Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Notes on the Wardwell

Issue 26

EVERY NOW and again a researcher comes across a machine previously unknown or of little-known reputation, and one wonders why such a model failed to make it in the commercial world.

One such machine was the Wardwell made by the Wardwell Manufacturing Company of St Louis, Missouri. The company started business in the late 1870s and was certainly out of business around a decade later. Yet the machine seemed to have a lot going for it.

It was a lockstitch machine with the very real advantage of having no shuttle and no bobbin. Instead it carried another regular-sized spool beneath the needle in a specially-adapted carrier, giving the obvious advantage of the operator no longer having to stop work to wind the bobbin; and, of course, allowing a change of thread colour again without having to provide another bobbin of the new tint.

Obviously a lot of thought had gone into the design of the Wardwell, and those who took part in the Weir competition at last year's AGM in which they were asked to guess the number of components in that machine, will be surprised to hear that the lockstitch Wardwell was constructed with but 40 pieces, whereas the Weir required over twice that many for a simple chain-stitch operation. Another first for Wardwell was the ingenious flywheel which could be swiveled to any position allowing the head to be used in line with the table or at 90 degrees as the Florence.

Prices ranged from $65 for the basic treadle machine which had a black walnut table to $130 for a full-cabinet model.

If all the claims made for the Wardwell were true, it's surprising that the machine did not succeed. In the company's advertising brochure there were listed 30 reasons why a customer should choose the Wardwell above all others. The 30th of these says that: "we believe it will supercede all shuttle machines".  What happened in a few years is that the company went into bankruptcy and no surviving example has been, as yet, discovered.