Sunday, August 31, 2014

We used to make things in this country. #164: Abbott's Silent Family Sewing Machine, St. Catharines, Ontario

Displayed at the heritage fair at Odessa, Ontario several weeks ago. Happily, V. B. Simkins is still in business, and has a fascinating history.

At one time, there were a huge number of factories making sewing machines in Canada.  See Needlebar for the full list.

John W. Abbott founded a small sewing machine company in St. Catharines around 1865.  Six years later, with the help of 12 men and a 3 horse power steam engine, the "manufactory" was cranking out 2500 machines a year.  Its machines gained a reputation for reliability.    

According to a 1980 article, "A Stitch in Time:  Sewing Machine Industry of Ontario, 1860-1897" by Martha Eckmann Brent of the Ontario Museum Association:

"The Abbott Company manufactured a single-thread machine called Abbott's Noiseless Family Sewing Machine. This small machine was peculiar in that unlike most chain-stitch machines it could be worked either by hand or treadle. The Abbott was arranged for either light or heavy sewing and to prove its "combination" qualities it was put to the test at the 1867 Provincial Exhibition. The machine, which "walked through a piece of shingle and a fine piece of muslin, without change of needle," was awarded a first class prize and diploma over such competitors as Howe, Singer, Wheeler and Wilson, and various other Canadian machines. 
Although Abbott's machines were manufactured in St. Catharines, they were sold through two general agents in Toronto: G.W. Grout and Company (until 1868) and W.H. White and Company (1868-72). Acclaimed as the best family sewing machine, single- or double-thread, that could be purchased anywhere for the price, the Abbott sold in 1868 for fifteen dollars by itself or twenty-three dollars with a black walnut stand.

John W. Abbott died in 1872 and although his two sons were involved in the business, the company did not continue manufacturing after the death of its founder."

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