We all know they had sewing machines in the civil war but my question is is how common were they?
We all know they had sewing machines in the civil war but my question is is how common were they?
It's hard to tell for certain. I do know the Wheeling Intelligencer had ads for them as early as November 1860 and the machines were being marketed as timesavers for home use, rather than for industrial production. I can't recall the price on them and don't have access to my printouts at the moment.
ETA: This link
quotes the 1856 price of a machine at $125 and refers to installment plans and to group buying. I know the ones in the Intel were cheaper, within the (somewhat extended) reach of an ordinary family, but can't remember exactly how much.
Last edited by Becky Morgan; 06-13-2011 at 06:11 PM. Reason: Added link
Depends! Most depot garments in the south were hand sewn primarily because the garments were delivered in kit form to the army of women within the populous that put the garments together. They were paid for the completed garments turned in. While I haven't found evidence in the south regarding rules against using sewing machines to put these kits together, there was in fact was a rule at the Schuylkill arsenal in Philadelphia prohibiting the seamstreses from using sewing machines. There are two main reasons for this. One is that it was not fare to the seamstresses that did not have sewing machines to assist them in putting the kits together and second was the fact that a lot of people did not trust sewing machines to produce a good strong stitch strong enough for clothing. Remember the modern sewing machine wasn't patented in the US until the late 1840's. It was still a new technology. Besides, I've read accounts that the average seamstress working for the Richmond Depot could hand sew an average of 3 shirts a day! These seamstreses worked like machines! Personally all of my Confederate garments are completely hand sewn for the exception of my Tait jacket! Tait jackets were produced by factories by seamstreses with sewing machines. There were Tait kits delivered to the confederacy too however they were hand sewn in the south. I know Alabama took delivery of a large amount of Tait kits. That's my next project! A hand sewn Tait jacket with a five button front!
10th Virginia Vol Inf Reg
Liberty Hall Drum Corps
While many would consider this conjecture, a review of the 1860 Richmond Census (Virginia) lists no less than 7 Sewing Machine companies in Richmond (PRE-WAR), isn't it plausible to think these firms had a fair enough # of machines in/around the City the following year 1861? Some of these were domestic machines of Southern design and manufacture, some were in fact Northern companies. Many have held for a long time that with such representation here in Richmond pre-war, that it is very likely that there were periods where a good deal many things were produced by machine. On that note, I'll have to dig through my Daily Dispatch notes, as I believe there was a Baptists Church add in the famed Richmond Paper listing the aid of a machine in producing cheap/economical uniforms in the Spring of 1861.
Groyer & Baker
Webster & Co’s Ladd
Wheeler & Wilson’s
Willcox & Gibb’s
I hold that it depends entirely on what you're attempting to produce...if you've reviewed an entirely hand-sewn garment, and have the skill-set, then by all means recreate this...if you've reviewed an item that is mostly machine stitched (note type of stitch), then produce that...if you're using appropriate means/methods/materials and are seeking to create something 'unique' then do that.
Paul B. Boulden Jr.
RAH VA MIL '04
23rd VA Vol. Regt.
Waggoner's Company of the Virginia Regiment
Company of Military Historians
Museum of the Confederacy
Inscription Capt. Archibold Willet headstone:
"A span is all that we can boast, An inch or two of time, Man is but vanity and dust, In all his flower and prime."
This list, from 1853 to 1859, shows how really recent the machines were. Half of all machines made during that time were manufactured in the final year. The numbers continued to climb in the 1860s. With maybe 150,000 machines in operation by the start of the war, that meant one machine for about every 200 people--certainly not one in every family, but maybe one in every village, with more clustered for commercial use.
This chart of Singer serial number shows the same growth. A couple thousand machines a year in the 1850s grew to tens of thousands a year in the 1860s.
Here is an advertisement from the April 6, 1861 Macomb Eagle. Note that the machine is sold to farmers as a multipurpose machine, able to handle coarse cloth, perhaps for tasks around the farm or marketing, as well as fine cloth, thereby giving further justification for the investment. I assume that the leather mentioned is a separate machine.
