Singer, Isaac M.

Singer, Isaac M. (Merritt)

(1811–75) inventor, manufacturer; born in Pittstown, N.Y. He worked at unskilled jobs, apprenticed as a mechanic, and then wandered state-to-state working as a mechanic. In Lockport, Ill. (1839), he patented a rock drill, but squandered the profits. In Pittsburgh (1849) he patented a carving machine and found financing to manufacture it, but a boiler explosion destroyed everything, leaving him penniless again. In 1851, asked to repair a crude sewing machine, he immediately saw how it could be greatly improved. He took out patents on his own improvements, and started to manufacture his machine. After Elias Howe brought Singer and others to trial in 1854, Singer had to pay royalties to Howe for infringing on his basic needle patent. But Singer would continue to patent more improvements and build the I. M. Singer company into the world's best-known manufacturer of practical domestic sewing machines, in part by spending large sums on advertising. When he retired from his company in 1863, he went to Europe.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.