In 1855, a price war broke out. A young farmer by the name of James Gibbs joined with James Wilcox to create a lighter weight chain stitch machine with an iron frame and 42 treadle that sold for half ($50) what the Singer model was selling. In 1856, the I.M. Singer Company offered a purchase plan with monthly installments and the sales tripled. Singer further responded in 1858 by producing an even less expensive model. The competition continued between I.M. Singer Company and the Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company for many years. Sewing machine development was not all male dominated. Helen Augusta (1840-1922) was famous for her machine improvements. She held 22 sewing machine patents including the revolutionary Zing Sag Sewing Machine.
Her over-seaming machine was first manufactured in 1873. The first sewing machines were commercial, and revolutionized the shoe and garment industries. Production skyrocketed and priced declined. On the negative side, wages also fell, demand for hand sewers disappeared. Working conditions became severe, and unemployment rampant. The problem became even worse with the advent of the electric motor and motorized sewing machines. Eventually the workers organized and government set work place standards.
Ellen Curtis Demorest (1824-1898) observed one of her servants cutting out a dress paper as guide. Inspired, Ellen Demorest launched the paper pattern industry so pervasive today. Her patterns were sold by hundreds of saleswomen and delivered through the mails. In the home, there was a different kind of revolution. In 1898 a home sewing machine was produced for home makers. By 1905 the electric sewing machine was highly popular.
The sewing machine empowered the homemaker to cut sewing and mending time by 90%. An hour of sewing meant a new dress, and an hour and a quarter meant a new shirt for her husband. It was like a miracle at home. Drudgery turned to creative wonders. The sewing machine became a valuable tool offering homemakers the opportunity to work from home. The sewing machine still provides the foundation for an ever expanding cottage industry worldwide.
What was at the turn of the century a luxury, by the mid twentieth century became a necessity for every home. Today sewing machine still provides the foundation for an ever expanding cottage industry worldwide. Today sewing, quilting (with a sewing machine), heirloom sewing, home décor sewing, craft sewing are hobbies, a creative outlets, passions for millions of women and men the world over.