Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Odd Ball Treadles

by Graham Forsdyke
ISMACS News
Issue No. 33

THE ADD-ON market was never more popular than in the 20 years before the turn of the century. And many of the odd-ball inventions concerned treadles and attachments for them.

Such devices were popular among dealers for, having once sold a machine, all he could expect was a few shillings per year for servicing and the supply of small parts such as needles.

The add-on market gave him another sizeable bite of the cherry.

In 1891, C Bradbury of High Holborn, London, came up with an automatic foot rest for any machine with a cross brace between the treadle sides.

This was a device with a foot board at one end of a pivoting rod and a brass counterweight ball at the other.

During normal operation the ball would be lowermost, but when the machinist needed a breather she could dab the weight with a toe and down would swing a raised footrest. It was claimed, of course, that the odd minute's rest with Mr. Bradbury's device would obviate the "fatigue of which many ladies complain".

The Hall treadle attachment was the subject of a series of patents starting as early as 1867.

The idea was clearly to interpose gearing between the pedal and the flywheel and provide a fail-safe system for starting the machine in the correct direction.

A close look at the drawings seems to reveal a fairly crude and probably noisy device whereby the pedal would operate a lever which acted as a pawl on a large gear connected via another cog and shaft to the flywheel.

The Massachusetts State Board of Health, which started the scare campaign over the hazards of using treadles, inspected the Hall version and gave it its blessing.

C A Spengler's attempt to become Hoboken, New Jersey's, second-favorite son -- Sinatra was born there -- featured a treadle where, instead of pedals, the machinist operated a full-length push bar which was rocked backwards and forwards.

This motion was translated via a length of cord to the drive with a freewheel device rather like that found on the rear wheel of a bicycle.

Spengler's device was also said to reduce fatigue, but the rubber cushion designed by J H Whitney to sit over the pedals was claimed to actually be a "Life Saver".

Not only did this simple, shaped, piece of rubber prevent "jarring and shocks to the system", it was also claimed to make machines start quicker and run faster.

Whitney admitted in advertising that there would be those cynical readers who would judge his term "Life Saver" as a little exaggerated, but to those he told this story:

" The name was suggested by a poor woman who had found new life and hope through its use. Sewing on her machine was the only means she had of earning a living in which she was versed, but operating it had brought on very serious internal complications which caused great weakness and debility, so that it was impossible for her to continue the work and so she was in despair in consequence.

" About this time she heard of the cushion treadle and its wonderful effects and, procuring one, found that not only was she able to operate her machine, but to run it faster than ever before yet without the old bearing-down sensation of fatigue.

" The exercise being without jar or strain strengthened her muscles and improved her general health so that the functions gradually resumed their normal conditions and the complications entirely disappeared."

How's that for a testimonial? -- quite put the Lazarus incident in the shade.

Almost as beneficial was the Cowles patent treadle marketed in New York City in the 1890s by Holmes and Co.

All physicians were said to have endorsed the device which also improved one's health the more it was used.

Cowles treadle was a system of twin pitman shafts and cranks to give a one-up, one-down pedal movement which, defying the laws of mechanics, was also claimed to halve the effort involved in operating it.