The Accidental Sewing Machine Revolution: BBC News

There is a long history of companies embracing and spurring social progress, intentionally or not. Tim Harford recounts the history of the sewing machine. A workshop owner rented out space to would-be inventors in 1850 and asked Isaac Merritt Singer, a reported womanizer with three families who did not know about one another, for assistance with a failed sewing machine. Singer spotted problems and advised having the shuttle move in a straight line rather than a circle and the needle moving up and down rather than horizontally. Of course, the machine required patents of multiple inventors, and a lawyer organized the multiple players to defend against patent lawsuits, common at that time. The invention reduced time required to sew a shirt from 14 hours to one, a big advancement considering that researchers suggest people have worn clothing for more than 100,000 years. Singer was more adept at marketing than manufacturing efficiency: His firm offered rent-to-buy programs along with support on installation assistance and maintenance. The firm also had to battle misogynistic attitudes that questioned need for more free time for women and their ability to handle machinery. So, Singer rented retail space in New York and hired young women to demonstrate the machines. Harford concludes, “social progress can be advanced by the most self-interested of motives.” – YaleGlobal

The Accidental Sewing Machine Revolution: BBC News

Innovation and progress: A sewing machine inventor pursued profits, battling misogynistic attitudes and creating marketing programs to support women
Tim Harford
Monday, January 20, 2020

Read the article from BBC News about the invention of the sewing machine.

Tim Harford writes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. His 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service.

How to make children's clothes the modern Singer way, photo of a child being fitted for a dress

Singer Sewing Machine 1930 guide (Source: Yale Digital Library and WinterthurTrade Catalog Collection)

US Expenditure Shares 	1901	1935	1950	1972	2002	2018  Food	43%	33.60%	29.70%	19.30%	13.10%	12.90% Housing	23.30%	32%	27.20%	30.80%	32.80%	32.80% Apparel	14%	10.60%	11.50%	7.80%	4.20%	3.00% Healthcare	5.20%	3.90%	5.20%	6.40%	5.90%	8.10% Transportation		8.30%	11.50%	19.30%	19.10%	17.60% Other	14%	11%	14.90%	16%	24%	25%

Changing needs: Over the past century, US consumers spent an increasing share of income on housing, health care, transportation and a decreasing share for food, apparel and other expenses that include entertainment, education and retirement saving (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1901 to 2002, and 2018)

Also, Read more about sewing history and the history of clothing: “Sewing by hand is a skill that is over 20,000 years old. Needles were once made out of animal horns and bones and the thread was made out of animal sinew….19,300 years into sewing the first iron needle was invented during the 14th century and then in the 15th century the first eye needle was invented.”

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