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Alex has spent a lifetime in the sewing industry and is considered one of pioneering machines and their inventors. He has written extensivel radio, television, books and publications worldwide. Alex I Askaroff

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A brief history of a giant
By Alex Askaroff

style="font-family: Garamond; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial" Isaac Merritt Singer 27th

October 1811 - 23rd July 1875

Touched by Fire W
hat a man! When I first started, as a child, to hear stories about Isaac Merritt Singer I was enthralled. He had lived the American dream. A true rags to riches story. They say a fewlang="en-gb" men are touched by fire in their lives, Isaac was one of these men. Other books will blind you with facts, figures and endless dates. Let me tell you about the man who became a household name and his invention that changed the world. lang="en-gb"Over a lifetime I have collected every snippet on the great man and put it all here. I hope

that many others will follow in my footsteps and take his story further. Please forgive any mistakes. Isaac Merritt Singer was the youngest of eight children. His father, Adam, was possibly of German-Jewish origin as there was a Jewish family in his hometown of Frankfurt, Germany, known as the Reisingers.

The first Singer sewing machine

Well folk's this is what it is all about, the first practical sewing machine in the world. The model A of 1851 made Isaac Singer one of the richest men on the planet. It had many novel ideas, a straight vertical moving needle going up-and-down. A wheel that feed the work through and a shuttle copied from Elias Howe. Boy that was going to lead to trouble...

Isaac Singers father arrived in w:st="on" New York in 1769 at the age of 16. This German immigrant had arrived in w:st="on" America to

find a dream. Little did he know that his youngest son would fulfil that dream! Who would believe that even today people sailing to w:st="on" America set eyes on one of Isaacs wives! Yes, one of the first sights they see when nearing Ellis Island is the Statue of Liberty, is supposedly modelled on the most beautiful woman in 19th century Europe , Singers half-French wife and actress, Isobel. Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, in Paris, built the structure in 1885. It enables Bartholdis Statue of Liberty to stand proud, welcoming people from all over the worldlang="en-gb". douard Ren de Laboulaye had the idea of presenting a statue representing liberty as a gift to the United States of America. The sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Laboulaye's old friend, turned his idea into reality. He knew Isobel or Isabella rather well and many say he had an affair with her.
style="font-family:Garamond;mso-bidi-font-family: Arial"Bartholdi originally asked his mother to sit for the statue to get

the basic feminine outline but she could, or would, not stay still enough for long periods. Then he asked Jeanne-Emile Baheux de Puysiex a woman he met he while holidaying in America. She later became his wife.
style="font-family:Garamond;mso-bidi-font-family: Arial"However it is still Isobel, the French actress, the most beautiful

woman in Europe, that is rumoured finally sat for the statue.

Bartholdis Statue of Liberty, Isaac Singers wife Isobel!

Even as an old man, Isaac Singer's charm and wealth attracted beautiful women and Isobel was his last conquest. As a young man, by all accounts, he had the devil in him. He was a renowned womanizer and father to at least 28 children by several wives and countless lovers. However, I am jumping ahead. He has many miles to go and many hardships to face before he makes his millions. Isaac Singer's father, Adam Singer, set up business as a wheelwright and barrel maker, or cooper, married and started a family. History tells us that lived until 1855. He was 102, an amazing fact for the hard frontier life of those days and very doubtful. However it may be true even without porridge and soya! Isaac Singers mother, Ruth, left the family home when Isaac was a child to become a Quaker. It is said that in later years Adam Singer at the age of 99 went to find Ruth, possibly to tell her of the fortune their youngest son was making. He tracked her down in w:st="on" Albany , NY , only to find that, at the age of 96, she had passed away shortly before his arrival! I am not sure about the reliability of these dates as they do seem extreme and mean that Ruth must have had Isaac Singer when she was in her 50s. I suppose it is possible, there was little birth control. Maybe Isaacs birth was the last straw for Ruth?

In the history books Isaac Singer seems to have been born in several locations in the w:st="on" New York area. One humorous solution was that Ruth had a slow birth in a fast wagon! However for our story we will go for the most likely town. Some say Isaac Singer was born in the small frontier town of w:st="on" Schaghticoke , NY, on the 27th October 1811, some say Pittstown. His dad Adam was already nearly 60! Although the family moved away it would be back in w:st="on" New York City , many years later, that Isaac Singer made an indelible mark on American history, leading to one of the first skyscrapers and one of the largest buildings in the world at that time.

The actual signature of the great man himself Isaac Merritt Singer

Adam Singer remarried but Isaac Singer never connected with his stepmother. Isaac Singer, now in Oswego must have had a hard childhood for, by the age of 12 and still a young boy, he slipped his running shoes on and ran as far away from home as he could. There is little detail of his early years. It must have been hard on the road at such a tender age. What would make a child run from home is anybodys guess. He probably stayed with some of his older brothers who had left home earlier. There are tales that he worked part-time and paid for rudimentary schooling between jobs as a mechanic and carpenter. So how did the most famous name in the sewing world get into the sewing business? Isaac Singer was smart, cunning and ruthless. He had to be to survive on the streets of 19th century America. w:st="on" America was a bustling mass with immigrants flooding in and prosperity blooming. There were endless opportunities for those willing to grasp them. After a few years in the wilderness Isaac Singer reappears in history. He had learned the trades of mechanic and cabinetmaker in Waterloo, New York. Two trades that later would combine to his benefit and make him one of the richest men in the world.

