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What a yucky day we are having here in Maryland but I've been enjoying the walk down memory lane and I thought it might be interesting to talk about the invention of the sewing machine today.

Elias Howe, born in Spencer, Massachusettes in 1819, learned the machinist trade as a boy when he worked in a cotton machinery factory in Lowell, Massachusettes and later in Cambridge. He was encouraged to invent a machine that could sew and found out that such an invention would earn him a fortune. He spent five years developing a practical machine and in 1846 he was granted a patent for the hand cranked sewing machine. This machine initially attracted little attention in the United States so Howe moved to England where he sold the patent rights for $1,250. He remained in England and worked for a miniscule salary to perfect his machine to sew leather and similar materials. Even though his financial situation worsened, he was able to send his wife and family home to the United States. He later returned to the United States destitute and discouraged and found his wife dying. More disappointment and discouragement followed when he found that while he was in England, sewing machines were manufactured and sold extensively in the United States in violation of his patent.

In 1854, Howe successfully sued Isaac Singer who had copied features developed by Howe in his Singer machines. Howe was awarded royalties on all sewing machines produced in the United States and as a result received the ellusive fortune that he expected when he first patented the sewing machine in 1846.

Accessed 7 October 2005 available from www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=bachman&book=inventors&story=howe: Internet

By now you're probably asking yourself WHAT in tarnation does THIS have to do with the Civil War. Well, let me tell you.

Howe enlisted as a private in the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry and actively promoted enlistment into this regiment.

On 9 Dec 1862, 2LT Aldace Walker, Co B, 11th Vermont Infantry while at Fort Massachusettes, Washington, D.C. wrote a letter to his father. He says " Stephen had a private in one of his regiments come to him the other day and offer to buy the roll of the regiment. Steph was considerably astonished, and said that he had some doubt about the security of the operation. So the private went to Stanton, and arranged to lend the Govt $31000 to pay off the regiment. He has gone to New York for the money now, and the regiment will be paid next Wednesday. The private's name is Elias Howe, Jr, who has a yearly income of $200,000 on his sewing machine patent." It seems the soldiers hadn't been paid since they mustered in in August 1862.

In a later letter (Jan 1863), Aldace Walker wrote that the 11thVermont paymaster was under the opinion that soldiers would be paid in a more timely manner. He says, "....Maj Halsey thinks that we will be paid more regularly hereafter, though I believe the Paymaster General means to keep continually two months behind to save clothing from deserters and persons dead and discharged, &c." The payment would be to all soldiers, not just the Vermonters, since this was coming from the government.

In a letter in February, Aldace Walker says that "Steph got back from the army with $100,000 left -- half of what he started with.....". Based on this one would assume that Elias Howe was repaid his generous contribution to paying his fellow 17thConnecticut Volunteer Infantry soldiers.

The reference to Stephen is Walker's 1st cousin Stephen Walker who was the paymaster for at least the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry and Stanton refers to Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War Stanton.

Quite Ready to be Sent Somewhere: The Civil War Letters of Aldace Freeman Walker. Edited by Tom Ledoux. Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC Canada; 402 pages

Visit www.findagrave.com/pictures/howee.html to see Howe's burial site in New York.

Well friends so ends another tidbit. Have a good week and I'll see you next week.

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux