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Allen Benjamin Wilson
Cofounder, Wheeler & Wilson
1824 - 1888

Allen Benjamin Wilson, inventor, was born at Willet, Cortland Co., NY, Oct. 18, 1824, and was the son of a wheelwright. At the age of eleven he was indentured to a farmer, remaining only year. He continued to work on a farm until he was sixteen, meanwhile learning the blacksmith’s trade. He was next apprenticed to a cabinetmaker at Cincinnatus. In 1847, he conceived of the idea of a sewing machine, unaware that Elias Howe had already patented an invention in the U.S., as had Bartholomy Thimonnier in France.

Due to illness, Mr. Wilson was not able to develop his ideas, although he had the various devices and adjustments clearly defined in his mind. In August 1848, he moved to Pittsfield, Mass., where he obtained work and soon began to put his ideas on paper in the form of full-size drawings. The firm with which he was connected dissolved in February 1849, but Mr. Wilson remained with Amos Barnes, who continued the business, with the privilege of working evenings in the shop.

On Feb. 3, he began the construction of his first machine, and about April 1 completed it, making with it dress waists and other articles requiring fine sewing. His machine differed from those invented by Elias Howe in the fact that, having a double-pointed shuttle combined with the needle, it made two stitches instead of one with each complete movement; that is, one stitch on the forward movement and one on the return.

In 1849, he moved to North Adams, Mass., and persuaded Joseph N. Chapin, to purchase one-half of the invention for $200. With this money Mr. Wilson secured a patent, Nov. 12, 1850, which covered also the device of a two-motion feedbar, his being the fifteenth patent recorded for an improved sewing machine. While his application was pending, parties owning an interest in a machine patented in 1848 by John A. Bradshaw of Lowell, Mass., claimed that the latter’s patent covered a double-pointed shuttle, and threatened to oppose Mr. Wilson. A compromise was made by which Mr. Wilson conveyed to Kline & Lee, of New York City, one-half of the patent. He also agreed to go into the manufacture and sale of the machines with those parties, but on Nov. 25 sold them his interest in the patent, except the right for New Jersey, and that to sew leather in Massachusetts, for $2,000.

Before the end of the year, Nathaniel Wheeler, of the firm of Warren, Wheeler & Woodruff, of Watertown, Conn., saw one of the machines in New York City, contracted with E. Lee & Co. to make 500, and persuaded Mr. Wilson to move to Watertown to superintend the work. Mr. Wilson soon became a partner in the firm, which had obtained the sole right to manufacture his machines and on Aug. 12, 1851, patented a new machine, in which a rotary hook and bobbin, making an improved lockstitch, were substituted for the shuttle. Later, to avoid litigation, he contrived a stationary bobbin, which became the permanent feature of the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine. On the same day, Aug 12, Isaac M. Singer received his first patent on a machine that became a formidable competitor.

A new co-partnership was now formed under the name of Wheeler, Wilson & Co., and in 1853 the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Co. was organized. On Dec. 19, 1854, Mr. Wilson patented his four-motion feed, which the machines of other inventors were forced to adopt. The advantage of his improvements was that the stitching made the strongest possible seam, being exactly even on both sides, with no threads showing above the surface that would be liable to wear off and cause ripping. The first completed machine, finished in 1851, sold for $125. In 1856 the firm moved to Bridgeport, Conn.

Mr. Wilson retired from active participation in the business in 1853, but received a regular salary and considerable sums of money on the renewal of his patents. In 1863, he became a resident of Waterbury, Conn., where he engaged in other enterprises. Mr. Wilson died at Woodmont, Conn., April 29, 1888.

1994 Vacuum & Sewing Hall of Fame Inductee