A Window into 19th Century Technology
Strategically placed next to a bright window in the east side porch of the Sikes Adobe is an antique Singer Manufacturing Company sewing machine. While there is no definitive evidence that the family owned one, it is conceivable that Eliza Sikes would have made good use of one if it was available to her. Archaeological evidence suggests the porch was used as a laundry and sewing room, based on the number of buttons, pins, needles and thread spools found in the general area, so the placement of it there makes historic sense.
Singer Corporation was first established as I.M. Singer and Co. in 1851 by Isaac M. Singer and partners. The technology for machine sewing had been developed and patented by Elias Howe years earlier. Singer’s original design was the first practical and commercially viable sewing machine meant for general domestic use. It incorporated the basic eye-pointed needle and lockstitch method, using a foot powered treadle. The Singer Manufacturing Company became one of America’s first multinational corporations and was very successful.
Clothing manufacturers were the first sewing machine customers, using them to produce the first ready-to-wear clothing and shoes. By the 1860’s, home consumers began purchasing them and sewing machines become very popular in middle-class homes. At a time when the average American income was $500 annually, a Singer sewing machine was selling for $125. Having a sewing machine in the home freed women from the time-consuming chore of hand sewing apparel and home goods. It was said a sewing machine could produce a man’s shirt in about one hour compared to the 14 plus hours it would take to sew one by hand.
The very worn serial number tag on the Singer Manufacturing Company sewing machine at the Sikes Adobe is difficult to read, however, it appears to indicate that this particular sewing machine was produced prior to 1900. It is still in working condition. Be sure to ask your friendly and knowledgeable Docent to demonstrate 19th century technology during your next visit. Or give it a try yourself.