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Bits and Bobs

Did you know the sewing machine caused a riot in France in 1831? The first functional sewing machine was invented in 1831 by Barthelemy Thimonnier, a French tailor who was nearly killed by an enraged crowd of tailors who burned down his garment factory for fear of unemployment.

Did you know the sewing machine was the subject of America’s first patent war? Sewing machines utilized overlapping technologies invented by multiple companies and caused patent conflict from 1856 until 1877, when the last patent expired. The consequences of this patent war influence patent law to this day.

Did you know that Elias Howe, inventor of the lockstitch mechanism, donated a portion of his wealth to quip an infantry regiment for the Union Army during the American Civil War, then served as a private in that unit?

Did you know that a woman patented the zig-zag stich machine in 1873? Helen Blanchard of Portland, Maine, holds nearly 30 patents for inventions that improved the experience of machine sewing.

Did you know that undertakers sold sewing machines in the 19th century? Sewing machines were considered furniture, and as cabinetmakers, the local undertaker would often sell sewing machines as well. As sewing machines became a marker of the middle class and entered more homes, they took on the appearance of furniture. A cover for the machine hid it from view when not in use. Then the machines were lowered inside a hidden compartment and could be used as a table. Finally, an entire cabinet was produced that hid the machine completely.

Did you know the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 had a huge impact on home sewists? The REA brought electrification to 85% of American homes by 1945, helping to usher in the Gold Age of Sewing in the 1950s. Women, who were the primary domestic sewists, returned home from WWII factory work, home economics classics taught sewing in high schools, and there were finally abundant textiles available.

Did you know you can find out how old your vintage sewing machine at Singer Sewing Machine Company Serial Numbers (

World Museum of Mining is thrilled to announce a new temporary exhibit featuring a collection of vintage sewing machines and quilts. Don’t miss out on the display that threads the needle between history and innovation.