He was also a showman. He thought of himself as an accomplished actor landing himself the role of Richard III with a group of travelling actors when he was only 19. That same year Isaac married Catherine Haley. By the time Isaac was 23 he had a William and in 1837 a daughter was born Lillian C Singer. As a handsome young man, with an inventive mind, we find Isaac Singer at the age of 28 having invented a machine for drilling and excavating rock. He had no use for his invention and sold it for a years wages. He later invented a rock drilling machine so you can see his inventive mind at work. With his new wealth he quickly put it to use and followed his first love acting. Isaac Singer formed a group of actors called the Merritt Players and off they went around America treading the boards. It was on one of his trip to Baltimore he spied a young beauty on the audience. Before long he had used all his charms on Mary Anne Sponsler. She took acting classes and soon joined Isaac on the road. Mary Anne would go on to have 10 children with Isaac although she was married to him for only the briefest time just before he left America. Two of the children unfortunately died in infancy which was not uncommon in that period. Of course it was not long before Isaac's money ran out and he was back to working for a living. His first attempt at the American dream had failed but he was not finished, not by a long way. Isaac Singer could charm the socks of anyone, as one hotel manager remembered. Isaac Singer, his wife and children arrived at the hotel penniless. Isaac Singer performed for the guests to pay for board. When Isaac Singer packed to leave the hotelier even gave him some money. He last saw the family heading out of town, into the wilderness on a buckboard. In Fredericksburg, PA, lang="en-gb"Isaac Singer's inventive mind was at work again, this time in inventing a wooden printers type. Dont ask me what that was, I havent a clue! It was obviously not all that successful because, with all of Isaacs powers of persuasion, he never managed to sell it. However it did lead to his greatest invention. Isaac Singer was a practical man with vision but he had a poor academic education. As a child he only went to school when he had time mainly in the winter at a common school. His writing, in later life, shows how much difficulty he had spelling even the simplest words.

A rare sample of Isaac Singer's poor writing in 1868

This did not slow the master showman down. His intellect was undeniable, even at a young age, by his being able to quote great chunks of Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. Always one for smoothtalking the handsome young actor and inventor wheeled and dealed his way through life. By 1850 Isaac Singer had rented a basement at 19 Harvard Place, Boston, w:st="on" MA. He tried in vain to sell his printing invention but once again failed to find a buyer. However, the light was at the end of the tunnel. Coincidentally 1850 was the same year that Jacob Singer set off with John Hodge on an epic 2,300 mile journey across America to the gold fields of California. Jacob Singer joined the famous 49'ers and along with 100,000 other men he searched for gold in the streams and gullies of the Golden State. It was a hard life and many men died, many returned penniless and just a few came back rich. Now back to Isaac Singer. Isaac Singer had rented his Boston basement from a sewing-machine manufacturer called Phelps. Phelps made not very good sewing machines under licence for Lerow & Blodgett. None of them really saw the huge potential in sewing machines that Isaac Singer did. Phelps asked Isaac Singer to repair many of the machines that kept coming back faulty. In fact very few of the machines sewed well in those days. While working on the faulty sewing machines it became clear to Singers inventive mind that improvements were necessary. Once again he went to work. Often boasting about how he could make a better machine Isaac would later put his money where his mouth was. The story goes that the money came about from a bet between the two men. Isaac had said he could build a better sewing machine than anything on the market in a matter of days. Zieber put him to the test and even lent him the money for his bet! Forty dollars was the bet and

it was that $40 that would make Isaac Singer one of the richest men in the world. Zieber was onto a good thing. If Isaac Singer did make a sewing machine that worked he would get his money back and much more if Isaac failed-Zieber would win his bet!

1851 was the year that Singer finally came of age. 100 years later in 1951 Singers were marked with a special centenary badge, highly collectable today.

Isaac Singer had just enough spare money to now have a go at making a practical machine. Something that, in the entire history of the world, had not yet been done. And it changed our world. Supposedly ignorant of many of the patents of the time (I'm very suspicious of that myself)Isaac Singer went to work building the machine that would revolutionise the world and set women free!. Sure there were plenty of sewing machines around in 1851but none that were, like his, reliable. The public knew that. Men had tried through the ages to make a good sewing machine but all had shortcomings. In fact there were papers of monopoly issued by Queen Elizabeth I for an engine that sewed! At last the first practical sewing machine was being built in a basement by a 39-year-old who still had a passion to make a fortune and, of course, win his bet.

Isaac Merritt Singer on the verge of inventing the machine that changed our world. Burning the midnight oil with George Zieber the man he later fell out with.

Isaac Singers versions of events were naturally flamboyant. In later life he often told of how he worked tirelessly for eleven days and eleven nights building the machine. How he went without food and grabbed only a few snatches of sleep. That may be true. Whatever the story the result was the same, a sewing machine that actually sewed.

