Back in the 1860s when the patent wars were at their height the major antagonists, Howe and Singer, took their battles out of the courtroom and into the public arena.
Both companies published spurious "histories" of the invention of the . Facts were ignored, other inventors all but dismissed. We start with this issue, Singer's version of the invention. We offer it not as an historical document but as an example of trying to fool some of the people some of the time. Singer called the book....
The 's rivals
"With fingers weary and worn,
In a back street of Boston two men sat one sultry August midnight upon a pile of boards. They were penniless and friendless; they were smarting under failure and keen and bitter disappointment. Actual want stared them in the face and made them desperate. and yet, upon the outcome of that midnight scene mighty issues hung quivering. All the world had a stake in the thoughts of those poor, friendless, desperate men. One of them had heard from across the seas the "Song of the Shirt"; he had heard its sad echo even from the more prosperous homes of our own land, and its dismal chords had awakened in his breast a burning desire to still its horrible refrain, and carry relief and help to the weary seamstress. Golden visions, too, had floated before him of the princely reward the world would offer for such service to its great sisterhood.
With great difficulty he had persuaded two other men to join him. One furnished the scanty capital of 40 dollars; the other gave the use of his machine shop, workmen and tools. Day and night he had worked to produce a , sleeping but three or four hours out of the 24, and eating, generally, but once a day, as he knew the machine must be built for 40 dollars or not be built at all.
The hour of trial had come that very day. The machine had been completed an d put together, and did not work! One by one the workmen left him in disgust, but still the inventor clung tenaciously to his purpose, and refused to yield to defeat. All were gone but this companion, who held the lamp while the inventor worked. Loss of sleep, insufficient food, and incessant work and anxiety made him weak and nervous, and he could not get tight stitches. Sick at heart, the task was abandoned at last, and at midnight the worn and wearied men turned their backs upon their golden dreams and started for their lodgings. On their way they sat down upon the pile of boards, and were gloomily discussing the sad fate of the project, when his companion mentioned to the inventor that "the loose loops of thread were all upon the upper side of the cloth." Instantly it flashed upon the inventor what the trouble was, and back through the night the men trudged to the shop, re-lighted the lamp, tightened a little tension screw, and in a few minutes Isaac Merritt Singer had produced the first that ever was practically successful.
It was a great stake which the world had in the gloomy midnight reflections of two desperately poor men, seated upon that pile of boards, 30 years ago! Rarely has so much hung upon the thoughts of two humble men. That midnight scene settled the question whether woman should have a tireless helper in her weary task of stitching - whether or not the world should thenceforward have a machine for sewing.
Out of that lumber-pile conference came the and all the mighty interests involved in its manufacture, sale, and use. It was the answer to the "Song of the Shirt"; its dolorous tone had reached - not the rich - but the poor, struggling mechanic; and his invention has done for woman and for the home circle what no other invention ever has done. We look back upon James Watt, sitting before the open fireplace, watching the pot lid rise and fall with the then undiscovered power of steam as the scene whence issued all the blessings which followed the steam-engine. We think of Franklin flying his storm-riding kite and drawing down the lightning, as thereby bringing to us all the civilising influences of the Telegraph. But neither of these en, if they could have looked down the dim vista of the coming centuries, and foreseen what their inventions should do for humanity, could have contemplated results more surprising than those which Isaac Merritt Singer lived to see crowning the invention which hung trembling upon the results of that talk upon that pile of boards!
The Telegraph and Steam-engine live daily in the broad blaze of public view; the modestly hides itself away beneath three million of the nine million roofs of America. They are public blessings; the is a purely domestic one. it earns a woman's dime; they earn a railroad king's millions. They deal with the great arteries of trade and commerce; it deals with the fireside circle. The Telegraph and steam-engine proudly boast their alliance a familiarity with Capital; the contentedly takes up its humble quarters mainly with people who never drew a dividend in all their lives. Capital and wealth must run the former; slender and humble feet most often run the latter. The Locomotive puffs defiantly in nearly every legislative hall; the sings its tireless tune to ears that would not know what "lobby" meant. The former haughtily issues its dictum to primaries and conventions; the latter could not control a solitary vote. Steam and the telegraph deal mainly with creation's lord; the with his lowlier sister.
A certain class of people are apt to underrate domestic affairs, simply because they are domestic, forgetting that the real progress of the world is always made beneath the shelter of the homestead roof, not under the resounding domes of Senate Chambers; and that a Nation's surest hope for greatness and for safety is found in the character of its homes, rather than in the shrewdness of its merchants or the skill of its artisans.
Whatever, therefore, brings added comfort to the matron and the maiden; whatever saves the busy housewife's time and increases her opportunities for culture; whatever lifts any of the heavy household burdens, and disenthralls to any degree the WOMEN of our day, contributes an ever-augmenting influence towards the highest and best progress of the world.
And so the importance of the in its influence upon the home; in the countless hours it has added to woman's leisure for rest and refinement; in the increase of time and opportunity for that early training of children, for lack of which so many pitiful wrecks are strewed along the shores of life; in the numberless avenues it has opened for female labour; and in the comforts it has brought within the reach of all, which once could be attained only by the wealthy few, becomes so apparent that few, if any, will dispute its right to stand at least beside its powerful rivals, the steam-engine and telegraph.
to be continued...