Elias Howe

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Elias Howe
BirthplaceSpencer, Massachusetts
Educationapprenticed as mechanic and machinist

Howe, Elias,

1819–67, American inventor, b. Spencer, Mass. He was apprenticed in 1838 to an instrument maker and watchmaker in Boston at whose suggestion he turned his attention to devising a sewing machine. He exhibited his first machine in 1845 and patented another in 1846. No financial backing was secured in the United States, and in 1846 a third machine was sold in England, together with all rights in Great Britain, to William Thomas. Howe worked with Thomas in London to produce a machine to stitch leather. After a breach between the two, Howe returned to the United States to find his machine being manufactured by others. He brought several suits (including one against Isaac M. SingerSinger, Isaac Merrit,
1811–75, American inventor, b. Rensselaer co., N.Y. As a child he lived in Oswego, N.Y. He patented in 1851 a practical sewing machine that could do continuous stitching.
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) for infringement of patent and finally obtained a judgment for royalty in 1854. With the royalties earned through an extension of his patent (1861–67), he supported during the Civil War an infantry regiment in which he served as a private and in 1865 established in Bridgeport, Conn., the Howe Machine Company.
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Howe, Elias

(1819–67) inventor; born in Spencer, Mass. As a boy, he tinkered with the machinery in his father's sawmill; in 1835 he went to work as an apprentice in a Lowell, Mass., cotton mill. He later built and patented the world's first sewing machine (1846) but no U.S. manufacturer was interested. He attempted with some success to introduce his machine to the English market; returning to the U.S.A. in 1847, he found his patent had been infringed. After a five-year court fight his patent rights were restored (1854), and he earned a fortune—sometimes as much as $4,000 a week—from his invention. During the Civil War he served as a private in a New England regiment he recruited and equipped.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.