first-named gentleman being connected with the lace manufacture, clearly lead to the conclusion that it was only designed to be used in that trade.
It differs, however, from Duncan's machine in its peculiar fabrication of the embroidering apparatus, and in using jacquard motions instead of pattern wheels for moving the frame upon which the article to be operated on is stretched.
As described in the patent, there is some difficulty in understanding clearly how the machine was to be constructed; but it is obvious that the material to be ornamented had to be supported by two rollers, and rolled off from one to the other; the ornamentation was then effected by means of an eye-pointed needle of peculiar shape acting in connection with a shuttle, the governing threads being supplied from a bobbin substantially as in Howe's invention. The needle is very much curved, so as to admit of the passage of the shuttle between the thread and the needle, and is suitable for perforating lace and very thin goods only. It enters the material to be operated on, from the under side; and carried with it a loop of thread, which is detained by a loop of shuttle thread; another defined mode of making the "stitch" is, by using a non-perforating eye-pointed instrument instead of the shuttle, and looping its thread through the loop of the other thread, without passing the end through the loop as done with the shuttle, both which modes are the same in principle as the interlocking and interlooping process in Howe's machine.
The "stitching" apparatus described in one of these modes differs, however, from the Howe stitch proper in two highly-important particulars. The needle being very much curved, to accommodate this curve or crook it is necessary that the harness frame or needle frame should have a "shogging" motion given to it, in order to present the loop of thread of such width as will allow the ribbon-shuttle to pass through it; whilst in the Howe machine the loop is formed chiefly by the retreat of the needle after it has carried the thread through the cloth; it thus opens the loop so that the peculiar shuttle of Howe, which has its points nearly in a line with one of its sides, may enter and effect its passage through the loop. These are essential differences. In the Fisher and Gibbons patent there is described no effective feed motion; nor any apparatus for making proper tension on the shuttle thread, that is, there are no holding surfaces in close contact with the material between which the cloth is fed, and which support it against the thrust and retraction of the needle, and in such a position that the stitches can be drawn tight and form a seam.
The power to effect this indispensable result is, on the contrary, a distinguishing characteristic of Howe's invention. Finally, the machine was adapted, not for "stitching" properly so called, but only for embroidery; and its resemblance the stitching apparatus of Howe is only a resemblance per se, or viewed as detached from the remainder of the machine. A shuttle with points formed as set forth in the patent could not be practically used for interlacing the thread in connection with a straight eye-pointed needle, or one in the segment of a curve so as to be moved by an arm vibrating on an axis, which is a chief feature in Howe's machine; nor without the exercise of a distinct and high power of invention would it be possible from the description in that patent to construct a practically-useful machine adapted to sewing the seams of garments, as Howe's was from the very beginning, that is to say, from the early part of the month of April, 1845.
From the date of its enrolment in June 1845, this patent of Fisher and Gibbons remained a dead letter. In 1847, it passed by assignment from Fisher with the consent of Gibbons, whose rights were merely nominal, to his uncle James Fisher, senr. In 1949, Mr Fisher the assignee, died; and the patent passed into possession of his sons, the cousins of the inventor. It lay dormant in their hands until 1858, a period of no less than nine years. No effort was made during all that time to bring the patent into public use; though some modifications of the foundation patent were subsequently added. In 1858, however, it was transferred to its original owner; and in that year Fisher made application for an extension of his patent right, on the plea that he had not had sufficient time to get the invention into profitable use; and specially claiming protection as the inventor of the interlocking and interlooping stitch. This was a grant characteristic in the invention which Howe had sold, through the agency of his brother Amasa, to Mr Thomas in November 1846, and for which the latter took out English letters patent December 1st in the same year. These dates are important to be observed. In 1858, therefore, when Fisher made application for the extension of his patent, machines on Howe's principle were extensively I use in England, and very generally throughout the United States. Fisher alleged, nothwithstanding, "that the machine (of Howe) was not a perfect working sewing machine, such as was required by the public". The truth being, that it was so really a practical-working seam-sewing machine that a large demand had been made by the public for it; it was in fact this demand for Howe's machine that had suggested to Fisher the resuscitation of his own dormant patent; and the coincidence of a substantial similarity in the mode of performing the prime function of stitching that existed between Howe's perfected and popular working machine and his own, induced him to solicit an extension of time, to allow him in short to control Mr Thomas's monopoly and enter the field himself for public favour.