Isaac Singers own words "My attention was first directed to sewing machines late in August, 1850. I then saw in Boston some Blodgett sewing machines, which Mr. Orson C. Phelps was employed to keep in running order. I had then patented a carving machine, and Phelps, I think, suggested that if I could make the sewing machine practical

I should make money. Considering the matter over night, I became satisfied I could make them practically applicable to all kinds of work and the next day showed Phelps and George B. Zieber a rough sketch of the machine I proposed to build. It contained a table to support the cloth horizontal instead of a feed-bar from which was suspended vertically in the Blodgett machine, a vertical presser-foot to hold the cloth, and an arm to hold the presser-foot and needlebar over the table. I explained to them how the work was to be fed over the table and under the presser-foot, by a wheel having short pins on its periphery projecting through a slot in the table, so that the work would be automatically caught, fed, and freed from the pins, in place of attaching and detaching the work to and from the baster-plate by hand, as was necessary in the Blodgett machine. Phelps and Zieber were satisfied that it would work. I had no money. Zieber offered forty dollars to build a model machine.

Phelps offered his best endeavours to carry out my plan and make the model in his shop. If successful we were to share equally. I worked at it day and night, sleeping but three or four hours out of the twenty-four, and eating generally but once a day, as I knew I must make it for the forty dollars, or not get it at all.

The machine was completed in eleven days. About nine o'clock in the evening we got the parts together, and tried it. It did not sew. Exhausted with almost unremitting work, they pronounced it a failure, and left me one by one until only Zieber was with me. Zieber held the lamp, and I continued to try the machine but anxiety and incessant work had made me nervous, and I could not get

tight stitches. Sick at heart, about midnight we started for our hotel. On the way we sat down on a pile of boards, and Zieber mentioned that the loose loops of thread were on the upper side of the cloth. It flashed upon me that we had forgotten to adjust the tension on the needle-thread.

The rest as they say is history. After a few minor hiccups Isaac Singer packed up his sewing machine and headed for the patent office in New York. Against all the odds he had come up with the first reliable and practical sewing machine.

We went back, adjusted the tension, tried the machine, and it sewed five stitches perfectly, then the thread snapped. But that was enough to secure my forty dollars."

Singer sewing machine patent 8294 of 1851. At last a sewing machine shape that is familiar.

To all whom it may concern: Be it known that I, Isaac Merritt Singer of the City, County and State of New York have invented certain new and useful improvements in the machine for sewing seams in cloth.
From this point on in our history true mass production of clothes and many other industries started. You can look back on many items and see their birth in mass production from this point. For example: Late in 1851 or early in 1852 a shoemaker, John Brooke Nichols, seeing the potential in the new sewing machines, bought a Howe machine to try and convert it to sew leather for his business. This failed so he purchase a machine from Isaac Singer. He managed to successfully alter the Singer machine to sew leather. Nichols then proceeded to offer rights, via Isaac Singer, to shoe manufactures such as John Wooldredge and George Keene in Essex County. The Goodyear Welt Stitcher and the McKay Sole Stitcher soon followed. This introduced a new era of mechanised mass production in the shoe industry. The future was here!

Now back to Isaac Singer and his search for wealth.

style="font-size:14.0pt;font-family:Garamond;mso-bidi-font-family: Arial"Isaac Singer's only problem was that he had infringed several

patents putting his machine together. His worst nightmare came true when he found himself in court against one of the most powerful men in America, href="" target="_blank" style="text-decoration: none" Elias Howe.


Elias Howe had successfully been charging all the other sewing machine manufacturers for the use of his patents and Isaac Singer, the poor upstart, was going to be no exception. Although Howe had a rocky start in the sewing machine business, he had made most of his money suing everyone who had used some of his patented ideas.

Elias Howe's machine looked nothing like Isaac Singer's but it had the Howe patents that Singer may have copied. It is well worth reading his history by my own fair hand where I put his side of the story: Elias Howe In the year 1853, Walter Hunt, backed by Isaac Singer, applied for a patent upon his old sewing machine invention, but was refused on the ground of abandonment. This is fascinating reading Judge Charles Mason, Commissioner of Patents, May, 1854 "Hunt claims priority upon the ground that he invented

the Sewing Machine previous to the invention of Howe. He proves that in 1834 or 1835 he contrived a machine by which he actually effected his purpose of sewing cloth with

considerable success. Upon a careful consideration of the testimony, I am disposed to think that he had then carried his invention to the point of patentability. I understand from the evidence that Hunt actually made a working machine in 1834 or 1835. The papers in this case show that Howe obtained a patent for substantially this same invention in 1846. Notwithstanding this, the Commissioner was forced to refuse Hunt's belated application, for the reason that an Act of Congress in 1839 had provided that inventors could not pursue their claims to priority in patents unless application was made within two years from the date when the first sale of the invention was made. Hunt had sold a machine in 1834, and had neglected to make application for his patent till 1853. Thus it was that one of the grandest opportunities of the century was missed by the man who should rightfully have enjoyed it; the honors and emoluments of the great sewing machine invention passed to a man who neither had invented a single principle of action, nor applied a practical improvement to principles already recognized

Judge Charles Mason then went on to attack Elias Howe

Elias Howe, Jr., acquired the power, by simply patenting another man's invention, to obstruct every subsequent inventor, and finally to dictate the terms which gave rise to the great Sewing Machine Combination about which the world has heardand scoldedso much. Howe's machine was not, even in 1851, of practical utility. From 1846 to 1851 he had the field to himself, but the invention lay dormant in his hands. He held control of the cardinal principles upon which the coming machines must needs be built, and planted himself squarely across the path of improvementan obstructionist, not an inventor and when, in 1851, Isaac M. Singer perfected the improvements necessary to make Hunt's principles of real utility to the world Howe continued to obstruct and pursue litigation.
Walter Hunt testified, under oath, as follows

"Elias Howe has several times stated to me that he was satisfied that I was the first inventor of the machine for sewing a seam by means of the eye-pointed needle, the shuttle and two threads, but said that it was irrelevant as he had the

prior right to the invention because of my delay in applying for letters-patent.