I. M. SINGER & SON.
Makes the only perfect
That is made.
This recent invention is designed
Expressly for the use of
It is adapted to sew both
COARSE AND FINE FABRICS
To the nicest perfection.
Leather Sewing Machines
Have No Rival.
At the recent investigation of Tailors in Paris, as to which Sewing
Machine is best adapted to their use, it was unanimously de-
cided in favor of the Singer Machine.
Warranted to give Perfect Satisfaction,
or money refunded.
Send for a circular, and samples of its work
I. M. Singer & CO.
A. W. Harris,
Agent, 66 Lake Street,
Drafts, with orders for Machines, may be forwarded by Express or Mail.
The Eagle and The Journal
My blog, following one Illinois community from Lincoln's election through the end of the Civil War through the articles originally printed in its two newspapers.
Thank you every body for the help this has just been a question I have been thinking about for a while so i went a ahead and made a post to see if I could get any help and I did so thatnks to all!
Somewhere in my articles I have kept, states that the the sewing machione was one of, if not the first item you could purchase on credit. Need to look back through my archieves.
1st Minnesota Co D
2nd USSS Company C
I can't add much about how common sewing machines may or may not have been I thought this image might be of interest nonetheless. It sort of relates to what Hank was saying.
It shows the woman seated at a Grover and Baker machine and the daguerrotype was taken in 1853 so it is indeed and early one.
"Bíonn grásta Dé idir an diallait agus an talamh
Here are some references to machines in use for army clothing: From the New York Advocate and Guardian, vol. 30, May 16, 1864:
"Stopped at Mrs. M.'s and found her making army blouses for some one who gave bur fifteen cents, while she herself got twenty-five cents, for the same. She was thankful for even that, but we urged her to make the effort to secure the work directly from some employer*, and save herself thirty or forty cents a day; for she has a machine and can make three or four blouses in that time. Shall make some effort ourselves to find it for her, for 'tis quite too bad to see a woman with an aged father and three children to support, giving some oue two dollars out of every five she earns."
[LITTLE ROCK] ARKANSAS TRUE DEMOCRAT, June 27, 1861, p. 3, c. 6
Last evening before the proud monarch of the universe was paying his last to departing day, and while his brilliant smiles were casting a mellow light over fair creation, the writer happened to wend his way down Main street as far as the Theatre Hall, was invited by a kind friend up to where the ladies were making uniforms for the volunteers.—There the matron and the maid were busily engaged plying the needles and sewing machines for those who have left their happy homes and scenes of pleasant associations to battle for their country's cause.
AUSTIN STATE GAZETTE, July 6, 1861, p. 2, c. 2
Col. J. M. Crockett, writing to the Herald, from Houston, remarks that the ladies of the city have an upper room of the building of the Telegraph office, are provided with a lot of sewing machines, and they meet there in parties, and make up uniforms for the different companies. The uniforms are made of very common strong woollen goods from the Penitentiary, each company in a particular color.
We are glad to learn that the Agent of the Penitentiary is manufacturing suitable military dress goods. We think it advisable for the Agent to employ all the labor that he can spare, in the manufacture of such articles as may be required by volunteers in the field. This course of policy we see is being pursued in several, if not all of the other Southern States, and we are gratified to know that such is the case.
DAILY ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE, LA], May 11, 1861, p. 2, c. 1
Attention, Ladies!—You have done so much in the way of equipping our volunteers, we feel assured that you are still ready to do all in your power to send our fighting men "on their way rejoicing." The National Guards, Capt. Rauhman, are not yet prepared to leave, because their uniforms are not completed. A room has been set apart, and sewing machines provided, at the residence of Mr. Louis J. Kohn, at the corner of Main and Penitentiary streets, for all ladies who feel disposed to assist in this laudable undertaking. We trust, ladies, that you will respond to this call with alacrity. The Guards are expecting to leave early next week.
I also recall seeing a reference to machines available at Charleston for the seamstresses to use if they so chose in a room at the point where government garment kits were distributed...
