The Whitehill Machine

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An extract from the diary of James Bolton, reprinted in Ismacs News. 25th October 1989

Some time in 1885 or 1886 I was over at the factory at Elizabethport, and in the offices I saw a machine on the floor. I took it up and examined it, and while I was making an examination of it, Mr Diehl came in and I asked him whose machine it was .

He said he did not know, but he thought it was an Improved Domestic. "Well", said I, "It is a very good machine, whoever got it up". So, in a day or two I happened to be in the office at Union Square and Mr. McKinzie said he would like me to go over and examine a machine that had been sent from Milwaukee that was made by a Mr Whitehill.

Best Machine

I told Mr McKinzie that I had examined a machine a day previous, but did not know it was the Whitehill machine, that I had examined it quite thoroughly, and that it was the best vibrating-shuttle that had yet been gotten up. So Mr McKinzie called Mr Bourne who was in the directors' room and said to Mr Bourne: "Bolton says that it is the best machine he ever saw" and , says Mr Bourne, looking at me quite sharply, "Do you really mean that, Bolton?" I replied: "Yes, I mean that and furthermore, I regret that I was not the father of it".

So Mr McKinzie wanted me to go over to the factory again and make a more thorough examination. I was interested in doing so as I had got acquainted with this Mr Whitehill at the Centennial Fair at Philadelphia. He had on exhibition there a New Family Singer machine with a new rotary take-up that he had put on said machine. He was using wooden bobbins in the shuttle, he being the first to use automatically wound, wooden bobbins in shuttle machines, and he was, to my surprise, running the New Family machine at 1,000 stitches a minute, which I could hardly believe was possible.

By using a pointed wooden bobbin there was no danger in running at that speed as he put in a new bobbin every time the bobbin would run out, which made no wear on the shuttle centers, and the best work I ever saw done by the Family machines was done by the man who was exhibiting with his improvements. Therefore, when I knew that his machine was Whitehill's, I was much more thorough in my examination of the machine, knowing the man who got it up was very clever.


So, while I was making the examination, Mr Bennett came in and I told Mr Bennett that I was making the examination of the machine in order to report to the office. I told Mr Bennett that that was the machine the company was in need of, that the two high-arm machines the company had gotten up had been failures, but this machine was certainly superior to the New Home and the Domestic, which were the parties that were getting away the Singer trade and agents.

So, in talking with Mr Bennett, I could see that the experts at the factory were opposed to the machine (Mr. Bennett, while he was a good engineer, yet had not the experience in sewing machines, that is as to the sewing qualities, and he depended a great deal on the men in the factory). I told him that was quite natural. "But", I said, "The best way is to have Mr Whitehill come here and sew against any machine that the factory can bring forward to compete".

So Mr Bennett called on Mr Whitehill to make the test. And after the test, Mr Bennett told me the Whitehill machine got away with all of them, including the oscillating shuttle.


Then the next objection rated against the Whitehill machine was that it was more expensive to make. I told Mr Bennett that if he would take the New Family machine and the Whitehill machine to the Providence Tool Company, who were then making the Willcox and Gibbs machine, he would find, if anything, that the difference would be in favor of the Whitehill.

Mr Bennett told me he had taken the Whitehill machine apart and had gotten bids from the various departments of the Singer factory as to the cost, and they could build the Whitehill machine for one dollar less than the New Family. It was a surprise to me that the saving was so great, coming from the Singer factory.

So that settled the matter for the purchase of the Whitehill machine, and I was in the directors' room at Union Square when the deal was closed. They paid Mr Whitehill $8,000 and held $1,000 in reserve until the model machine was perfected, so when the thing was all decided, Mr Whitehill thanked me for the interest I had taken in this machine.