|My Singer Featherweight|
First of all, Elias Howe was not the first person to invent a sewing machine. There are patents as early as the last half of the 18th century for machines that sewed with a needle through either fabric or leather. Unfortunately, none were particularly successful and some didn't even work. That is until 1830 when a Frenchman named Thimonnier invented a successful machine for sewing caps. He was almost killed by a mob of tailors who accused him of trying to put them out of business.
In 1834 Walter Hunt invented a successful sewing machine, but did not pursue a patent because he was afraid it might cause unemployment.
In 1846 Elias Howe patented his sewing machine.
THEN, in 1850 another sewing machine was patented. Elias Howe sued for patent infringement and won. The "infringer" was Isaac Singer. But this was not the reason he was called a scoundrel. He was a well known actor of his day and "dabbled" in anything that would make money. He was also a pretty good inventor. He was approached about coming up with a more "user friendly" sewing machine.He replied, "You want to do away with the only thing that keeps women quiet - their sewing!" He did it anyway, although he stepped on a few toes (those of Howe) in doing it. His machine was too expensive to be widely accepted, so he came up with a genius plan that we still suffer from today. He devised the "installment plan". This is the little idea that made it possible for women to be able to afford to have sewing machines in their homes. And yet, this is not why I call him a scoundrel.
Isaac Singer became very successful. In fact, he was so successful he maintained 5 households with a wife and children in each! He was also known to have knocked his "real" wife and daughter unconscious when they dared to confront him.
I would love to see his face today when groups of quilters at workshops and classes sit with their little Singer Featherweights doing "the only thing that keeps women quiet - sewing" --- only they are NOT QUIET, but talking a blue streak!