Charles Henry Willcox
Charles Henry Willcox was the son of James Willcox, one of the pioneers of the sewing machine industry, having been associated with James E.A. Gibbs in the manufacture of the Willcox & Gibbs machine. The natural bent of his mind being toward mechanics, he took an early interest in the improvement of the sewing machine which bore his father’s name, and at the age of seventeen helped Mr. Gibbs to overcome various mechanical difficulties in preparing it for multiple production.
In 1875 he invented and had patented an automatic tension device which added greatly to the utility of the machine by keeping the thread at the proper tension. He then set to work to perfect straw hat sewing machines, one for making the visible stitch and the other for making the concealed stitch on straw braids to simulate the hand stitch. He received patents on these machines in 1879 and 1881.
Subsequent inventions by Mr. Willcox or his assistants practically revolutionized the manufacture of knit goods garments, the first of these being the Willcox & Gibbs trimmed seam machine, patented in 1882, which took the place of the old style hand and scissors trimming. Next came the “Overlock” seam and a machine to sew it, invented by Stockton Borton of the Willcox & Gibbs staff in 1892. These were followed by the “Flatlock” seam and machine, patented respectively in 1908 and 1912. In the “Flatlock” seam the two edges of the garment or fabric are joined together without any overlapping or raw edges and by lock stitches which make the seam stronger than the fabric.
When the seam and machine were first invented it was thought that their usefulness would be limited to the knit goods industry, but the ornamental character of the stitch soon led to its being adopted in various other lines of manufacture. Since then the company has originated various other machines which have contributed largely to the development of the sewing machine industry, notably the high speed “Lockstitch” machine, capable of delivering 4,000 stitches per minute, a hemming machine, lace edger, fabric and bag machines.
Mr. Willcox was mechanical engineer of the company for thirty years and the name and fame of his machine went to every civilized country. He was endowed to an unusual degree with the power of intensive application and continued industry.
1994 Vacuum & Sewing Hall of Fame Inductee