Inventer of Sewing Machine
Elias Howe was born on July 9, 1819 to Dr. Elias Howe, Sr. and Polly (Bemis) Howe in Spencer, Massachusetts. Howe spent his childhood and early adult years in Massachusetts where he apprenticed in a textile factory in Lowell beginning in 1835. After mill closings due to the Panic of 1837, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to work as a mechanic with carding machinery, apprenticing along with his cousin Nathaniel P. Banks. Beginning in 1838, he apprenticed in the shop of Ari Davis, a master mechanic in Cambridge who specialized in the manufacture and repair of chronometers and other precision instruments. It was in the employ of Davis that Howe seized upon the idea of the sewing machine. he began work upon it about the year 1843. He received some pecuniary assistance from a former school mate, George Fisher, and in 1845 he produced a machine for which he afterwards secured a patent.
He vainly endeavored to interest the tailors of Boston in the invention, but they would have nothing to do with it and becoming discouraged, he took employment for several months as a railroad engineer. In 1847 he and his brother Amasa B. Howe, went to England to endeavor to introduce the invention there. Soon after his wife and three children joined him in London. While there he obtained employment in the establishment of William Thomas, who contracted with Elias to adapt his machine to the manufacture of corsets. After a few months, in consequence of some disagreement with his employer he was discharged. This seemed to have been the darkest period of his life; his invention appeared to be a failure, and all his years of labor upon it to have gone for naught. He was out of employment and out of means, his wife was in failing health and he was in a strange land, and far from home and kindred.
By extraordinary exertions and economy, and the help of a few friends, he managed to raise money to send his wife and children hack to America, and in 1849 he followed, landing in New York with only half a crown in his pocket. He soon found employment in a machine shop, but soon received news that his wife was dying in Cambridge. He was so poor that he was compelled to borrow money to go to Cambridge, and was obliged to attend the funeral of his wife in his daily working clothes. Soon after, the news came that all his household goods had been lost in the wreck of the vessel in which they were shipped. He spent several years trying to re-purchase the rights which he had sold in the years of adversity, and in lawsuits with infringers upon his patent.
At last in 1854 the validity of his patent was established and this was the turning point in his fortunes. He was recognized as the real inventor of the sewing machine, his invention containing the essential features of all other machines, and his income soon reached an enormous sum, it being estimated that at the expiration of his patent, he had realized about $2,000,000. He received many medals and other marks of appreciation of his invention, including a gold medal and a Cross of the Legion of Honor at the Paris Exposition in 1867.
During the Civil war Mr. Howe was a zealous supporter of the Government, being largely instrumental in recruiting the 17th Regt. Conn. Vols., in which he enlisted as a private, and in which he served until he was compelled to leave the service by reason of failing health. At one time while he was in the service and the government was in financial straits, Mr. Howe advanced the money with which to pay the soldiers of the regiment. He died in Brooklyn, N. Y., 3 Oct. 1867.
He married Elizabeth Jennings Ames, daughter of Simon Ames and Jane B. Ames on 3 Mar 1841 in Cambridge. They had three children: Jane Robinson Howe, Simon Ames Howe, and Julia Maria Howe.
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