Here is a description of the advantage of the new machines published at Charleston, SC in 1860:
CHARLESTON MERCURY, July 7, 1860, p. 4, c. 1
"From the Journal of Commerce.
Sewing Machines.--Women are not yet wholly superseded, being useful in their appropriate place--in fact absolutely indispensable. Yet the improvement attempted in the Sewing Machine has exerted an important influence upon her social state. Besides, this machine, though of but five years' existence, has effected great mechanical results. As an invention, it has arrived at a rare degree of success. Not a few, either from want of tact or energy, or on account of the worthlessness of their inventions, have entirely disappeared from the arena of trade, "leaving no trace behind" save the wreck of fortune.
The Sewing Machine is being introduced into general use, with a rapidity of which few have any conception. Hardship may result in some instances from the substitution of this instrument for hand labor, but is, no doubt, destined to confer a lasting benefit; its advantages are circumscribed to no particular class, and are unlimited in their application. With occasional slight modifications, with a view to more complete adaptation, the machine works its way among different classes of tradesmen. It promises permanent relief to the wearisome bondage of the sewing woman. Its celerity is incredible. Each one of Wheeler & Wilson's is calculated to do the work of ten ordinary sewers. Women's powers, whatever their cultivation, are unable to compete, either in rapidity, precision, or finish; from one to two thousand stitches per minute is not unusual. On shirt bosoms, the number per minute is about fifteen hundred; in cording and binding umbrellas, two thousand. Thousands of machines are sold for family sewing, several families often uniting in the purchase of a machine, and passing it around as needed; and among them are those of affluence and the highest respectability.
Sometimes a woman buys a machine for gaiter-work, for instance; hires female fitters in sufficient number to keep her constantly employed, and pays them $4 or $5 per week, often leaving a handsome profit. A woman has been known to make as high as $60 per week, with two fitters. Sewing Machines are getting to be extensively employed in making mantillas, hat and cap making, etc. Machinery has already done much to emancipate men from exhausting toil--has developed the industrial arts, and quickened the wheels of commerce--so that, instead of depriving the laborer of his means of support, he is only enabled to apply his powers to the greatest advantage.
Another subject worthy of notice is the great improvement which has taken place in the quality of sewing silk, twist, thread, &c., made necessary by the rapid and accurate movement of the Sewing Machine. We now produce thread in this country, which far exceeds any of foreign importation, in strength and evenness of texture. If the foreign and domestic are looped together and jerked asunder, the former, even of the best descriptions has been found to yield in the greatest number of instances.
The Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machine has prepared tables, showing by actual experiment of four different workers, the time required to stitch each part of a garment by hand and with their Sewing Machine. The superiority of the work done by the Machine, and the healthfulness of the employment, are advantages quite as great as the saving of time. Subjoined is a summary of the several of the tables:
By Machine By Hand.
Hours Min. Hours. Min.
Gentlemen's Shirts 1 16 14 26
Frock Coats 2 33 16 35
Satin Vests 1 14 7 19
Linen Vests 0 48 5 14
Cloth Pants 0 51 5 10
Summer Pants 0 33 2 50
Silk dress 1 18 10 22
Merino Dress 1 4 8 27
Calico Dress 0 57 6 37
Chemise 1 1 10 34
Moreen Skirt 0 35 7 28
Muslin Skirt 0 30 6 1
Drawers 0 28 4 1
Night Dress 1 7 10 2
Silk Apron 0 15 4 16
Plain Apron 0 9 1 26
Seams of considerable length are ordinarily sewed at the rate of a yard a minute.
The Lock Stitch made by this machine is the only stitch that cannot be raveled, and that presents the same appearance upon each side of the seam. It is made with two threads, one upon each side of the fabric, and interlocked in the centre of it."
Some references have been made on this forum to Sloat's machines made at Richmond during the War, and this newspaper reference notes the make of machine needles in the south during the war:
"CHARLESTON MERCURY, March 13, 1862, p. 4, c. 3
Dr. B. B. Alfriend, of LaGrange, Ga., has invented a machine to manufacture sewing machine needles, and is now making them."
James "Archie" Marshall
The Buzzard Club (Saltmakers for the south)
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