Elias Howe is credited with patenting the lockstitch sewing machine, the three unique elements to his patent were:
- a needle with the eye at the point,
- a shuttle operating beneath the cloth to form the lock stitch,
- and an automatic feed.
A possibly apocryphal account of how he came up with the idea for placing the eye of the needle at the point is recorded in a family history of his mother's family:
"He almost beggared himself before he discovered where the eye of the needle of the sewing machine should be located. It is probable that there are very few people who know how it came about. His original idea was to follow the model of the ordinary needle, and have the eye at the heel. It never occurred to him that it should be placed near the point, and he might have failed altogether if he had not dreamed he was building a sewing machine for a savage king in a strange country. Just as in his actual working experience, he was perplexed about the needle’s eye. He thought the king gave him twenty-four hours in which to complete the machine and make it sew. If not finished in that time death was to be the punishment. Howe worked and worked, and puzzled, and finally gave it up. Then he thought he was taken out to be executed. He noticed that the warriors carried spears that were pierced near the head. Instantly came the solution of the difficulty, and while the inventor was begging for time, he awoke. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. He jumped out of bed, ran to his workshop, and by 9, a needle with an eye at the point had been rudely modeled. After that it was easy. That is the true story of an important incident in the invention of the sewing machine."
Despite securing his patent, Howe had considerable difficulty finding investors in the United States to produce his invention. He traveled to England in October 1846 to seek financing, but a disreputable girdle manufacturer squeezed him of his last dollar (pun intended). Howe returned to the United States nearly penniless .
Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs began manufacturing sewing machines.
Hey -- this is just getting interesting!! You ain't heard nothing yet...