I’ve always been fascinated at how our subconscious operates. In the mid 1980s, I read about Elias Howe’s dream presenting the answer to a logistical problem he was encountering during the process of his invention. Here’s a brief summation about Elias Howe, his dream, and the invention of the sewing machine.
HOWE A NIGHTMARE BECAME A DREAM COME TRUE
Until 1846, most clothes were hand sewn. Small wonder that there were so many “hand-me-downs,” and I imagine there were lots of sore fingers, not to mention that thimbles were probably common household items that were actually used and not kept in a display case.
There were quite a few attempts at mechanizing sewing; most being considered failures for one reason or another. One of the first related patents, issued in 1755, was a British patent to a German fellow, Charles Weisenthal. This was actually for a needle designed for a machine, however there seems to be no evidence of the machine it was designed for. From 1755 to 1830, there were patents issued for an array of gadgets for machines that mechanized specific sewing procedures for various items such as leather, but all appear to have been largely unsuccessful.
In 1830 French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier, produced the first functional sewing machine. It featured an embroidery chain stitch using one thread and a hooked needle. Messier Thimonnier’s invention was not well received. A group of French tailors set fire to his garment factory, nearly killing Messier Thimonnier. His fellow tailors believed that his invention threatened their livelihoods. Four years later in America, Walter Hunt (who happens to be credited with inventing the safety pin), came up with a somewhat successful sewing machine. Hunt may have taken note of his fellow inventor’s fate, Messier Thimonnier, and did not seem to have an interest in acquiring a patent as he believed it would lead to unemployment.
In 1846, Elias Howe was issued a patent for his invention. Howe’s invention was unique in that it processed thread from two sources. While Howe was busy working out the logistics of his machine he had a nightmare. In this dream/nightmare, Howe was subdued by a group of cannibals who were preparing to make him their next meal. These cannibals possessed spears with holes in the tips. This became the innovative design in Howe’s machine; a hole in the needle at the point. Howe’s machine utilized a lockstitch technique.
Howe spent the next nine years trying to garner interest in his machine and defending his patent. Isaac Singer mass produced the first commercial sewing machine in the 1850s. A battle over patent rights ensued that involved Singer, Hunt, Howe and others. Howe won. Had Hunt followed through and patented his invention, Howe would not have won. Reality was that other inventors were involved and each had patents on different mechanisms used in the conventional sewing machine of the day. Eventually four companies pooled their patents; Singer,- Howe,- Wilson and Wheeler – and Grover and Baker. All other sewing machine companies were obliged to obtain licenses and to pay $15.00 per machine manufactured.
During his lifetime, Elias Howe collected over $2,000,000 in royalties on his patent. Howe died in 1867, the same year his patent was to expire.
Hmmmm, I guess I should get more sleep cuz I need lots of answers!!