Sunday, June 1, 2008
Early in the 19th century, if you were an unmarried woman, your options for income were somewhat limited. A job anyone could get, though, was seamstress. In about a day, a woman could hand sew a shirt. Most people owned two shirts---a work shirt, and a church shirt.
Along came the sewing machine. This handy device could really make sewing easier. So how was this invention received? In France, tailors rioted and burned down the first sewing machine company. Stateside, seamstresses organized and tried to get the sewing machine banned out of fear of losing their only source of income. There was even a spinsters revolt.
Singer, Howe, and others were undeterred. Instead they came up with clever financing to make owning a sewing machine easier. The seamstresses that were wise enough to see the opportunity thrived; the ones that continued to fight for the low tech approach did not.
The end result was, instead of producing one shirt a day, a seamstress could produce 12 or more. They increased their income. Cotton producers suddenly enjoyed huge demand for raw materials. Entire towns were built around the production of sewing machines. Average person now owned a closet full of shirts instead of two; better quality, and cheaper, too. Probably smelled better.
Do I need a closet bursting with clothes, some of which I'll never wear again? Probably not. Spinsters, though no one calls them that now, don't have to sit in a room sewing shirts by hand. They can work at Gap, or become sewing machine repairpersons, or delivery truck drivers, or any of the other employment opportunities created by this, or other, technological advances.