Hagley Museum & Library
Manuscripts & Archives Department
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630
8 linear ft.
The Singer Company, once the world's leading producer of sewing machines, was the successor to I.M. Singer & Co., established in 1851. Isaac M. Singer had patented improvements resulting in the first commercially viable sewing machine. Edward Clark, who joned the firm in 1854, provided the planning skills and business acumen that ensured the firm's success. The company produced its first treadle-operated machine in 1856, and Clark introduced installment selling the same year. The firm was incorporated as the Singer Manufacturing Company in 1863, and in 1871-72 it constructed a factory at Elizabethport, N.J., that was then the largest in the world devoted to a single product. Singer developed a worldwide sales organization. It built its first foreign factory at Glasgow in 1867 (replaced by a much larger works at Clydebank in 1882-84) and another at Podolsk, Russia in 1902. In the same year, Singer absorbed its major U.S. competitor, the Wheeler & Wilson Manfacturing Company. Singer prospered during its first hundred years, but in the years 1951-57 the domestic sewing machine market collapsed. The amount of home sewing done by American women declined sharply, and increasing Japanese imports caused Singer's market share to fall from 66% to 33%. The company made attempts to diversify into electronics and aerospace and was renamed the Singer Company in 1963. The sewing machine business continued to shrink as more women sought careers outside the home, and in mid-1986 it was spun off to a separate subsidiary, SSMC Inc. After the 1987 stock market crash, the company was acquired by Paul A. Bilzerian, a corporate raider, who quickly sold off eight of the twelve Singer divisions, including all rights to the Singer name. SSMC Inc. was sold to Semi-Tech Microelectronics (Far East) Limited in April 1990. The much-shrunken Singer Company was renamed Bicoastal Corporation in October 1989. The records of the Singer Company comprise a group of materials from its Trademark Department collected by a former employee. The largest file is devoted to trademark registrations for all the countries in which Singer sold its products, plus U.S. and Canadian registrations for the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Company. There are many samples of logos such as the "Red S" and the "Singer Girl", who was depicted in the native garb of the country of sale. File copies of a wide variety of manuals, sewing guides, trade catalogs and trade cards are available in English and in other languages, reflecting the world-wide scope of Singer sales. A patent file covers sewing machine improvements from 1860 to 1932. The other major category of materials relates to company history, particularly records assembled for or created in connection with the company's centennial. These include an unpublished manuscript, "The Story of Singer" (1951); a 1945 history of the Singer Manufacturing Company, Ltd., which operated the Clydebank factory; an account of the early development of the Singer machine by James Bolton, a machinist; a 1930 booklet on the Singer Building in London; memorials of George Ross Mackenzie; illustrated brochures on the Elizabethport factory; a program of a Singer Employees Association athletic meet (1923); and samples of company magazines. Newsclippings, 10-K annual reports, and letters to stockholders describe the company's decline in the 1970s and 1980s, as do several case studies from the Harvard Business School. There are two small color guidebooks to major European art galleries in German that were distributed by Singer Nahmaschinen A.G.