Bernina Models History: How Old is my Bernina Sewing Machine?

To some history is boring. But to others knowing where their sewing machine came from helps them find the right parts and more. History can be an exciting topic especially when it deals with a product that is part of your hobby. Knowing your machine’s story makes you an expert.

How old is my Bernina sewing machine? To find out how old your Bernina sewing machine is, all you have to do is look at the model number. The four-digit model numbers start around the 1980s and on up. The three-digit model numbers ended in the mid-80s and go back to the 1950s, except for the Activa 100 and 200 series.

To learn how old your Bernia sewing machine is, and a little history behind the product, just continue to read our article. It gets into the Bernia history and provides you with the important data that is always good to know.

How to Tell the Age of a Bernina Sewing Machine?


Getting the age of a Bernina sewing machine is not that difficult. You should only have to check the model number and then that number up to see when your particular machine was made.

The 530 model number was produced starting from the 1950s and into the 60s. Its main feature was its ability to create a 4 mm stitch width. Then the 700 series came into existence in the 60s and continued that 4 mm stitch width ability.

As time went on and technological research improved, the 800 series was born in the 70s and continued through the 80s. This was the time for the creation of the popular and very good 830 model.

After that, you had the 930 which trumped the 830 and was able to sew anything. Its capabilities led it to being a very popular sewing machine for a while. But technology always has a way of making previous top machines obsolete.

The 90s saw the 1010, 1020 and the 1030, along with the 1120, 1230 and the 1530. The 1530 and 1630 were introduced in the 90s as well. Later in the 90s you got the first Activa series with the invention of the Virtuosa, and the Artista 170 and 180.

For those who own a sewing machine from the 2nd series of Activa, the 200, 730, 630 and the 640, you now own a machine built in the 2000s. Finding and dating a pre-1950s model will be difficult as Bernina may have made sewing machines, but it is highly unlikely they were mass-produced back in the late 19th to early 20th century.

Bernina Sewing Machine History


Karl Friedrich Gegauf created the company in 1893 in Steckborn Switzerland after he created the first hemstitch sewing machine. The company was called at that time Piz Bernina. In the following 7 years, Mr. Gegauf opened up international markets which required more employees. By 1900, they were employing 70 people.

1926 saw the sons take over the company, after their father’s demise, and they help create the sewing machine technology still used in all sewing machines over 80 years later. The depression did not slow the sons down and by 1932; they had produced the first household machines. (2 of them are still working today).

Even though the zig-zag technology appeared in 1938, it wasn’t till 1945 that the free arm zig-zag took hold of the industry. Its hold was so influential that by 1963, Bernina was producing about 1 million of these machines.

Also, in 1963, Mr. Gegauf’s daughter, Odette Ueltschi, was the head of the company and she helped create the knee activated foot presser lifter. Then in 1971, the electric foot control was added to the machine and this device helped make the 830 one of the top sewing machines in the world.

Computer technology united with the Bernina sewing machine in 1986 with the 1130 as the first Bernina sewing machine with one step button holing and stitch pattern memory.

That was a big step as soon, Bernina’s sewing machines became fully computerized and the 1630 had over 400 stitch patterns built-in. The Artista 180 model was the first sewing computer.

What Bernina has done over the years was to keep its ear on their sewing machine users and then try to upgrade their sewing machines to meet their customers’ needs. The company has kept on improving their machines to the point that sewing is no longer a chore.

Using their machines may be quite an experience with all the technological upgrades their current models possess. What future machines will look and act like is solely up to the innovative and creative spirit of the Bernina company.

Bernina Models Over the Years


The original hemstitch model created in 1893 came after the founder of the company saw how hard it was to do hemstitching by hand. This machine was capable of doing 100 stitches per minute.

Between 1919 and 1937 the next generation sewing machine models produced by Bernina were sold as furniture sewing machines but they could be used in the house as well. There were about 20,000 of these machines made by the time 1937 rolled around.

Then the free arm model came out in about the 1950s and helped pave the way for technology to continue to upgrade the machines. The 4 mm wide stitch capability remained on Bernina models for decades running through the 530 to the 930.

Up until this time, all of Bernina’s sewing machine models were mechanical. The electrical ones were not introduced till the 1130 model was invented. After that, the machines started to be upgraded rather quickly.

The 1530 was the first to use the trackball and an LED screen. With the invention of the 1630, sewers were now able to do a 9 mm stitch instead of the normal 4 or 5 mm options.

Computers and sewing machines came together for the Bernina company when it was able to design and produce the Artista 180 model. After that, it was only a matter of time before computer technology took over the sewing machine. The more recent Bernina models are very technologically advanced.

The updated 830 model came out in 2009 and it was so advanced that the company had to file 15 new patent applications to protect their inventions. Bernina also created sewing machines that needed software to run it and 2012 saw the introduction of the BERNINA DesignWorks Software Suite.

Finally, 2014 came and with it, the BERNINA E 16 came on the market. What set this model apart from all the rest was that it was the first multi-needle embroidery unit.

What the future holds for the sewing machine is left in the hands of the Bernina sewing machine company and other sewing machine manufacturers.

Some Sewing Machine Facts

These facts are not necessarily about Bernina but they are very interesting to say the least. All you have to do is sit back and relax and learn a little bit more sewing machine history.

  • Charles Weisenthal invented and patented a sewing machine needle 1755 and may have invented the machine prior to Thomas Saint’s patent of his machine in 1790. Mr. Saint’s patent was the first recorded one of the sewing machine.
  • It wasn’t till about 50 to 60 years later that Isaac Singer and Elias Howe improved on earlier sewing machine designs. Their work often gets them the credit for inventing the sewing machine.
  • ​The 1860s saw the sewing machine first put on the market and purchased by women who wanted to cut their sewing time down from 14 1/2 hours, by hand. The new machines shaved off about 13 1/2 hours of that time.
  • ​Bernina created the first hemstitching machine which also saved a lot of time and effort for women.
  • ​Singer Manufacturing company made 20,000 machines in 1863. Bernina did not get that many made until almost 70 years later.
  • ​The first usable electric sewing machine was made in 1889 unfortunately it had a very bulky motor that was attached to the outside of the machine. Bernina’s electric sewing machine did not come till about the 1950s or 60s.
  • Besides making clothes, sewing machines found use as book stitchers, toymakers, as well as creating fabric for furniture.

Some Final Words

History can be very interesting. Even if the dates bother you, there is a lot of fascinating information you can get just by learning about Bernina’s and other sewing machine companies’ history.

Seeing how the founders overcame the odds is inspirational. Plus, seeing the development of the different models shows how creativity and innovation at the right time can produce success.

Bernina makes and has made great sewing machines. Some of the original models still work today and lets you see how your ancestors used their sewing talents.

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