Just about everyone has heard of the company and the sewing machine that bears its name. Now you can learn its history.
How old Is my Singer sewing machine? 1851 saw the first Singer sewing machine come off the production line and if you are lucky enough to own one of those originals then your machine would be 170 years old. Since the pre-1950 models when in sequential order you can pretty much date your old Singer sewing machine by its model number. There were only about 200 of them.
To learn all about the Singer sewing machine company and its history, just continue to read our article. It may not cover the more recent years but the early story is just as compelling as any other sewing machine company history.
Issac Merritt Singer was born in Schaghiticoke, New York in 1811 and he must have led a quiet life as many achievements he may have had have not been listed until he improved on the current sewing machine models of his day.
He was 39 years of age when he made the upgrade and that change, 11 days and $40 took him from being unknown to a household name in the near future. Mr. Singer seems to have had the Midas touch as everything he touched in the sewing industry turned to gold for him.
In 1851, he and his lawyer Edward C. Clark started the I.M. Singer & Company sewing machine business and within 2 years, the company was the leading sewing machine manufacturer in the country. By 1860, it was the largest manufacturing company in the world.
In 1853 the company only made 810 sewing machines but by 1876 it was making over 250,000 machines. Then in 1863, Mr. Singer opened an office and factory in Glasgow, Scotland and within 10 years they had to build a new manufacturing facility and hire 2,000 people to help produce the machines. The demand had overwhelmed production.
When both World Wars hit, Singer & Company suspended production of the sewing machine and went into munitions production to help the war effort. There were no models of new or old Singer machines made during those periods of time.
The only real glitch in Singer’s history was the patent lawsuit it had with Elias Howe in 1851. Mr. Singer lost that case but since then he made sure the company stayed out of legal trouble when possible.
1946 saw Singer renew its sewing machine production and 6 years later it came out with the Slant o Matic. The first sewing machine with a zig-zag function.
Mr. Isaac Singer was not the inventor of the sewing machine. The credit for that goes back another 100 to 200 years and to a different continent. What Mr. Singer invented were new design functions that made the sewing machine work a lot better.
What started it all for Mr. Singer was when he inspected a sewing machine produced by Orson C. Phelps of Boston who was working under a license granted to him by John A. Lerow. The Lerow and Blodgett sewing machine had flaws and there were a few design changes Mr. Singer made after seeing it in operation.
The first change was in the way the shuttle operated. At the time it rotated and he changed it to go back and forth. Then instead of having a curved needle-moving horizontally, he changed it to a straight needle and had it go up and down.
Finally, he replaced the hand crank with a treadle pedal and those minor changes turned out to be major ones that set him up for life. While he was not the inventor of the sewing machine, Mr. Singer is credited with being the inventor of the practical sewing machine.
Singer had an eye for upgrade and innovation. That is seen in his Featherweight sewing machine model that sold for almost 40 years. It is one of the better of the old Singer models you can find. The nice thing about the Singer company is that they marked their new models in numerical order. That keeps them straight and easy to find the production year.
We cannot list all the models here but if you want a comprehensive list, just click on this link. That website has 6 different lists with as much information as they could gather about each sewing machine model produced by the Singer Corporation.
The original Singer sewing machines were heavy and slow. It did not set him apart from the competition at the time so he kept working on them trying to make them lighter without sacrificing durability. The Model A was the answer that came out of his hard work.
Peruse that list to see what the company has accomplished over the many years it has been in business.
To find the model number for your Singer sewing machine, you have several places you can look. From 1990 onward to the present day the model number is located near the handwheel near the on and off switch or the electrical cord area.
For sewing machines made prior to 1990 and between 1970 and 1980s, you need to look on the front panel underneath the Singer name. Those machines made in the 1960s have their model number situated either on the front panel or below the stitch length dial.
All machines made prior to 1960 have their model numbers placed on a small plate on the front panel down near the base. Look in those places to find your vintage model of the Singer sewing machine.