One day Elias Howe spotted one of Isaac Singer's machines being demonstrated in a shop window and immediately went in to complain. Isaac was there and an argument ensued, Isaac nearly booted him out of the shop. Howe left flustered and angry. By now he was used to manipulating others not being pushed around. He vowed Isaac Singer would pay!
align="center" Isaac Merritt Singer's first machines were monsters to move but produced a reliable stitch.

Above you can see an 1850's Singer and a 1950's Singer, 100

years of evolution.
Note: Although this has been marked the model A it was better known as the Singer Model 1 & 2.

Years later Elias Howe tried to get Congress to allow him to extend, once again, his patent rights. Elias Howe stated that the huge sums that he had made out of his patents was still not enough. Needless to say popular opinion of him was not the same. He was slaughtered in the periodicals of the day and lost his patent extension. Later Elias Howe hired writers to boost his colourful version of the sewing machine saga. I have a soft spot for the genius so I won't say any more you have to read his history. Patent 12364 Isaac Singer 1855

Isaac Singer was super-busy between 1851-1856 partly in court, partly in his new business but also designing ways to get around the main patents held by Howe, Wheeler & Wilson and Grover & Baker. This patent is for a lever to pull the work through rather than A B Wilson's four motion feed. Isaac Singer also patented the first stitch that we now call the stretch stitch and the needlebar cam bearing. What a clever boy! Why can't I think of anything amazing...No, still nothing!

Isaac Singer used all his talent and cunning to avoid Howes costs.

Isaac Singer sewing machines came onto the market at $125, a fantastic and impossible sum for most normal families. Apparently a years average wage in 1852. Still undeterred Isaac went ahead with a stream of adverts for his machine.

Singer's first machine being advertised in 1852. Legend persists that this woodcut is actually Isaac Singer's mistress and later wife Mary McGonigal who worked at Singers and was known as Mrs. Matthews. Isaac had two children with her. Isaac Singer no longer needed his old partners, he needed a legal brain. Firstly to fight his court case with Howe and secondly to figure out how people could afford his machine. Into our story comes Edward Clark who instantly sees a huge potential in the new venture. Isaac Singer bullied Phelps, one of his partners, out. Then, in a brilliant move, he conned the other. Clarke watched while Isaac Singer sneakily removed both of his old partners. It appears that Clark was more than happy for them to be removed from what was to become such a huge financial boom, all he had to do was wait till Isaac Singer needed him most and then strike a deal. Clark had no money to invest but he had something more precious to Isaac Singer, legal talent! The Isaac Singer feed patent 13362 of July 1855

This was another of Isaac Singer's attempt to get around the A B Wilson feed patent.

Zieber was in failing health, probably due to the pressure Isaac Singer was putting him under. The story goes that Isaac Singer went to his bedside and promised he would look after Ziebers family after his death. All he had to do was sign over his shares. Isaac Singer would even give him $6000 to give to his offspring! (a huge amount) It seemed too good to miss. If only he could have seen the future! He was about to make the biggest mistake of his life... No sooner had Zieber signed the shares over than Isaac Singer hires the best doctors of the period to spare no expense in curing him. Zieber recovered! In a stroke of devious genius Isaac Singer had most of his business back and for what would become a pittance of the companies wealth. Zieber ended up working for Isaac as an employee, which he did, reluctantly, for many years. It is extraordinary to think that Isaac Singer could have been so cold blooded. Isaac Singer and Zieber had been through so much together. When the pair had first met, according to Zieber, Isaac Singer hardly had a shirt on his back, his jacket was torn at the elbows and he had not eaten. Zieber had clothed and fed Isaac Singer and spent many hours with him talking of living the dream. Between them, they had been through great hardships. Zieber had also borrowed heavily to invest in Isaac Singer and helped him in endless ways. Isaac Singers deed showed his ruthless side where money was

concerned. This was the side that many felt when crossing the man that had grown up fast and hard. Isaac Singer stitches

Isaac Singer was a busy boy experimenting with several types of stitches. All were patented including Patent 12969 for a chain-stitch machine in May 1855.

However, Isaac Singer did not have it all his own way for the brilliant legal mind of Edward Clark was a match for Isaacs more forceful tactics. Clark agreed to fight Elias Howe in court, for a huge lump of Isaac Singers business. Isaac, still pretty much penniless and in desperate need for money, had little option but to agree. After all of Isaac Singers cunning work, Clark got half his business without putting in a cent! Brilliant.

Isaac Singer messed around with loads of ideas to try and get around the patents owned by the his main competitors but in the end they were unimportant to him personally. His wealth was to be made in his greatest and first lock stitch sewing machine. His place in history was assured.

