Elias Howe was born in 1819 and was the son of a doctor. While growing up, he founded himself working in textile factories around his home of Spencer, MA until the Panic of 1837 closed many of the factories. Howe transitioned into work as a mechanic and began working with carding machinery. As he apprenticed under a master mechanic who used precision instruments and repaired chronometers, he was seized with an idea: what if precision could be introduced into his first love of textiles?
That began the journey of Elias Howe toward his inventions. Let’s take a look at the work this inventor was able to create.
1. The Lockstitch Sewing Machine
Some people give Elias Howe credit for inventing the sewing machine, but the initial concepts of an automatic sewing mechanism had been around for nearly 20 years before Howe was even born. What Howe did with the sewing machine, however, was refine it so that it could be a more precise instrument. His designs led to the first US patent being awarded for a sewing machine that contains three features that are in almost all modern sewing machines: the needle with an eye at the point, a shuttle operation, and an automatic feed.
Isaac Singer and his business partner had perfected the lockstitch machine and were selling it without permission, forcing Howe to defend his patent in court for 5 years. In the end he was successful and earned a number of royalties. Howe then took this money and invested it in the Union Army, which he served in as a private during the Civil War.
2. The Zipper
When you need to close a coat, your pants, or even the back of a dress, a common way to do so is through the use of a zipper. In 1851, Howe invented a process that provided a continuous and automatic clothing closure. This happened during the height of his defending the sewing machine patent, so Howe never really tried to market this invention. Despite this fact, his involvement with this piece of technology still has components that are used by people every single day.
Elias Howe Died in 1867 at the Age of 48
Although Elias Howe has only two inventions credited to his name and even though he funneled many of his royalties earned toward the Union Army, when he died in 1867, he died a multi-millionaire. Both he and Singer created sewing machines that were widely used by the textile industry and private homes over the years and Howe’s sewing machine won a gold medal at the 1867 Paris Exhibition. His brother continued manufacturing sewing machines for another 3 years before turning over the operations of the factory.
In 2004, Howe was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame for his work. Although he didn’t invent the sewing machine, the automated lockstitch that he invented became an invaluable component of the industry that is still used to this day. Even the clothing you’re wearing right now is either created by or directly influenced by the lockstitch of Elias Howe.
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