Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Civil War Toys

by Diana Herbert
Issue No. 35

Civil war led
to super sewing machine toy

WE OFTEN read how the American Civil War effected the early sewing machine industry but it also had its effect on the toy business of the day and, indirectly, led to the making of one of the most desirable mechanical marvels of the period.

The story starts during the Civil War (1861-65) when Edward Ives worked with his father producing metal buttons for the Union troops by stamping the parts from sheet brass.

It could well be that local watchmakers provided the young Edward with some of the ideas for his later toys.

One year after the war ended Edward married Jennie Blakeslee, the daughter of a prominent local family.

To cement the family ties even further, Jennie's brother married Edward's sister.

Shortly after his wedding, Edward Ives moved to Bridgport, Conn, a town entirely built around the Wheeler & Wilson company.

There he met showman P T Barnum and Wheeler & Wilson employee Nathan S Warner, a man with an inventive mind who was to give Edward some of his best toy ideas.

Soon Ives was in business producing mechanical toys, some of which are now amongst the most prized by collectors. Perhaps his greatest success was his creeping baby, but one I want to find is the "mechanical sewing-machine girl".

This model, dressed in the "latest fashion" works the treadle and the machine begins to sew rapidly. She leans forward, puts the work in position, watches it and occasionally brings it up for closer inspection.

The sewing-machine toys could have been inspired by Edward's friendship with Bridgport sewing-machine manufacturer Jerome Secor who had relocated his business after a disastrous 1865 fire gutted his original Chicago factory.

Secor joined Ives for a short time as an ideas man but then went back to sewing-machine production in 1870.

Secor's machines, with forward-facing handwheels, are much prized by American collectors. Most date from the mid-1870s just before the factory went out of business in 1876. Diana Herbert