Project Description

History of Singer Sewing Machine Company

Singer Corporation is an American manufacturer of sewing machines, first established as I. M. Singer & Co. in 1851 by Isaac Merritt Singer with New York lawyer Edward Clark. It was renamed Singer Manufacturing Company in 1865, then The Singer Company in 1963. It is based in La Vergne, Tennessee near Nashville. Its first large factory for mass production was built in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1863.

Singer in Scotland

In 1867 the Singer Company decided that the demand for their sewing machines in the UK was sufficiently high to open a local factory in John Street. Glasgow was selected for its iron making industries, cheap labour and possibly because at the time the General Manager of the US Singer Sewing Machine Company was George McKenzie, who was of Scottish descent. Demand for sewing machines outstripped production at the new plant and by 1873 a new larger factory was completed in James Street, Bridgeton. By now Singer employed over 2,000 people in Scotland but still they could not produce enough machines.

With nearly a million square feet of space and almost 7,000 employees it was possible to produce on average 13,000 machines a week, making it the largest sewing machine factory in the world. The Clydebank factory was so productive that in 1905 the US Singer Company set up the Singer Manufacturing Company Ltd. as a UK registered company.

From its opening in 1884 until 1943 the Kilbowie factory produced approximately 36,000,000 sewing machines. Singer was the world leader and sold more machines than all the other makers added together. In 1913 the factory shipped 1.3 million machines. The late 1950s and 1960s saw a period of significant change at the Clydebank factory. In 1958 Singer reduced production at their main American plant and transferred 40% of this production to the Clydebank factory in a bid to reduce costs. Between 1961 and 1964 the Clydebank factory underwent a £4 million modernization programme which saw the Clydebank factory cease the production of cast iron machines and focus on the production of aluminium machines for western markets. At the height of its productiveness in the mid 1960s Singer employed over 16,000 workers but by the end of that decade compulsory redundancies were taking place and 10 years later the workforce was down to 5,000. Financial problems and lack of orders forced the world’s largest sewing machine factory to close in June 1980, bringing to an end over 100 years of sewing machine production in Scotland. The complex of buildings was demolished in 1998.