The partnership between Isaac Singer and Clark turned out to be one of the most successful in sewing history and, although they obviously did not trust each other, they both needed each other. They became uneasy bedfellows. Incidentally, Isaac Singer, with his persuasive manner also managed to get some of Elias Howes sewing machine competitors to refuse to pay the huge licence fees that Howe was demanding. This enraged the pompous Howe who went around to see Isaac Singer. He told him the demand for his patent had changed from $2000 to $25 000. Once again a heated argument ensued and Howe was shown the door. The stage was set for years of legal wrangling and court cases. This is where Clark earned his share of the business. Not only did he keep Howes lawyers tied up in court but he devised the first official hire purchase scheme. Everyday people who could not afford $125 for a Singer machine could pay $3 per month for their sewing machines and so the never-never was born. Clark also devised multiple or group purchases where several people could get together to buy one machine.

Hire Purchase

This is a genuine hire purchase slip, one from a whole book of them. Each page would have the amount paid weekly or monthly cut off the top. Amounts were changeable from one shilling to one pound depending on your circumstance. Each week the customer would take the hirepurchase book to their local Singer shop where the amount paid would be filled in and signed and dated by Singer's. The average payment in 1936 for a standard Singer hire-purchase agreement from the Singer Company in England was two shillings and six pence a week (half a crown). The average woman's wage was little over one pound a week. A Singer 28k which retailed for around 30 would have been paid for over several years. One pound was 20 shillings. This meant a customer would pay weekly for roughly 240 weeks for their sewing machine or over four-and-a-half-years. I met a customer who paid for 15 years for one sewing machine from 1926 to 1941! Inconceivable today for a sewing machine! You can see that the price of a sewing machine would relate more to a price of a car today. Expensive or what.

Of course for hundreds of years before Clark there had been bartering and exchange, money lending and part-payment, but it was Clarke who really did the paperwork and made it part of our everyday life. Who remembers the Tallyman or knocker? He would turn up once a week or at the end of the month to get his payments on borrowed money. He would lend money for Tommys new shoes or a bicycle for the hubby, a little extra at Christmas. A million Tallyman's kept their books of payments and travelled around the poorer communities of the world before Clarkes scheme. Eventually Howe beat Singer in court and Singer had to pay Howe huge sums. By then Singer had the money to pay, so it was painful but no real hardship. I keep jumping ahead, slow down boy. Elias Howe then gave up suing everyone and, on legal advice, joined the enemy. All the patent holders pooled their patents and joined The Sewing Machine Cartel. For the first time in history, in 1857, patentpooling happened. This was really an illegal monopoly that ended up needing

government legislation to bring to a halt. I can just imagine the table where they all met. They had been suing each other for years but money had made them uneasy bedfellows. The Isaac Singer chain-stitch of 1855, Patent 13,687

Isaac Singer experimented continually during the early 1850's patenting idea after idea. As his wealth increased he let the Singer Company to do the inventing while he chased women and spent money. How the other half live eh!

The all-powerful Sewing Machine Cartel had years of suing all fledgling sewing machine companies. This allowed the few to dominate sewing machine production for years and become rich, stifling most American competition and industry. Eventually, as all the patents ran out the Cartel was destroyed. Its demise ushered in a new era of affordable machines for the masses, that's you and me. Patent applications went from hundreds to thousands to tens-of-thousands in a few years and the pioneers became history. Once again we are jumping ahead. Let's get back to Isaac Singer. Isaac Singer is not quite out of the woods, he still cannot afford a new suit. In addition he makes mistakes. He failed to notice that the treadle cabinet, that he made to stow his machine in, and on which it was used, was unique. He was beaten to the patent office and missed

out on patenting the treadle base of his machine. Isaac Singer was on the verge of untold wealth but if was not an easy ride. Why buy a sewing machine? None of them had ever worked properly before! Why buy a Singer? Who was Isaac Singer? Certainly not the household name he is today. This is where Isaac Singers superb salesmanship comes into action. Much like before, in his acting career, he packed up his machine and he and his entourage hit the road. He goes to shows, to theatres, to factories and displays"Gather round ladies and gentlemen, come see the future!" He tirelessly demonstrates his amazing invention that not only stitches but is also guaranteed to stitch for 12 months without failure!

All of his acting skills, used to promote his machine, start to pay off. The master showman has a great publicity stunt up his sleeve. He goes to one of the largest sewing factories in America with the Press in tow. Here he has a race with not oneor twobut three of the fastest hand-sewing girls in a factory of over 3000 staff. He unpacks his sewing machine and off they go. By the end of the race not only has he beaten all three girls but the machine has worked flawlessly and with the much stronger lockstitch. The press were impressed, the factory was tooplacing an immediate order for the machines. Incidentally, rumour has it that some of the women in the early pictures, that Singer used to promote his sewing machine, were also his mistresses!

Was this one of Isaac Singer's mistresses?

Unlike Walter Hunt, an earlier inventor of a sewing machine, Isaac knew he was on to a winner and would not let Hell or high water get in his way. They say Hunts daughter had actually put Hunt off his invention. She feared that thousands of women would find themselves out of work if he went ahead with making a sewing machine. Walter Hunt and his part in the invention of the sewing machine. The facts turned out to be quite the opposite, creating a whole new industry and cheaper clothes for the masses. Once Isaac set up a demonstration just along the road from the famous P T Barnum. More people flocked to Singer's demonstration than Barnums museum on Broadway! Isaac Singer, after struggling for most of his life, had finally come of age and so had the sewing machine. Almost single-handed, with bloody determination and against all the odds Isaac Singer had ushered in the dawn of the sewing machine industry.

