Isaac Merritt Singer (1811 - 1875) MP

‹ Back to Singer surname

18

Matches

0 8 10
Adds burial place, story, sibling(s) and child(ren).

View Isaac Merritt Singer's complete profile:

  • See if you are related to Isaac Merritt Singer
  • Request to view Isaac Merritt Singer's family tree

Share

Related Projects

Birthplace: Pittstown, NY, USA
Death: Died in Paignton, Devonshire, Englad
Occupation: Inventor, actor, and entrepreneur.
Managed by: Victor Harper-Slaboszewicz
Last Updated:

About Isaac Merritt Singer

American inventor Isaac Merrit Singer made important improvements in the design of the sewing machine and was the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Many had patented sewing machines before Singer, but his success was based on the practicality of his machine, the ease with which it could be adapted to home use, and its availability when he pioneered the use of installment credit plans.

Singer was born in Pittstown, New York, on October 27, 1811. He was the youngest child of Adam Singer (born Reisinger) and his first wife, Ruth Benson. Adam, a millwright, and his wife emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1803. They had eight children, three sons and five daughters; the eldest daughter's name was Elizabeth Singer. When Isaac Singer was 10 years old, his parents divorced. After Adam Singer remarried and moved to Hannibal/Oswego County, Isaac Singer did not get on well with his stepmother. So when he was 12, he ran away. He later went to live with his elder brother in Rochester.

Singer's elder brother had a machine shop, and Isaac went to work there. It was there that Isaac grew to his full height of 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m), and where he first learned the machinist trade that would become the basis of his fame and fortune.

However, at this stage, Isaac did not realize this. He would look for fame and fortune in another profession: acting. He called himself the best Richard of his time, but a contemporary critic said that his performance was not very good.

Isaac was married for the first time in 1830, to Catharine Maria Haley. They seem to have lived first in Palmyra, New York with her parents for a time. By the summer of 1833, Singer was working in Cooperstown, Otsego County, New York as a mechanic.

Isaac had two children by Catharine. Their first child, William, was born in 1834. In 1835, he moved his family to New York City, where he worked in a press shop. In 1836, he left the city as an agent for a company of players, touring through Baltimore, where he met Mary Ann Sponsler, to whom he proposed marriage (though he did not actually go through with it). He returned with Mary Ann to New York in 1837. That year, Isaac became the father of two children: his wife gave birth to Lillian, and Mary Ann to Isaac Augustus. His domestic life with Catharine did not prosper after this, but they were not officially divorced until 1860. Mary Ann found out that Singer was already married, so to escape the situation, he went to Chicago to work on the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

In 1839, Singer obtained his first patent, for a machine to drill rock, selling it for $2,000 to the I&M Canal Building Company. With this financial success, he opted to return to his career as an actor. He went on tour, forming a troupe known as the "Merritt Players", appearing onstage under the name "Isaac Merritt", with Mary Ann also appearing onstage, calling herself "Mrs. Merritt". The tour lasted about five years.

In 1844, Isaac took a job in the shop of the Day Brothers for making wooden types for printing trade in Fredericksburg, Ohio, but quickly moved on to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1846 to set up his own shop for making wood type and signage. Here he developed and patented a "machine for carving wood and metal" on April 10, 1849.

At 38, with Mary Ann and eight children, he packed up his family and moved back to New York City, hoping to market his wood-block cutting machine there. He obtained an advance to build a working prototype, and constructed one in the shop of A. B. Taylor & Co. Here he met G. B. Zieber, who became Singer's financier and partner. However, not long after the machine was built, the steam boiler blew up at the shop, destroying the prototype. Zieber persuaded Singer to make a new start in Boston, a center of the printing trade. Singer went to Boston in 1850 to display his invention at the machine shop of Orson C. Phelps. Orders for Singer's wood cutting machine were not, however, forthcoming.

Lerow & Blodgett sewing machines were being constructed and repaired in Phelps' shop. Phelps asked Singer to look at the sewing machines, which were difficult to use and produce. Singer concluded that the sewing machine would be more reliable if the shuttle moved in a straight line rather than a circle, with a straight rather than a curved needle. Singer was able to obtain US Patent number 8294 for his improvements on August 12, 1851.

Singer's prototype sewing machine became the first to work in a practical way. It could sew 900 stitches per minute, far better than the 40 of an accomplished seamstress on simple work.

