Inventor Howe

By Martin Gilliard

Elias Howe Jr. or inventor Howe as he is also known was the pioneer of the sewing machine. Although there had been several inventions at around the same time as that of Howe yet it was his design and patented sewing machine that made its way to become the first most successfully developed and sold sewing machine in the world.

Elias Howe Jr. was the son of Elias Howe Sr. and Polly Howe. Descendants of Edmund Rice and John Howe, Elias Howe Jr. was raised in Spencer, Massachusetts and later moved to Cambridge pretty early in his career in search of work. 

inventor howe

(Photo Credit: National Museum of American History)

Howe started off working for a mill, a textile factory, as early as 1835 when he was only 16. He was born on 9th of July, 1819. The panic of 1837 lead to the shutting down of mills in Spencer and that compelled Howe to move to Cambridge where he worked as a mechanic until 1838 along with his cousin, Nathaniel P Banks. Howe would do quite a few jobs in the following years, get married to Elizabeth Jennings Ames in 1941 and have three children named Jane, Simon and Julia.

Inventor Howe had been contemplating on developing a sewing machine for quite a few years and he finally succeeded in acquiring the first US Patent on 10th September, 1846.

For almost a hundred years preceding Howe’s invention, there have been numerous models of sewing machines but what Howe did differently was that he used the needle with an eye at the point which eventually made its way to every sewing machine model and variant including the electric ones in years and centuries to come.

Despite Howe’s significant achievement, times were tough for him when he struggled to sell his design and find investors to get the ball rolling. He, along with his elder brother tried to make it big in the UK where initially they had found an investor, client and friend in William Thomas but soon the association broke down and Howe was back to the US in 1948 when he almost had no money on him.

Another pioneer of the sewing machine, Isaac Singer who had by then started to manufacture and sell sewing machines on a large scale, had been gaining a lot of recognition. Shortly after the death of Howe’s wife, he filed a lawsuit against Singer and his associates for using his design without the consent. Howe won the lawsuit and his association thereafter with Singer and others brought in a revolution of sorts in the world of sewing.

Inventor Howe later served during the Civil War, made handsome contributions to the Union Army, made contributions to the invention of zipper but did not pursue to see it take shape. Elias Howe Jr. died on 3rd October 1867 as a multimillionaire.


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