Isaac Merritt Singer

Is your surname Singer?

Research the Singer family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Isaac Merritt Singer

Russian: Исаак Меррит
Birthplace: Pittstown, Rensselaer County, New York, United States
Death: July 23, 1875 (63)
Paignton, Devon, England UK
Place of Burial: Torquey Crematorium, Torquay Torbay Unitary Authority, Devon, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Adam Reisinger Singer and Ruth (Benson) Singer
Husband of Mary Ann Singer and Isabella Eugenie Singer
Ex-husband of Catherine Maria Singer; Catharine Marie (Haley) Singer; Mary Ann Foster; Mary Matthews and Mary Eastwood (Walters) Merritt
Father of Isaac Augustus Singer; Vouletti Theresa Proctor; Fanny Elizabeth Singer; Jasper Hamlet Singer; Mary Olivia Whitlock and 33 others
Brother of John V. Singer; James W Singer; Donie Singer; Alexander S Singer; Elizabeth (Singer) Colby and 6 others
Half brother of Thomas Singer

Occupation: Inventor, actor, and entrepreneur., Inventor of the Singer sewing machine
Managed by: Private User
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.


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



Ancestry Family Tree

In 1850, Isaac Singer invented a sewing machine that operated at 900 stitches per minute. In 1857, he partnered with Edward Clark to form I.M. Singer & Company. By 1860 it was the biggest sewing machine manufacturer worldwide. They incorporated in 1863, under the name Singer Manufacturing Company.

Early Years

Isaac Singer was born in Pittstown, New York, on October 27, 1811, and raised in the upstate town of Oswego. At 12, he left home with minimal education and started working a string of odd jobs as an unskilled laborer. As a teen, Singer took on a promising apprenticeship as a mechanic, but his interest in acting soon spurred him to abandon the job and form a traveling theater troupe instead. While on a national tour with the Merritt Players, Singer frequently engaged in promiscuous behavior, resulting in the birth of some dozen and a half illegitimate children. After nine years on tour, Singer went broke and the group was forced to disband.

Machinist and Inventor

After Singer's acting endeavor fell apart, he resumed work as an apprentice mechanic. In 1839, he established himself as an inventor when, while working in Illinois, he patented a rock-drilling machine for the government. A decade later, he invented a wood-and-metal-carving machine and then opened his own factory in which to manufacture his product. Unfortunately, the factory was destroyed in an explosion.

By 1850, Singer was working at a machine shop as a sewing machine repairman. When his boss asked him to fix a Lerow and Blodgett sewing machine, Singer put his inventor's hat on and went so far as to design and construct a superior model—in a mere matter of days. Singer's sewing machine, which used a suspended arm and encased the needle within a horizontal bar, was the first that could sew continuously on any part of an object—as well as in curves. His design also included a presser foot, enabling an unprecedented speed of 900 stitches per minute. Since the Singer sewing machine implemented some of the basic principles of inventor Elias Howe's sewing machine, when Singer applied for a patent, Howe sued him for patent infringement and won.

Singer Manufacturing Company

Luckily, the suit didn't bar Singer from producing his machine. In 1857, he struck up a partnership with Edward Clark, and I.M. Singer & Company was born. Using a mass-production facility in New York, they were able to make movable parts for their sewing machine, enabling them to cut production costs and sell the machine to average housewives nationwide for an affordable $10. Just a year later the company could afford to open an additional three plants in New York. Over the years, Singer continued to expand and tweak his designs. By 1860 the company achieved the distinction of becoming the biggest sewing machine manufacturer worldwide. Singer and Clark incorporated in 1863, under the name Singer Manufacturing Company. By that time the company had secured an additional 22 patents and Singer was already a year into retirement. The company launched its first overseas factory, in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1867. Nearly a century later, in 1963, the corporation was renamed Singer Company.


Об Исааке Меррите Singer (русский)

А́йзек или Исаа́к Ме́ррит Зи́нгер (англ. Isaac Merritt Singer, 27 октября 1811, Питтстаун, США — 23 июля 1875, Пейнтон, Англия) — американский изобретатель и промышленник. Внёс существенный вклад в усовершенствование конструкции швейной машины и основал компанию «Зингер».
Личная жизнь
В 1830 году Зингер женился на Кэтрин Марии Хейли. В браке родилось двое детей. Однако уже в 1836 году он завязал отношения с Мэри Энн Спонслер, которая родила ему 10 детей, и с рождением первого сына в 1837 году его отношения с законной женой фактически прекратились. Финансовый успех дал Зингеру возможность купить особняк на Пятой авеню, в который он перевёз свою вторую семью. 1860 году Зингер, обвинив жену в измене, официально развёлся. Отношения с Мэри Энн прекратились в 1862 году после того, как та застала его в экипаже с Мэри Мак-Гониал. К этому моменту Мак-Гониал родила Зингеру пятерых детей. По требованию Спонслер, Зингер был арестован по обвинению в двоежёнстве, но вышел под залог и сбежал в Лондон вместе с Мэри Мак-Гониал. В действительности у Зингера была ещё одна семья: Мэри Иствуд Уотерс из Нижнего Манхэттена родила ему дочь. В Лондоне Зингер возобновил отношения с Изабеллой Бойер, с которой встречался в Париже в 1860 году. В 1863 году они поженились, в браке родилось шестеро детей.

view all 82

Isaac Merritt Singer's Timeline

October 26, 1811
Pittstown, Rensselaer County, New York, United States
February 1834
Palmyra, Wayne Co, NY; Quality: 3