• "Elias Howe, Jr.," ca. 1890. Courtesy of Richard Sugden Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Elias Howe, Jr.
    • Date
    • 1860-1865
    • Description
    • A postcard of a daguerreotype photograph taken of Elias Howe Jr., the inventor of the sewing machine, patented in 1846. Elias Howe, Jr was born in Spencer, Massachusetts on July 9, 1819 and died on October 3, 1867. Is part of the Spencer Historical M... more
      A postcard of a daguerreotype photograph taken of Elias Howe Jr., the inventor of the sewing machine, patented in 1846. Elias Howe, Jr was born in Spencer, Massachusetts on July 9, 1819 and died on October 3, 1867. Is part of the Spencer Historical Museum Collections. Richard Sugden Library, Spencer, Massachusetts. http://www.spencerpubliclibrary.org/. less
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    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Richard Sugden Library

  • "Howe Sewing Machine," 1860s. Courtesy of Richard Sugden Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Howe Sewing Machine
    • Date
    • 1880-1900
    • Description
    • A Cabinet Card photograph of the first sewing machine patented by Elias Howe, Jr. in 1846. In public demonstrations to market its creation, it proved to be faster than five of the swiftest hand sewers combined. The key to its success was discarding t... more
      A Cabinet Card photograph of the first sewing machine patented by Elias Howe, Jr. in 1846. In public demonstrations to market its creation, it proved to be faster than five of the swiftest hand sewers combined. The key to its success was discarding the idea that the machine had to mimic the motions of a human. Elias's solution was to have two threads form a stitch by the combined aid of a shuttle and a needle with the eye near the point. In 1867, he exhibited the machine at the Paris exposition and was decorated by the Empress of France with the Cross of the Legion of Honor. This was the highest honor ever given to an inventor at any exhibition. Is part of the Spencer Historical Museum Collections. Richard Sugden Library, Spencer, Massachusetts. http://www.spencerpubliclibrary.org/. less
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    • Rights status not evaluated. Contact host institution for more information.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Richard Sugden Library

Elias Howe, Jr. and the Sewing Machine

Massachusetts was birthplace and home of some of the greatest inventors in the history of American shoemaking. These innovators, including Elias Howe, Jr., Gordon McKay, and Charles Goodyear, Jr., created the machines that took shoemaking from the confines of handicraft to the realm of mass production.

Born in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1819, Elias Howe, Jr. worked in a textile factory until its closure in 1846 forced him into a career as a mechanic. That same year Howe combined his two disparate professional skill sets into the invention of a sewing machine that would revolutionize shoemaking.

While other sewing machines had been developed by 1846, Howe’s was the first to feature an automatic feed and a shuttle that could operate beneath the cloth to form a lock stitch. Another key player in the industrialization of shoemaking, John Brooks Nichols, devised a method of sewing uppersthe top portion of shoesusing the new machine, expediting one of the most time-consuming phases of shoe creation.