Morse Sewing Machine History: An Interesting Story!

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Morse sewing machines are classic vintage sewing machines that are often sought after by many people. Unlike today’s sewing machines, vintage machines were made of much tougher materials and were built to last. Let’s learn a little about the history of the Morse sewing machine.

In 1948, Philip Morse set up a distributing company in the United States for sewing machines from Japan. The VP of the company was named Marion Morse, so it seems that a husband-wife duo were running the company.

Morse was a distributor of sewing machines to retailers, dealers, and agents. Dealers and agents could further sell the machines to other companies and businesses, and retailers, of course, would sell directly to consumers.

Interestingly enough, the name of the company importing the machines was Mercury. Mercury would import(Philip Morse was the treasurer of Mercury), and Morse would then distribute locally.

Philip Morse began to patent some of the sewing machine designs in the USA. The designs were quite similar to other machines then available on the market, so it would seem to follow that the design paradigm was quite similar across manufacturers.

Indeed, the basic structure of the sewing machine has pretty much remained the same since the original machines, except there are various degrees of automation and computerization now.

Below is an ad for a Morse sewing machine from LIFE magazine in an April 1954 edition:

old ad featuring a morse machine

Morse Foto-Matic

The Morse Foto-Matic was probably one of the most famous machine lines made by this company. It was actually a pioneering feature that we take for granted nowadays.

Morse developed a clever little window that showed the pattern of the stitch you were going to do, so you could visualize the stitch before you did it. This may not seem like a big deal now, but in the 1950s, this must have been huge!

The window was a simple enough concept – you just had to attach a little piece of material with the various stitches printed on it to the stitch selection wheel, so as you turned the wheel, the material would also rotate/move to show the stitch pattern.

Other Morse innovations

Since Japan was starting to turn into the hub of technological innovation after the war, their machines started to add lots of new features to sewing machines at the time: automatic buttonholes, double needle sewing, and a variety of stitches and designs.

The machines were manufactured at a Toyota factory in Nagoya, Japan, using high quality stainless steel. The steel was then painted with precisely mixed paint to give the machine a super finish.

According to an old Morse manual, the electrical components and other accessories were manufactured in the United States rather than Japan, and the whole unit would be packaged and assembled in the United States before being sent off to resellers and agents.

What happened to the company?

Morse machines were available in the US market from 1948 to somewhere in the 1960s after which they disappeared. Today, Morse is a relatively unknown sewing machine brand, whereas Singer, which also started at around the same time is a household name when it comes to sewing machines.

Even though they had such good and innovative machines, there could be a number of reasons the company did not last. Perhaps the machines were expensive, or maybe it was just a question of marketing.

How many good products must be out there that we just don’t know about because we’ve not been exposed to them?

Where to get Morse sewing machines

These days you can probably find Morse machines on eBay or marketplaces like Craigslist or Facebook Local. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a sewing machine that’s in perfect working condition, though, unless you happen to find one passed in your family relatively untouched, like this lady.

Even after finding a machine, repairing it will prove to be a little bit of a challenge as it will be tricky to find the right parts and fit.

About the Author SMC

We're a husband and wife team of craft enthusiasts! Mostly we love working with different kinds of fabrics - in fact, you'll be hard pressed to find a store-bought piece of clothing in our home. Most of the stuff we enjoy making by hand!

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