The application of Fisher for a prolongation of his patent was rejected. The Judgement * which was pronounced shows clearly the view taken both of the dormant and moribund patent of 1844, and the demand for its extension in 1858. It gives a succinct history of the state in which this patent had remained in the long interval between those years; and it glances in a manner not to be mistaken at the invention of Howe, which was then largely in use in England, generally so in the United States, and satisfying the public requirements.
* Footnote: "Fisher and Gibbons Prolongation
"Judgement delivered 29th November, 1858.
"Judge of the Admiralty Court; their Lordships have taken into their consideration all the circumstances which have appeared on behalf of the petitioner in this case.
"It is to be remarked that their Lordships in recommending to Her Majesty to renew any patent about to expire, found themselves generally on two great principles-one, that the patent in itself is a meritorious invention, beneficial to the public at large and creditable to the inventor; the other ground is, that according to the means and power of the person in possession of the patent every effort has been made to realise a sufficient return for the pains, labour and expense which have been incurred; and it is by reference to those two principles that their Lordships must determine what steps t take upon the present case.
"With regard to the merit of the invention, their Lordships are of opinion that it does great credit to Mr Fisher, the original inventor, especially considering the very early period of life at which he applied his time and his talents to discover it. The next question to look at is, what has been done to carry the patent into execution and for the purpose of realising the benefit which might reasonably be expected to flow from it.
"The patent was granted in December 1844; and it appears that nothing effectual was done to introduce any one article manufactured by that invention during the time that it must be consi-dered as belonging to the original patentees, Mr John Fisher and Mr Gibbons; but that in the year 1847, by Mr Fisher the uncle very large expenses had been incurred in order to obtain the patent itself for other purposes connected with it, and they amounted to as is stated 743; he took an assignment of this patent. Now we can well understand and perfectly concur in thinking that during the time the patent was in the hands of the original patentees, whatever might be their inclination or their conviction of its utility, they had no means of carrying it into effectual operation. Mr John Fisher was taken into his uncle's employ at an early age; he was at that time entirely dependent upon his uncle for pecuniary resources; and Gibbons the other patentee, was merely a working man; and therefore for that space of time we can make an allowance. But then from the time of the assignment to Mr Fisher the elder up to the period of his death in 1849, we are at a loss to conceive why, if the patent was of the utility represented, he did not use his best endeavours to realise the profit to arise therefrom. He was a gentleman represented by all the witnesses to have been perfectly conversant with the whole trade, being perhaps a person carrying on trade to the greatest extent in the kingdom, and having the most ample resources for making use of this invention and forcing it, if I may use the expression, into the market.
"According to the evidence, we think that Mr Fisher the elder doubted whether it could, by possibility, be worked with advantage. However, he died in 1849, and possession of this 'patent' came either to the executors and to the three sons, the cousins of the present petitioner, or perhaps to the three sons. From the year 1847 up to to transfer of this patent in the year 1858, namely a period of no less than nine years, no steps whatever were taken by these gentlemen, who had succeeded to the rights of their father, who had succeeded to the rights of the original patentee, and who possessed the same wealth and the same power, and the same means of working it; but not one single step was taken by them to carry it into effect. There has been an attempt made to account for the non-working of the patent by evidence to show that trade had altered the use of this article and that at times and as seasons it has not been so extensively used
That might account for a small period of time; but nothing can satisfactorily account for their allowing this patent to remain in a perfect state of abeyance from the year 1849 to 1858. If those gentlemen were the persons who are now petitioning their Lordships for a prolongation of their patent we should not have entertained the slightest doubt as to its being our duty to refuse them. But in what situation does the petitioner stand? He does not stand here as the original patentee, but in the situation of an assignee; and we cannot possibly put him in a better position than those who have assigned a title to him on which he at present sues.
"Looking at all the circumstances of the case, we feel under the necessity of advising Her Majesty not to renew this patent. We think that there are other reasons which might have been accumulated, but which it is not necessary to mention. Where a patent has been entirely unused, for such is the fact, from the earliest period to August 1858, it may be considered as superseded by time; and other patents may have been taken out and in operation now which might be seriously interfered with and injustice done to others if we were now under these circumstances to grant a prolongation of this patent. We therefore must refuse to do so."
