- Singer, Isaac Merritt
- (1811-1875)Singer was born in Pitts-town, New York, the son of a Saxon immigrant. At age thirteen, Singer became an apprentice in a machine shop but soon left to pursue acting. He married in 1830 and moved to New York and, in 1837, received a patent for his invention, a rock drilling machine. In 1850, while trying to sell his second patented invention, a metal and wood cutting machine, he met Orson C. Phelps who asked his advice on perfecting a sewing machine by Lerow and Blodgett. Together with Phelps and with financial backing from George B. Zeiber, the three formed the Jenny Lind Sewing Machine Company. Singer perfected the lockstitch sewing machine first created by Walter Hunt in 1839, and received a patent in 1851. However, Elias Howe patented his sewing machine earlier, in 1846. But, when Howe tried to sue Singer for patent infringement, the courts established the first patent pool, which allowed all involved parties to earn royalties from the sewing machine's future sales. In 1856, the I.M. Singer Co. manufactured 2,564 machines for $100 each. Sales were hot and the company made 13,000 in 1860. In 1863, the original company was dissolved but continued as the Singer Manufacturing Company. Singer's sales jumped to 170,000 in 1870, thanks to its new installment payment-plan promotion. By 1880, Singer was selling 500,000 machines a year.In 1889, Singer introduced the first electric sewing machine and, by 1900, produced 40 different sewing machine models. In 1921, the first portable, electric, motor-powered sewing machine model (the 99K) was sold and the first Singer Sewing Center opened in New York City. By 1951, the centers grew and trained an estimated 400,000 housewives. The company changed its name in 1963 to the Singer Company and, in 1978, the company launched the first computer-controlled machine. Singer's personal life was more colorful than any present day soap opera. Multiple wives, infidelity, polygamy, lawsuits, and some eighteen children later, Singer spent the rest of his life living in Paris and then England. Upon his death in 1875, Singer's estate was worth $14 million, the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars in today's economy.
Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry. Francesca Sterlacci and Joanne Arbuckle.