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Leon Jolson
Founder, NELCO

Leon Jolson arrived in the United States with his wife Ann after World War II in 1947. He escaped from Nazi concentration camps and worked in the underground intercepting Nazi radio transmissions.

The Jolsons now faced the problem of earning a living in a new country. Leon Jolson turned to the one thing he knew -- sewing machines. In Poland Jolson's family were agents for the Necchi and Italian brand sewing machines. At first he went door to door offering his services to repair sewing machines. During the war, parts were impossible to obtain, therefore many sewing machines were not operational. Jolson set up a sewing machine repair service at his apartment in the Bronx with a loan from the United States Service for New Americans. None of his customers could have guessed that when he was 25, before the war, Jolson had been in charge of Necchi Corporation's Eastern European sales organization, and had an integral role in the development of the all-purpose Necchi unit. This coupled with the realization that American sewing machines couldn't perform like the Necchi which could do up to 20 sewing operations usually done by hand -- monogram, embroider, darning, buttonholes blindstitch hems overcastt ed
ges, etc. -- without attachments. America was an untapped market for the Necchi sewing machine. Inspired, Jolson contacted the Italian factory, and asked for a trial assignment of machines. Several weeks passed before a reply came. No machines would be shipped unless Jolson could prove the demand for the machines with substantial orders. However, a few demonstration models would be sent when available. The cost of a sales campaign was beyond his means. The proceeds of his repair business were not enough. So Jolson acquired another $2000 loan from the United States Service for New Americans. With these funds and a strong belief in the Necchi, Jolson hounded New York's leading distributors of sewing machines with sales brochures and requested interviews. Strangely, the response was unproductive.

Enthusiastic about the possibilities of the Necchi sewing machine in the United States, two businessmen, Ben Krisiloff and Milton Heimlich invested $50,000. The next step was convince Vittorio Necchi, the inventor of the machine. So Jolson and Krisiloff went to Pavia and talked to the “Old Man.” Arousing Necchi's interest in the American market, a total of 135 machines were invested. Jolson and Krisiloff sent letters to possible outlets for sewing machines, inviting inquiries and orders. Within one week, orders arrived for 3500 machines, and the next week brought a total of 7000. Jolson offered Krisiloff and Heimlich a partnership. They didn't hesitate. Together, they opened an office and warehouse, notified the dealers when the machines arrived from Italy, and sales took off, grossing some $25,000,000 a year in the sewing machine field. By 1952, promotion alone, amounted to $2,500,000. In the same year, Necchi represented ten percent of the sewing machine business in the United States.

Jolson also negotiated the rights to distribute Elna sewing machines in the United States. Elna’s free arm cam machines with numerous decorative and stretch stitches and Necchi’s machines became very popular with U.S. sewers because of their versatility. Following the popularity of the Elna machine, Jolson contracted with a manufacturer to have his own brand of sewing machine private labeled. This machine combined the best features of both Necchi and Elna machines and Jolson called the new line NELCO. Shortly thereafter Jolson withdrew from the Necchi and Elna lines. Allyn International picked up the Necchi and Elna went to White.

1994 Vacuum & Sewing Hall of Fame Inductee