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Elias Howe

Updated on August 22, 2009

Elias Howe was an American inventor, born Spencer, Mass on 9th July 1819. Howe invented the sewing machine, which made possible the mass production of garments and other sewn cloth goods. His machine used two threads, one carried by the needle and the other by a shuttle on the opposite side of the material. Modern sewing machines still use Howe's two-thread principle.

Howe started work as an apprentice in a cotton machinery manufacturing plant in Lowell, Mass., and later worked in a machine shop in Cambridge, Mass. In 1838 he became apprenticed to a manufacturer of watches and scientific instruments in Boston, Mass.

Elias Howe's first patented sewing machine
Elias Howe's first patented sewing machine

At about this time, Howe began to develop his sewing machine, which he introduced in April 1845. Though he failed to get the necessary financial support for his idea, he produced a second machine, which he patented on the 10th September 1846. In October of that year, a third model, together with the entire rights to Howe's machine in Great Britain, was sold to an English manufacturer for 250 pounds. The manufacturer, William Thomas, brought Howe to England and employed him to adapt his machine for sewing leather.

In 1849, Howe returned to the United States and found other manufacturers producing and selling machines similar to his own. His subsequent legal action against them, lasting from 1849 until 1854, ended with a judgment in his favor. He was awarded a royalty on each machine that infringed on his patent. At one time, Howe's royalties amounted to $4,000 a week. In 1865 he formed the Howe Machine Company at Bridgeport, Conn.

Elias Howe died in Brooklyn, N.Y. on 3rd October 1867.


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