One key way to do this is to look at the model number. Prior to 1950, there were only supposed to be 200 models made and they were all numbered in order. Also, the location of the model number will tell you if the machine was made pre 1960 or post-1960.
Next, you should see if the machine is electric or manual. All pre-1950 machines were manually operated. If those options do not work for you then look at the serial number. Any number without a letter in front was made prior to 1900.
A single letter in front of the number tells you the machine was made in 1900 to 1935. A double letter in front of the number will tell you it was made after 1935.
Unfortunately, time does take its toll. The logs for the years 1850 to 1870 were lost and with that loss went the serial numbers of those early years. But as we said above, no letter in front of the digits tells you it was made prior to 1900.
At this link, you will find the list of serial numbers from 1851 to 1950. Just be careful the numbers are not in date order, which means that some serial numbers are out of place and do not come linear procession.
Here is a link to another comprehensive serial number list and it will help you date your machine to the year it was made. This list was created because Singer removed some of its information from its website.
The first Singer sewing machine may have been known only by a number. We found no name for it in the records we searched. But by 1956 names began to pop up for Singer sewing machines and that one was called the Turtle back. The model A came out in 1859 but was preceded by the Grasshopper in 1858.
1865 saw the introduction of a family sewing machine but the name has escaped historical records. Then in 1870 the Model 13 was made and a little later in 1879 came the Singer 15k. The model 15 was one of the most copied sewing machines in the world.
The other most copied Singer machine, the model 99, was made in 1911, then the 221 and 222 Featherweights arrived in 1933 and just after that year. 1939 saw the upgrade to the 201 which is considered one of the best models ever produced by the company.
After the 201 Singer took advantage of the new technology, etc., that rose after the war and produced thousands of models.
In 1853 Mr. Singer set up his first factory in New York City. Then in 1863 or 67 depending on which history you believe, the first factory outside of America was set up in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1868, the company opened a cabinet factory in South Bend, Indiana.
Still in the 19th century Singer opened up a factory in Bridgton Britain, one in Elizabethport, New Jersey, one in Cairo, Ill., Montreal, Quebec, Kilbowie, Scotland, and Floridsdorf, Austria. In 1902, Russia was selected as the next factory location and 1904 saw plants open in Prussia and St. John’s Quebec.
Then there was Bridgeport, Connecticut., one in France and Italy, and that took the company to World War 2. Anderson South Carolina was the last 1950 and earlier factory opened by Singer.
Technically the answer would be yes it does. Even though it is part of the SVP global corporation which is owned by Ares Management, the company does exist and makes its own sewing machines. Unfortunately, many of the Singer sewing machines are made outside of America as no residential sewing machine company makes them in the US anymore.
Singer, like Pfaff and Viking, have their own management structure giving it some independence and freedom to create machines in the Singer tradition. But that is about as far as it goes when it comes to making their own sewing machines.
Some are and some are not. The old Turtleback, the Featherweight and the toy sewing machines made between 1941 and 47 do seem to bring a nice price tag. There are a few hand crank machines on sale at eBay for around $200 each and a centennial sewing machine is selling for $300.
A Singer 301 has a price tag of $489 while a Model 66 is selling for less than $200. There are other Singer models on sale at eBay that help provide you with a ballpark idea of the type of money you can expect to get if you sell your old Singer sewing machine.
One thing to keep in mind when you are placing a value on your old Singer sewing machine. The company made millions of them and a lot of those old machines still exist. You may not get a high price or value on your machine due to those factors.
Like any other old or vintage sewing machine, condition, working or not, location, all play important roles in determining the value of your machine. The older the machine, especially if it is pre-1900 may add to the value as well.
This is not going to be a hard quest to attempt. Because Singer was so popular and because they made millions of machines, you will find them everywhere. By everywhere we mean all around the world. The many factories throughout the different continents and countries made sure the Singer was in huge supply.
