New Orleans House Project

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pieces of the Past: Presidents, Patriotism and Sewing Machines

In honor of Presidents Day, I offer some sewing machine vignettes from the history of the United States.

Victorian trade card for Household Sewing Machine Co. featuring images of President & Mrs. Grover Cleveland, circa 1886.

President Cleveland married Frances Folsom in 1886 - the first wedding to ever be held in the White House.  She was 21 and the daughter of one of Cleveland's former business partners; he was 48 years old at the time and had never been married (although he admitted to fathering an out-of-wedlock child when the issue was dragged up by his opponents during the 1884 Presidential election).  Mrs. Cleveland proved to be a very popular First Lady and advertisers were quick to use her image to promote products - apparently without her permission.  So although this appears to be an endorsement of Household sewing machines, I doubt Mrs. Cleveland (or her staff) ever actually used one.

Victorian trade card for Weed Sewing Machine Co. featuring Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam is demonstrating the Weed sewing machine (the company name and info is given on the reverse of the card) for a group of stereotypical foreign onlookers.  Weed sewing machines were manufactured in Hartford, CT from 1865-1900.  No date or specific reference to a particular "world's fair" is given.  We can speculate that perhaps the card refers to the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893.  The image of Uncle Sam as a personification of the United States was frequently seen on Victorian trade cards.

Paper doll featuring a young girl sewing a US flag with a Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine.

This image is a die-cut design and has a stand-up support printed with an 1899 calendar.  I'm not sure of the significance of the word "Olympia" on the young lady's hat.  I always assumed she was meant to be a younger version of Columbia, a female personification of the United States.  Like Uncle Sam, Columbia was a popular image found in late 19th century advertising.

Patriotic postcard depicting sewing machine

Dating from the WW I era, this postcard promotes home sewing as a patriotic activity.  "What Can We Do For Home and Country?  We can economize by making our own clothes"

There you have it - Presidents Day is a perfect holiday to celebrate your sewing heritage!

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