M930.50.1.170 | New Williams' sewing machine

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New Williams' sewing machine
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
About 1870, 19th century
Ink on paper on supporting paper - Wood engraving
17.5 x 13.7 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Miscellaneous (671) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

The sewing machine, created by Barthélemy Thimonnier in France, appears in 1830. It is adapted and improved, and Isaac Singer patents his peddle sewing machine in the United States in 1851. The electric sewing machine is introduced in 1899.

In the eyes of Thimonnier, the purpose of the sewing machine is to lighten the load of mothers with large families. However, it soon transforms industrial-style sewing.

The industry of shoe-making expands rapidly after the introduction in the 1860s of machines capable of sewing leather.

The sewing machine contributes to the rising of a new type of activity, especially in the clothing industry: the homework or the sweating system, paid by the piece. At the end of the 1860s, thousands of Montreal women work in their homes sewing for contractors who pay them miserably low wages.

Four million New Family Singer sewing machines are sold between 1865 and 1883 at a cost of $10 to $35. In the period 1870-75, Canadian workers probably take home no more than $2.50 for a 60-hour week.

  • What

    At the end of the 1870s, the Williams Manufacturing Co. of Saint Henri produces industrial sewing machines like this one.

  • Where

    Saint Henri, a suburb city located southwest of Montreal (and annexed in 1905), is the most prosperous industrial community in the Montreal area.

  • When

    Saint Henri is a thriving neighbourhood between 1870 and 1940.

  • Who

    Several hundred women work at Williams Manufacturing Co. and at Merchant's Cotton Mill. "Wood and metal are the domain of men, material and clothing the domain of women" (worker-delegate to the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris).