It had no instrument panel with push-button controls. It was not operated electronically or jet-propelled. But to many 19th-century people the sewing machine was probably as awe-inspiring as a space capsule is to their 20th-century descendants. It was expensive, but, considering the work it could do and the time it could save, the cost was more than justified. The sewing machine became the first widely advertised consumer appliance, pioneered installment buying and patent pooling, and revolutionized the ready-made clothing industry. It also weathered the protests of those who feared the new machine was a threat to their livelihood.
The practical sewing machine is not the result of one man’s genius, but rather the culmination of a century of thought, work, trials, failures, and partial successes of a long list of inventors. History is too quick to credit one or two men for an important invention and to forget the work that preceded and prodded each man to contribute his share. It is no discredit to Howe to state that he did not invent the sewing machine. Howe’s work with the sewing machine was important, and he did patent certain improvements, but his work was one step along the way. It is for the reader to decide whether it was the turning point.
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