Sunday, January 2, 2011

Weekend Project: Years (and Years) in Review

Last year I read the book "Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years" - which details how the earliest roots of commerce (circa 20,000 - 50 B.C.) were based in large part on the textiles woven primarily by women.

Over the holidays I started another book, "The First Conglomerate: 145 Years of the Singer Sewing Machine Company." The author D.C. Bissell argues that the advent of the household sewing machine has had a larger impact on the course of human events than the personal computer has had (so far).

Here are some other tidbits from the first half of the book:

The Singer Sewing Machine Company (SSMC) was the first multinational, monopolistic conglomerate.

The company was founded and run by two men - I.M. Singer (the inventor) and Edward Clark (the business man).

The SSMC beat out an estimated 150 competitors and survived a monumental legal battle (over patent rights) dubbed the "Great Sewing Machine Wars" in the press.

The Singer sewing machine was called "The Great Civilizer" and contributed significantly to ushering in the Age of Automation.

The SSMC revolutionized the business world by introducing innovative marketing techniques (possibly based on I.M. Singer's early experience as a traveling actor!), modernized manufacturing techniques and was the first company to offer an installment plan so that the sewing machine was in reach of even the poorest families.

The technology for sewing machines was also developed in Europe, but it never took off - because it was repressed by anti-technology mobs (neo-Luddite tailors?) - people who feared losing their jobs to this new technology (much like the weavers who had lost their jobs with the introduction of automated weaving technology such as the Jacquard looms several decades earlier).

The mothers of Nikita Kruschev and Joseph Stalin sewed on Singer sewing machines.

The Russian czar Alexander III purchased Singer sewing machines to make 250,000 tents for the Russian army.

Admiral Richard Byrd took six Singer sewing machines with him in 1930 on his Antarctic expedition.

The Wright brother's used a Singer sewing machine to sew fabric for their airplane wings.

Of course, no story is complete without some juicy gossip. In addition to being a brilliant inventor, I.M. Singer was a bit of a dog - apparently he had numerous "wives" (simultaneously), several mistresses and lots of children. He even (shocked gasp!) CURSED in public! It was such a disgrace that Edward Clark's wife wouldn't allow I.M. Singer into her house. ;)

Who would have thought that the small, powerful machines that grace our homes and provide the most important tool for our passion has such a compelling and complex history of it's own?

Happy New Year to everyone! May 2011 bring only the best to you and yours! :)


Unknown said...

Thanks for the juicy and non-juicy tidbits about the singer. You helped me learn something today. Always good.