In 1856, manufacturers Grover & Baker, Singer, Wheeler & Wilson, all accusing each other of patent infringement, met in Albany, New York to pursue their suits. Orlando B. Potter, a lawyer and president of the Grover and Baker Company, proposed that, rather than squander their profits on litigation, they pool their patents. This was the first patent pool,[citation needed] a process which enables the production of complicated machines without legal battles over patent rights. They agreed to form the Sewing Machine Combination, but for this to be of any use, they had to secure the cooperation of Elias Howe, who still held certain vital uncontested patents. Terms were arranged; Howe received a royalty on every sewing machine manufactured.

Sewing machines began to be mass produced. I. M. Singer & Co manufactured 2,564 machines in 1856, and 13,000 in 1860 at a new plant on Mott Street in New York. Later, a massive plant was built near Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Up to then, sewing machines had been industrial machines, made for garments, shoes, bridles and for tailors, but in 1856, smaller machines began to be marketed for home use. However, at the then enormous price of over $100, few sold. Singer invested heavily in mass production utilizing the concept of interchangeable parts developed by Samuel Colt for his firearms. He was able to cut the price in half, while at the same time increasing his profit margin 530%. Singer was the first who put a family machine, "the turtle back", on the market. Eventually, the price came down to $10. According to PBS, "His partner, Edward Clark, pioneered installment purchasing plans and accepted trade-ins, causing sales to soar."

I. M. Singer expanded into the European market, establishing a factory in Clydebank, near Glasgow, controlled by the parent company, becoming one of the first American-based multinational corporations, with agencies in Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

The financial success allowed Singer to buy a mansion on Fifth Avenue, into which he moved his second family. In 1860, he divorced Catherine on the basis of her adultery with Stephen Kent. He continued to live with Mary Ann, until she spotted him driving down Fifth Avenue seated beside one Mary McGonigal, an employee, about whom Mary Ann had well-founded suspicions. By this time, McGonigal had borne Singer five children. The surname Matthews was used for this family. Mary Ann (still calling herself Mrs. I. M. Singer) had her husband arrested for bigamy. Singer was let out on bond and, disgraced, fled to London in 1862, taking Mary McGonigal with him. In the aftermath, another of Isaac's families was discovered: he had a "wife" Mary Eastwood Walters and daughter Alice Eastwood in Lower Manhattan, who had adopted the surname "Merritt". By 1860, Isaac had fathered and recognized eighteen children (sixteen of them still living), by four women.

With Isaac in London, Mary Ann began setting about securing a financial claim to his assets by filing documents detailing his infidelities, claiming that though she had never been formally married to Isaac, that they were in fact wed under Common Law (by living together for seven months after Isaac had been divorced from his first wife Catherine). Eventually a settlement was made, but no divorce was granted. However, she asserted that she was free to marry, and indeed married John E. Foster. Isaac, meanwhile, had renewed acquaintance with Isabella Eugenie Boyer, a Frenchwoman he had lived with in Paris when he was staying there in 1860. She left her husband, and married Isaac under the name of Isabella Eugenie Sommerville, on June 13, 1863, while she was pregnant. She remarried in 1879 to Victor Reubsaet {d.1887} and remarried in 1891 with Paul Sohège.

In 1863, I. M. Singer & Co. was dissolved by mutual consent; the business continued as "The Singer Manufacturing Company," in 1887.

In 1871, Singer purchased an estate in Paignton, Devon, England. He commissioned Oldway Mansion as his private residence; it was rebuilt by his third son, Paris Singer, in the style of the Palace of Versailles.

Descendants

Isaac's 20th child, Winnaretta Singer, married Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard in 1887, when she was 22. After the annulment of this marriage in 1891, she married Prince Edmond de Polignac in 1893. She would become a prominent patron of French avant-garde music, e.g., Erik Satie composed his Socrate as one of her commissions (1918). As a lesbian, she became involved with Violet Trefusis from 1923 on.

Another of Isaac's daughters, Isabelle-Blanche Singer (1869–1896), married Jean, duc de Decazes; Daisy Fellowes was their daughter. Isabelle-Blanche committed suicide in 1896.

A brother to Winnaretta and Isabelle, Paris Singer, had a child by Isadora Duncan. Another brother, Washington Singer, became a substantial donor to the University College of the South-West of England, which later became the University of Exeter; one of the university's buildings is named in his honour.

Sources: Wikipedia, Answers

view all 19

Isaac Singer's Timeline

1811
October 27, 1811
Pittstown, NY, USA
1830
1830
Age 18
1834
1834
Age 22
1837
1837
Age 25
1837
Age 25
1840
January 4, 1840
Age 28
Utica, NY, USA
1850
1850
Age 38
1860
1860
Age 48
1863
June 13, 1863
Age 51
1865
January 8, 1865
Age 53
Yonkers, NY, USA