Mass Production

Machines started to sell at an amazing rate. For the first time in history, in America, proper mass production was going on. The new age had arrived, which affected not only sewing machines but also more deadly inventions such as firearms! It is said that both Samuel Colt and Oliver Winchester gained knowledge for their mass production of arms from the sewing machine industry. The money started rolling in. As word spread about the reliability of Singers machines that had previously sold slowly were moving faster and faster. Isaac soon moved out of his workshops and looked for bigger premises as 10 machines turned into a 100 then a 1000. From his earnings Singer could pay of Howe's court rulings.

A rare woodcut of men decorating the Singer New Family sewing Machine in 1865. It was painstakingly finished by hand in gold.

Edward Clarks clever hire purchase plan also helped tremendously and was copied by all the other sewing-machine makers of the day and then by just about every company in the world. Clarke also drew up a plan to trade-in old machines for new ones at a ridiculously high rate of $40 per trade. All old machines were quickly destroyed to stop them being resold. This policy continued right up to the 1960s and many Singer shops had presses in their storerooms to crush old machines. I know for sure that the Singer shop in Eastbourne, my hometown, had a seven-ton press in the basement for crushing competitors machines.

At last, Isaac Singer's machine, that he had invented-copied-made was to revolutionise the world and provide him untold wealth until his death. He had become the first Bill Gates. His bank balance, along with is waistline, expanded rapidly. Isaac Singer was a flamboyant and good-looking man at his peakand now had money rolling in beyond his wildest dreams. He let Clark run most of the daily grind of their business while he set about enjoying the fruits of his labour. By 1860 (Singer by now had fathered 20 children) Singers factory had produced over 13,000 machines at $125 a piece. At a time when the average wage was a few dollars a week it was already a fortune! He could not spend the money as fast as he was earning it. Within a few years the company was making over a million machines a year. One of the many Singer factories

Isaac Singer went on to embrace the good life. He had a string of mistresses and wives. He managed his affairs with little privacy and gave the papers of the day wonderful print material. As his wealth grew so did his excesses, especially where women were concerned. His offspring rose in number, almost by the month. Many say that he had at least 28 children by a dozen or more wives and mistresses. He was even married to two women, and keeping a mistress, all at the same time! In the same city w:st="on" New York! The real lang="engb"number of his offspring will never be known. How he managed to keep his intriguing life going is anybodys guess! He was burning the candle at both ends and loving it! How he managed to keep his intriguing life going is anybodys guess. He was burning the candle at both ends and loving it! One incident caused local uproar and ended with Isaac being arrested. Isaac was taking a leisurely drive through Central Park with another mistress one Mary McGonigal when who should appear coming the other way, his long term partner Mary Sponsler. A huge row erupted and later Isaac went back home Mary flew

into another rage. Isaac also became enraged and the police were called. Isaac was arrested for assault but through his charm and cunning once again escaped. Isaac promised to marry Mary Sponsler as soon as his divorce from Catherine came through. Little did she know that Isaac was secretly involved with at least two other women as well!

Isaac kept to his promise and married Mary Sponsler, mother to his eight of his surviving children 10 children. It was a short lived marriage as Isaac was deeply intertwined with Mary McGonigal with whom he had five more children. How did the man do it? Simply astounding. He now has 15 children that we know of and there is more. Isaac was also involved with another Mary, Mary Water with whom he had another child. How did he keep all this going? Many times he lived with his lovers and partners under assumed names such as Matthews and Merritt. He must have told them all he travelled a lot! All this makes Isaacs real life almost impossible to follow but I am doing my best. It is all too possible that he was over-compensating for his very hard start in life. Now, not only could he afford a new suit, he could buy the shop and the women to match! Isaac Singer did everything in style. He had the grandest and most expensive parties, loved dancing and telling tales of his days of

struggle and hardship. It is said that he even travelled to work in a specially commissioned coach. Bright yellow, 30 feet long and pulled by twelve black horses. He would ride up Central Park to his magnificent office. Everyone would know who was coming and children would often run along beside his carriage shouting to him in the hope of a few coins.

The Singer building, the world's first skyscraper over 600ft high finally finished in 1908.

Within a few short years Isaac Singer was the figurehead of a multinational company that was expanding to every country. Singer machines were being carted across African deserts and up the Amazon with new agents appearing in every town. In the larger towns there would be several agents and shops all selling Singer machines.

Incidentally, Singer never made any sewing machines for anyone except Singer. This was unlike most of the other companies who were only to happy to put any name you wanted on the front of a machine

if you bought enough of them. Isaac Singer was busily improving his machines all the time and right up until 1859 he was submitting a constant stream of patents to the Patent Office. Isaac was at his peak and buzzing around 24 hours a day not only with work but enjoying all the benefits of massive wealth that just kept on growing. Eventually it all caught up with him. His constant womanising, touring and a series of scandals turned many Americans against him. Their favourite son became ostracised from society and scandalised in the papers.

Pperiodicals say that Isaac Singer became rude-mouthed, hottempered and arrogant. Some women obviously loved it though in reality he had a dark and dangerous side! Clark, constantly embarrassed by Isaac, came to him with a deal that allowed Isaac to retire and spend his wealth on one conditionthat he departed America, this time for good! w:st="on" Clark s wife was delighted she was deeply religious and had always hated Isaac Singer. She would not even let him step inside her house.

