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Elias Howe
(July 9, 1819 - October 3, 1867)

Elias Howe was the inventor of the first American-patented sewing machine. Elias Howe was born in Spencer, Massachusetts on July 9, 1819. After he lost his factory job in the Panic of 1837, Howe moved from Spencer to Boston, where he found work in a machinist's shop. It was here that Elias Howe began tinkering with the idea of inventing a mechanical sewing machine.

Eight years later, Elias Howe demonstrated his machine to the public. At 250 stitches a minute, his lockstitch mechanism outstitched the output of five hand sewers with a reputation for speed. Elias Howe patented his lockstitch sewing machine onSeptember 10, 1846 in New Hartford, Connecticut.

For the next nine years Elias Howe struggled, first to enlist interest in his machine, then to protect his patent from imitators. His lockstitch mechanism was adopted by others who were developing innovations of their own.
During this period, Isaac Singer invented the up-and-down motion mechanism, and Allen Wilson developed a rotary hook shuttle. Howe fought a legal battle with these inventors to see that his rights in the invention were recognized, winning one of his suits in 1856. The three inventors pooled their patent rights in the Sewing Machine Combination, under which patent the sewing machine was successfully marketed for many years.
The first mechanical sewing machines were used in garment factory production lines. It was not until 1889 that a sewing machine for use in the home was designed and marketed. By 1905, the electrically-powered sewing machine was in wide use.
After successfully defending his right to a share in the profits of his invention, Howe saw his annual income jump from three hundred to more than two hundred thousand dollars a year. Between 1854 and 1867, Howe earned close to two million dollars from his invention. During the Civil War, he donated a portion of his wealth to equip an infantry regiment for the Union Army and served in the regiment as a private.

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