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  • Sally Seelig

Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

If it were weren’t for Elias Howe, born in Spencer, MA, where would Diane Furstenberg, Gloria Vanderbilt, Anne Klein or even Calvin Klein be today? Where would the garment industry be and where would J.C. Penney or even Theodore Wear Bear be today? To be responsible for improving the lot in life of multitudes is a lovely gift.

This gifted inventor, Elias Howe, had a love for machinery as a grew up on his dad’s farm on the south side of Spencer. Actually, at the time most of Spencer’s inhabitants were involved in agriculture except for the few woolen and grist mills scattered through the town, . Later in the 19th century Spencer became the boot capital of the state.

Elias’s era could be epitomized by the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If a farmer or any person needed a tool to accomplish a job, they just designed, made the tool, and took care of whatever tasks needed to be done.

“Elias,” “suggested a friend,“ anyone who invented the machine that could take over the tedious, sometimes onerous task of sewing could make a fortune!“ Elias smiled, and being the modern forward thinker that he was, he moved to Lowell, Mass. and worked to develop his dream machine. Success ensued and the machine was patented September 10, 1846. “Watch the dollars come pouring in, Elias!” Right!

Wrong! As the saying goes, a prophet is not loved in his own country. Elias’s, invention was largely ignored in America. So he moved his family to England, where he sold his idea for $1250. Years of hard work and creativity, and Elias still did not make his fortune. Eventually, he moved back to the U.S. where he found his invention much in use. Well, not a man to stand by and be overrun, he spent many years in litigation, and was successful most often. From 1854 when his rights were established to 1867, when his patent expired, he receive royalties on all the sewing machines that had been manufactured in this country. Elias died a rich man October, 1867 in Brooklyn, New York.

William Howe

Elias Howe lived in a time of change and also came from a family that greeted change. Elias‘s uncle was William Howe, who was also born in Spencer, Mass, May 12, 1803. William farmed until 1838 when he was commissioned to build a bridge in Warren, Massachusetts, for the Boston and Albany railroad. He pioneered the development of the “Truss Bridge“ useful in spanning broad areas. The truss bridge contained wooden diagonal members and iron vertical ties. In 1840 he received two patents for the Howe Truss Bridge. After building a bridge across the Connecticut river in Springfield he became primarily a bridge builder.

A drawing of the Howe Family homestead where Elias Howe, Jr., the inventor of the sewing machine, and his Uncles, Tyler Howe, inventor of the Spring Bed, and William Howe, inventor of the Truss Bridge, were born. The monument above stands where the house stood.


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