The Edward Clark Steamboat 1860. People forget that Edward Clark also became amazingly wealthy and much of Singer's later success came from Clark's business practises.

style="font-size:14.0pt;font-family:Garamond;mso-bidi-font-family: Arial" lang="en-gb"There is also a conflicting story that Isaac Singer

was caught and prosecuted for bigamy and escaped while on bonded release. I don't know how true either stories are. Like I say in the beginning my knowledge has come from a lifetime of picking up snippets of information on this fascinating personality. Now back to the story...

Before Isaac Singer left he was once again courting (surprise, surprise) however, the woman had a daughter and the daughter was even prettier. Isaac Singer turned all his charm and wealth on the women he had met in Paris a year earlier. She was Isobel Eugenie Boyce a half-French half-English beauty. Described in the periodicals of the day as the most beautiful woman in Europe . Isaac Singer wasted no time in enticing her or maybe it was the other way aroundwho knows for sure! There is no doubt that the divorced beauty was a spectacular catch for him and, with his wealth, charm and looks how could she resist? Before long Isobel was installed in Isaacs Fifth Avenue home and fell

pregnant. Isaac Singer had trouble with one of his divorces but, finally, married a very heavily-pregnant Isobel. Because they had to leave America the obvious place was Paris, France, where he had first met Isobel and the city one of their son's was later named after. The Last Isaac Singer Patent for twin needle and free arm feed.
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One of the last original Isaac Singer patents, Patent 34906 from 1862

Incidentally, Isaac Singers last residence in the United States was in a home nicknamed the "Castle" that Singer had built in Yonkers , New York . Not to be confused with the "Castle" that Singer Company president Frederick Bourne built on Dark Island. Isaac Singer and family, Isobel and children, lived in Yonkers for about two years before finally leaving for Paris in 1867. At the Castle in Yonkers Isaac and Isobel put on grand parties but they were shunned by the important families of the day.

It must have been a sad day when Isaac Singer and his new family set sail for Europe. He left behind his American dream and looked to the future in a foreign land. I wonder, as he saw the coastline of his homeland slowly fading away, if he ever thought he would be leaving forever? Isaac Singer never saw America again. However he still had huge financial interests in the Singer Company and remained on the board of directors.

He had been to England a few years earlier but, strangely enough, found the life in London boringlang="en-gb"! At 55, Isaac Singer, and his entourage, toured Europe before settling down in Paris. Their address in Paris was No.83 Boulevard Malherbes. However, things were not to be and three years later, in 1870, the Franco-Prussian war erupted. Isaac lang="en-gb"Singer packed up and headed for the safety of England . After another stay in London, where he was the centre of society, the family settled in the West of England. Isaaclang="en-gb" Singer laid plans for a grand house and gardenspalatial by all standardswith the most magnificent circular ballroom that he quaintly called the Wigwam.

Oldway Manor Paignton, England lang="en-gb"where Isaac Singer died.

The doors were large enough to allow a coach and horses straight in

to unload, out of the rain, so as not to spoil the ladies evening gowns. The Wigwam is still there, as is his house, now council offices. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the vicinity of Paignton down the West Country.

While he may have been shunned by America the wealth that he brought to England was most welcome. Isaac Singer employed hundreds of local workmen on his palace and became a popular sight around the town of Paignton. Isaac Singer settled into his retirement with ease, enjoying his family and wealth. With Isobel, Isaac had seven more children to add to the pot, Adam, Winaretta, Eugenie, Washington, Paris, Isobella and Franklin.

Isaac Merritt Singer in his primelang="en-gb". He had come a long way since he wore ripped jackets and holed shoes.

style="font-size:14.0pt;font-family:Garamond;mso-bidi-font-family: Arial"On the 23rd of July 1875 at the age of 64, Isaac Singer died of

heart failure. All the hardships of his early struggles had taken their toll, as had his over-indulgences in later life. He was deeply mourned and his funeral was almost like a state funeral with nearly 80 black carriages pulled by horses, some specially shipped in from France. Thousands of mourners and onlookers lined the streets as the procession slowly marched to his final resting placelang="en-gb" at the top of the hill. Isaac never lived to see his precious Wigwam completed.

Isaac Singer's final resting place lang="en-gb"in Paignton

And so, the most famous of all entrepreneurs was dead. Isaac Singer had blazed a trail that would never be followed, had lived life to the full and had enjoyed every moment. I say never to be followed, let me tell you why. While Isaac Singer's early life was spent in obscurity his final years were spent in a blaze of wealth and publicity.

On most graves there are dates, birth and death. It is the little space between those dates that mean everything, the simple space that is

the entire life of a person. He really did start from nothing with little more than the clothes on his back. Isaac Singer really was what the American Dream was all about. The son of an immigrant, he made the first good sewing machine in historywhatever other makers tell you. Isaac Singer pioneered proper mass production, pioneered hire purchase, oversaw the first patent pooling and had one of the first truly multi-national companies employing nearly 100,000 people. Singer machines were the first mass-marketed domestic appliance in the world. Singers machine may just go down in history as the most useful invention of the 19th century. Singer was the first company to spend over one million dollars on advertising in one year. This, along with superb machines like the singer 12k, New Family machine of 1865 made Singer machines world leaders.

$1,000,000 advertising in one year!

The company later built one of the first skyscrapers that really did seem to touch the sky and, in his spare time, Isaac Singer fathered at least two-dozen children. In his lifetime his name was known by more people across the globe than any other person in history. What a simply amazing fact. Moreover, when he died as a grey haired old man, he was married to the most beautiful woman in Europe .

