Early sewing machine by Elias Howe, c 1846.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Elias Howe (1819-1867) built his first sewing machine in 1845. This example was brought to England in 1846 by his brother, Amasa Howe, who sold it to William Thomas. Thomas took out a British patent for the design and founded the Thomas Company, later W F Thomas & Co. Howe's machine, using an eye-pointed needle and a shuttle to form a lock-stitch, marked the beginning of the sewing machine industry. Howe initially had little succes with his invention in Britain. However, on his return to the United States he discovered that sewing machine manufacture was flourishing there. Thereafter, Howe endured long legal battles against makers including Singer, eventually receiving royalties on their machines, and becoming a rich man.