Elias Howe invented the basic tool—the sewing machine—that took the world from wearing mostly similar, rough, handmade clothes to the almost endless variety of machine-made modern clothing that we enjoy today.
Howe had worked as a machinist and had extensive experience in repairing precision instruments. Many others had tried to invent a practical sewing machine but had failed. In 1846, while working for Ari Davis in Boston, Howe developed and patented the first lock-stitch machine and proved that he could outpace five experienced seamstresses in a head-to-head competition.
After he demonstrated his device in America, he attempted to license its use in Britain. When he returned to the United States, he found many imitators, including Isaac Singer. Eventually, after a series of lawsuits, Howe prevailed and came to an agreement with Singer, then the leading seller of home-based sewing machines.
For contributing to the mass-production of clothes, which ironically made possible the elite limited-production haute couture fashion industry, Elias Howe is today's hero of capitalism.
Inventor Hall of Fame entry
Profile at Rochester University
Idea Finder entry