We have referred to and described the various mechanical contrivances to perform sewing by means of machinery that had been designed from the commencement of the present century up to the period of Howe's invention; though we could had it been at all necessary have instanced many others, and gone much farther back, even to the year 1750, the date of the first patent on record, for "sewing" purposes and which was granted to Carl Weisenthal, a German, for a contrivance for making the tambour stitch.
We have also described fully and stated fairly the characteristics and claims of the only invention that could by possibility be placed in comparison with that of Elias Howe, or be in any way considered its rival as a seam-sewing automatic machine. We now proceed to give a brief description of the principal parts of Howe's grand achievement, and which originated the useful art of sewing seams by machinery.
The essential characteristics of the invention may be divided into three parts or combinations:
1. A mechanism for making stitches, or interlocking of thread; combined with which is an apparatus for making tension on the thread and drawing up and duly securing each stitch when formed.
The features of this mechanism are, first, an eye-pointed needle acting from one side of the cloth or other fabric, and the function of which is to pierce the material operated on, and carry loops of thread through it; second, an apparatus acting on the other side of the material, to confine the loops of thread thus passed through it; third, tension apparatus acting upon the thread which forms the stitch; and fourth, a mechanism for pulling up the stitch, so as to make a firm and tight seam, the stitch of which cannot be unravelled, and which necessitates the cutting of the cloth when this is required.
2. An apparatus consisting of two surfaces between which the material to be sewed is contained, and which support it against the thrust and retraction of the needle and in such a position as to permit the stitches to be drawn tight.
3. An automatic intermittently-acting feeding apparatus which causes the material to progress with a regular uninterrupted movement between the holding surfaces in the intervals between the successive punctures of the needle, with an uner-ring absolute precision and uniformity of effect impossible to obtain by hand.
The function of this mechanism is to cause the material to progress an equal distance between the holding surfaces, when the needle is withdrawn from and before it enters the material again.
These three great and essential properties were never before in use in any sewing machine prior to Howe's and no machine has been made subsequently without them, in a more or less modified degree.
The stitch proper of Howe's machine was wholly new with him. *
* Footnote: It is asserted "that during the time Mr Fisher was constructing his machine, trade became very depressed in Nottingham, and several mechanics who had been engaged working upon it were discharged; and that some of these men took specimens of the work to America, whither they emigrated, and there sold the plan as one of their own invention"-or in plain language that Howe purchased the secret from them, and then set it up as his own. This was in 1844. At that time Howe was a poor, very poor mechanic, working out his mechanical problem in a garret, at a friend's expense.
Is it as all likely that any man having a secret to sell, or employment to find, would leave the busy cities of the States (and thereby lose his best chance of disposing of the one, and of obtaining the other) and seek out a poverty-stricken genius in an outlandish district, to effect his object? There is not a tittle of evidence to prove any collusion between Howe and those Nottingham men, or that Howe derived mechanical assistance of any kind, from any person, in the construction of his machine.
It is not, however, beyond the verge of possibility, that Mr Fisher's secret was disposed of in the States; but it is much more reasonable to look for the purchaser amongst the moneyed men who so obstinately and vexatiously waged war with Howe in after years for the priority of invention, than in the poor struggling inventor of Cambridgeport.
It is formed of two threads by means of an eye-pointed needle carrying a thread for one side of the goods and a shuttle carrying also a thread for the other; the function of the needle being to pass the thread in the loop through the cloth, and then opening its loop while the shuttle passes its thread through the loop; and then by the combined action of the feed motion presenting a new position in the material for a new introduction of the needle and a fresh passing of the shuttle through the loop; when by the united action of the holding surfaces, the lifting pin, the clipping piece and needle, the stitches are drawn tight, so that the interlocking of these shall be within the body of the goods.
There are two means provided for making tension on the shuttle thread; one by a spring pressure upon the bobbin in the shuttle, and the other by what is called a clipping piece, which is the most perfect contrivance that has been made for this purpose, as its action is not affected by the varying diameter of the bobbin. This mode of making the stitch was (as already stated) new with Howe; and as adjuncts, for the purpose of forming a seam, the baster-plate and feeding apparatus were all new.