I love some of the early ad's let's hope she is good with the needle or it will all end in tears!

Later, Clark sent his cousin and Ross Mc Kenzie over to Britain to build the largest sewing machine factory the world had ever seen at Kilbowie, Clydebank. The factory was built over the border in Scotland to avoid some English patents still held by Elias Howe and others. The factory had its own docks, shipyard, railways and even forests for wood. At its peak the factory employed around 16,000 workmen. One of the problems of getting men to work on time in the 19th century was solved when Singers built the largest clock in the world, larger than Big Ben. Everyone in the valley could look out their windows and see the time. There was no reason to be late again. Clark continued to successfully run the Singer Company for many years.

The massive Singer factory at Kilbowie, Clydebank with the huge clock tower bigger than Big Ben In his will, Isaac Singer generously split his enormous wealth among his many children, wives and mistresses. There were several claims by other children for money. They ended up in protracted court cases. Had DNA testing been around we may have found out just to what extent Isaac Singer was a ladies man!

50 years on the throne, reason to celebrate!

Isabella Eugenie Boyer

Singer's last wife
Isabella, now worth millions, modelled for Bartholdis Statue of Liberty (though some say she did not she boasted openly about it for many years often striking the pose at dinner parties). Isabella married a poor but handsome musician from the Netherlands named Victor Reubsaet in 1880. Victor's real name was Jan Nicolas Reubsaet. Son of Jean Baptist Victor Reubsaet. He was born in the Dutch town of Sittard on 26 April 1843. Victor was the poor son of a shoemaker and with Isabella's money bought the title of Vicomte de 'Estembourg de Bloemdaal from the Austrian Emperor. From the Italian King Umberto he purchased the grand title of Duce de Camposelice. The young rich couple with bought titles set Europe alight with glamorous entertaining.

Isaac Singer's wives and children

Researching Isaac's kids has been a bit of a nightmare as he made up names and assumed different identities to hide his illicit behaviour. What I can say with absolute certainty is that no one knows exactly how many mistresses Isaac Singer had or how many children. What I have done is start a list of known children for your interests or research. Hey it only took me 30 years to get this far. I bet you could do it in an hour on the Internet now! Oh how I cry... Several of Singer's wealthy children went on to marry into high society, some into the European royal families. Some took up important positions around the world. A few even carried on in their fathers philandering ways... Paris Singer had an affair and a child with the famous dancer and actress, Isadora Duncan, before losing much of his wealth in the 1929 stock market crash. Let's look at the wives and kids we know about. Ist wife, Catherine Maria Haley:

Children, William 1834 and Lillian 1837. Married to Isaac Singer between 1830 and 1860 Mary Anne Sponsler: Children, Isaac Augustus 1837, Voulettie Teresa, John Albert, Fanny Elizabeth, Jasper Hamlet, Mary Olive, Julia Ann, Caroline Virginia, two others sadly died young. Mary McGonigal (worked at Singers) known as Mrs. Matthews: Children, Florence, Mary and Charles, two more sadly died. Mary Eastwood Walter know as Mrs. Merritt: Child, Alice Merritt. Final wife, Isobel/Isabella Eugenie Boyer/Sommerville or Summerville. She was 22 when she married Isaac: Children, Adam, Mortimer Singer K.B.E, JP born 25th July 1863 died 24th June 1929, Winaretta Eugenie 1865 Yonkers, Washington Merritt Grant, Paris Eugene, Isobella Blanche 1869 and Franklin Moor. Now I need to sit down and have a cuppa tea...I'm exhausted just writing them down, let alone bringing them up. Interestingly on Isaac's grave stone, where Mortimer also lays in Paignton, it states that Mortimer was Isaac's eldest son which is clearly not the case. So I guess even in 1929 they were having problems. Isaac had died shortly after one of his children's weddings. Did all the stress bring on his premature demise? All in all, the Singer name became synonymous with wealth and power. Not bad for a little runaway.

Now you see why I started this story by saying what a man!

The End

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How much did a Singer cost?

The prices varied over the years but in 1898 a Singer 17k, in England, cost 9.12s.6d, Nine pounds, twelve shillings and six pence. 20 shillings to one pound. Standard Singer hire purchase payments were 1s.6d, one shilling and six pence per week. It would take several years to pay for the Singer. Can you imagine that today. No wonder they lasted so long. They were and are timeless engineering excellence. If you missed any payments you could lose your machine!

I hope you enjoyed my little story, I spend endless hours building these pages for you all. Please do let me know if you spot any mistakes or would like to add anything.

The story of Isaac Merritt Singer is in my book Sussex Born and Bred.

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Both my latest books, Sussex Born and Bred, and Corner of the Kingdom are now available instantly on Kindle and iPad.

Hi Alex Isaac Singer was my great grandfathers brother. I Enjoyed reading your story about I. M. Singer. I Have read others, but yours is much more in depth. Thanks, Gary Singer Dear Mr. Alex Askaroff, Thank you for the story of Isaac Singer. It was very interesting to find his connection to the Statue of Liberty of which I've walked up into the arm of it as a kid. Thanks for the very interesting history lesson. I was surprised that he did include many of his illegitimate kids at his death, to the rascals credit.

Rogene Calkins

Isaac Merritt Singer

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