Thimonnier and the 1851 Great Exhibition

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Courtesy of Rijnko Fekkes


Images of the Crystal Palace 1851

From Magasin Pittoresque 1851

Article from Magasin Pittoresqe, January 1878

Indicates that Thimonnier's cousobrodeur machine was actually delivered at the Crystal Palace exhibition in 1851, but a bit to late to be examined by the jury.

Note that this was published 27 years after the event and shows a cut of Thimonnier's Couseuse machine, not the Cousobrodeaur, which was made of cast iron not wood.

Forum Discussion Topic

English Translation Courtesy of David Stirling

Magasin Pittoresque, Jan. 1878 _______________________________________

There will be a large number of sewing machines at the next Exposition Universelle, and the various manufacturers will compete furiously for the public’s attention. We think it would be interesting to give our readers a short history of the appearance and development of these modern machines at previous exhibitions.

At London, in 1851, there were only 8 exhibitors: 3 English, 3 American and 2 French. A medal was awarded to an exhibitor from New York, and a Frenchman, Mr. Sénéchal, received a mention for a bag sewing machine: five or six lines in all. The couseur-brodeur (improved Thimonnier machine) of Mr. Magnin, of Villefrance, didn’t arrive at the Crystal Palace until after the decisions of the judges.

In those days, nobody doubted that the sewing machine would soon be a success, nor of the importance that it would achieve.

At the second Exposition Universelle (Paris, 1855), there were a great many exhibitors and the description of their machines took up ten long columns in the official publication. The reporter was the same as in 1851, R. Willis. He found four categories of machine: those that try to imitate the movements of hand sewing; those that use a single thread to produce a chain stitch; those that make a lock stitch with two threads, preventing the thread from unravelling; and finally, those that use two threads to form a double chain stitch.

Two first class medals were awarded in the second category, one to the aforementioned couseur-brodeur (Thimonnier system, long in the public domain), the other to the American Singer. The two latter categories received only second class medals. However that was where the future lay.

By the time of the third Exposition Universelle, which was in London in 1862, everything had changed. The development of the lock stitch machine had caused a revolution in America, and the revolution was beginning to spread to the old world. There were more than a hundred machines exhibited, belonging to over thirty manufacturers and distributors. The judges awarded six medals and six highly commended. At this time, America didn’t limit itself to the use of machines in sewing workshops, as they had in 1851; they were now adopted in enormous quantities in the home. Just the little town of Troy, in New York state, was using three thousand domestic machines. The majority of the English public were a long way from recognising the importance of the new machines across the Atlantic, because until then the American patents were monopolised by a single English company, and their publicity remained sparse.

English women of all social classes were amazed at the spectacle presented to them by the operators of the sewing machines in the exhibition halls. From morning till night they crowded around these industrious workers. They never ceased to examine, to compare, to ask questions and make comments, and to try machine sewing themselves. The judges often had recourse to their competence to enlighten and guide their judgements.

Article from Revue Hebdomadaire Illustree, February 1900

Talks of the late arrival of Thimonnier's Cousobrodeur at the Exhibition, too late for the judging.

Forum Discussion Topic

English Translation Courtesy of David Stirling

La Revue Hebdomadaire Illustrée, 18 Feb 1900, page 14. _________________________________________________

…. from Manchester. That was a very great misfortune. For the inventor, in giving his ideas abroad, also gave away the rights to exploit them; he gave free rein to talented mechanics, who often need only a good starting point to create astonishing developments. Without doubt, the future of the sewing machine was assured; but our country lost, for a time at least, a sure source of benefits.

England and America, those two industrial heartlands that have made the whole world their domain, took care, like France, not to let collapse the seeds of such a great revolution in the art of sewing.

Our good neighbours across the channel and the Americans keenly studied Thimonnier’s invention in order to add improvements to it. They succeeded so well that when the Howe and Singer machines flooded into France, many people believed that the idea of mechanical sewing had been born abroad.

Moreover, it seemed that a sort of fatality was dead set against Thimonnier to deprive him of the fruits of his labour. Either due to terrible bad luck or a devilish conspiracy, the machine that he had sent to the 1851 exhibition remained in the hands of his courier and didn’t arrive in London until after the judges’ examination.

In the very place that should have been occupied by his machine there was another in which the improvements brought by the Americans were already noticeable. It was an Elias Howe machine using two threads and a shuttle. For a long time, Thimonnier had been trying to find something similar. We have here a conjunction of unhappy circumstances that cast doubt on the loyalty of those to whom the inventor had confided the interests of his glory.

The machine that had not been able to compete in London featured, under the name Couso-Brodeur, in the 1855 exhibition in Paris where it got a first class medal.

III. Thimonnier dies before having seen the success of his invention — His friends do justice to his memory — Postumous honours — Poularisation and usefulness of the sewing machine.

However Thimonnier had reached an advanced age. Numerous worries, serious poverty and unrelenting work had profoundly altered his health. Hardly two years had passed since his success at the Paris exhibition when our inventor fell gravely ill. Far from fearing death he welcomed it as a relief and a deliverance. He wanted to die as he had lived, a christian full of faith courage and resignation....

(The rest of this column describes how he realizes that sometimes the rewards for one’s labours come not in this world but in the next, and that he breathed his last at Amplepuis on 5 August 1857 at age 64 and that he had a very simple funeral.)


Pictures of the Crystal Palace, London 1862 Exhibition

Magasin pittoresque 1862