Besides eBay, antique stores, vintage sewing machine shops, fabric outlets (local), garage and estate sales, auction houses and thrift stores have more than enough Singer sewing machines to sell you. Then look in the classified ads in your local paper, Craigslist, and similar places and you should be able to turn up an old machine in no time.
Depending on what materials were used to make these tables, you should be able to find some still being offered for sale. According to our research eBay, Etsy and Pinterest seem to have some available for you to look at and consider.
Then check the antique shops and other places where you may think old sewing machine tables would be sold. We can’t speak for the price as each one will depend on its condition, rarity, age, and so on. The best way to search for an old table would be to do a good internet search with specific parameters to make sure you get a good list.
It is doubtful that you would find a serial number on the different sewing machine tables. Furniture does not normally receive serial numbers and dating them is often by who made it not by any numbers. But that does not mean you can’t find the date or age of your old sewing machine table made by Singer.
The company owned its own furniture manufacturing plant and the tables were usually made in the same years as the sewing machine they accompanied. If you use the serial number on your machine, you will find the age of the table by checking the lists linked to above for the year that serial number was used.
Another place to check would be your local antique shops. They have books that tell them when a certain table was made and they can look up the information for you and give you an approximate age.
The first place to start would be Singer. This link has manuals for more modern machines but you can try the model finder to see if old ones are listed there. If not, just contact the company and ask. If they don’t the next place to look would be on this website. Their selection goes back to the 12k plus industrial machines.
Next up is our usual manual website and they too seem to be overloaded with Singer manuals. eBay has one for the 1965 337 models as well as for many old Singer sewing machines. For our Australian readers, you can try this website and the list seems to indicate that vintage manuals are available.
If you do not like to buy over the internet, then we would suggest going to antique shops and see what they have in stock. Or you can try vintage sewing machine sales and repair shops to see if they carry any. You are not really going to run out as millions of machines made, meant millions of manuals were produced as well.
This actually goes without saying as the model 15 and 99 were one of the most copied sewing machines ever made. Plus, the upgrades that Mr. Singer introduced to the sewing machine world made the machines very popular. The owners were not complaining.
Certain vintage models stand out over other ones of their generation like the Featherweights 221 and 222 as well as the 201 of 1939 made a big impression and impact. The key to Singer’s success was that he had an inventor’s mind and could see where the sewing machines of his era needed upgrading. Those upgrades help Singer produce top quality machines that still sew over 100 years later.
That is like asking which Rolls Royce was or is the best. There are just too many good models to say with any real certainty that one was the best overall. The different decades used different technologies making comparisons a little hard to do.
What was the best in 1880 would not compare to what was or is the best in 1960, 1990, or 2020. While the machines are basically the same in purpose, they are not the same in technology or features. Some people have said that the 1939 201 was the best ever produced by the company and maybe it was. It is like comparing apples and oranges when it comes down to it.
Some Singer models could sew leather. If the company produced industrial machines those models should be able to do the job with ease. But with residential models, it is a different story. That is because they were designed mostly to sew lighter easier to work with fabrics and not tough items like vinyl or leather.
It is said that the vintage model 66 and the 301k were capable of sewing leather up to a certain thickness. The latter machine was able to handle up to 6mm while the former could do light leather only.
There are other models like the 15k RAF and the 111W150 that could sew heavier fabrics like leather. Space does not allow us to name more old Singers that could do this job.
Singer had its own standard size it likes to build machines. The width on some of the older models was between 12 to 14 1/2 inches, 6 1/2 to 7 inches high and about 6 1/2 to 8 inches between the pillar and the needle.
Each machine may have a few differences in its size but normally they were all pretty close to being the same. The original sewing machines were a lot larger than that of course but as technology advanced the sewing machine shrunk.
You will find some toy Singers that are quite a bit smaller than those dimensions.
The history of Singer cannot really be told effectively in just one article. The 1800s cover too much ground as do the years between 1900 and 1950. The company was revolutionary in the beginning when it was owned and operated by 2 men. The modern company may not be so lucky.