This baster-plate is an important portion of the invention. Being formed of thin metal, it can be bent to any required form; and when the work to be sewed is placed upon it and introduced with it into the machine, the stitches are formed into a seam by its automatic progress, following the lines of curvature or rectilinear line, as may be indicated by the baster-plate.
The whole machine is so organised that all those parts which act in conjunction with the stitching and feeding apparatus to support the material to be sewed against the thrust and withdrawal of the needle, and against the action of the needle and other parts in tightening the stitch, are local with the needle and other adjuncts of the machine, all except the baster-plate.
This baster-plate also prevents the fabric from being stretched or distorted in the process of sewing; obviously a most important service, and essential to any effective seam-sewing. Recent additions, without at all affecting its principle, have added considerably to its utility and simplicity. Since the date of Howe's patent a vast number of so-called "improvements" in sewing machines have been made, but they are all based on his invention, and more or less evasions of his patents. A few really meritorious improvements have, however, been made and patented by their inventors. They are chiefly those set forth in the feed patents of A B Wilson and Fitzgerald; the table machinery patents of A B Wilson; and the spring-presser-foot patent of Isaac M Singer.
When a machine is required to sew with a Grover & Baker stitch, the mechanism patented by the Grover & Baker Company is of importance; and when seams are required to be made upon the principle described in the revolving-book patents of A B Wilson the mechanism of those patents is highly useful. There have also been some minor improvements in shuttles which are very serviceable.
These later additions to the principle of Howe's sewing machine are valuable for several reasons. The advantage resulting from the use of the Wilson and Fitzgerald "feed"* patents is that the cloth or other material is not attached to any part of the machine, and can be turned at will by the operator to sew seams of any desired curvature without interfering with the progressive motion of the fabric through the machine.
* By a recent legal decision in the law courts of America, it has been decided that the improved "feed" patent is not the invention either of Mr Wilson or Mr Fitzgerald, but of a Mr Johnson.
This is highly important, and one of the few real "improvements" on the original invention. Its discovery was the result of accident. The "baster-plate" of Howe's was furnished with hooks upon which the cloth to be sewn was fixed, those hooks became bent or broken in wear, and the "baster plate" itself indented and bruised; it was then observed that the roughened surface of the "plate" alone was sufficient to propel the work: hence the application of the "feed", or as it is called in the patent specification, the "serrated plate".
The utility of the Singer spring presser-foot is, that its lower surface preserves the same relation to the material which is being sewed, whether it be thick or thin.
One of the latest labour-saving "contrivances" is a very beautiful adaptation for hemming, tacking and binding, the invention of a Frenchman, M Chapin. By this mechanism the machine prepares its own hem, and stitches it at the same instant, lays and sews simultaneously the binding on the edge of any material, and plaits tucks of an almost flounce width, sewing them with mathematical regularity and precision.
But towering above the many hundred "improvements" on the Howe machine, is the improvement of Howe himself in his "cylinder" machine. It is as great an advance on his original invention, as his original invention was upon hand sewing-it is again the introduction of an entirely- new principle in stitch by machinery.
Howe's machine of 1846, and all the machines that have succeeded it, make their stitch by the needle entering the material and remaining there until the shuttle passes and takes the loop by which means the puncture made by the needle becomes larger than the thread carried by the need-le can fill-the evil of which is obvious.
To remedy this, after years of thought and experiment, Howe perfected his "cylinder" machine. The action of hand sewing with an awl is exactly imitated. The needle pierces the material to be sewn carrying its loop with it, in its downward course, and leaves it within the material - then returns-when the shuttle starts forward, takes the loop and tightens the upper thread; the needle arm is then lifted considerably, and the shuttle thread by that means tightened.
It will be seen that the stitch is thus made when the needle is out of the material, and as a consequence very close sewing - closer even than by hand-can be made. The "cylinder" machine carries the finest and coarsest needle made, and will sew from one thickness of kid to the stoutest harness leather with equal ease and facility.
These various improvements have facilitated the working with a sewing machine; they have enabled operators to learn more readily how to acquire its use efficiently; and have introduced different modes of stitching, which are advantageous for particular kinds of work. They have also in some degree diminished the cost of the sewing machine.