New Orleans House Project

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trade Card Tuesday: Davis Sewing Machines

The Davis Sewing Machine Co. began producing sewing machines in the late 1860s.  The Davis product functioned a little differently from most sewing machines of the time, as it moved the fabric forward using a "vertical feed" mechanism.  I've never seen a Davis, much less sewn on one, but my understanding is the vertical feed was produced by the needle and presser foot and the effect was similar to today's walking foot.

A lovely "before & after" card illustrating the ease of home sewing with a Davis Vertical Feed Sewing Machine.  The uniqueness of the vertical feed was a featured selling point in Davis advertising for many years.

Apparently even the angels sang the praises of Davis vertical feed sewing machines!  

The company was incorporated in Watertown, NY, but moved to Dayton, OH in 1886.  By the late 1890s, the vertical feed mechanism was no longer in production and Davis machines featured regular feed dogs.  Around this time the company also became involved in producing machines for sale by other companies and the machines were stenciled with names chosen by the vendor.  Davis made sewing machines for Sears, Roebuck & Co. for many years, including the popular "Minnesota" line of machines.  The Davis SM Co. went out of business in 1924.

This dapper paper "doll" may have been produced in conjunction with the Columbian World Exposition of 1893.  Held in Chicago, the Exposition was staged to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in America.  Exhibits from all over the world were on display and sparked an interest in cultural traditions.

The Exposition also featured technology, so many sewing machine manufacturers had displays of their machines and examples of work that the machines could perform.  The images below are from a souvenir booklet that extolled the wonders of Davis sewing machines.  
The cover of the booklet echoes the world's fair theme, with women in ethnic costume in a classical pose in front of buildings from the Exposition.  According to the text inside the booklet, this image was copied from a silk tapestry made with an "etching" attachment which allowed the Davis machine to embroider on silk.
The back cover of the Davis souvenir booklet features goddess-like figures surrounded by symbols of America.  The center figure probably represents Columbia, or Miss Columbia, a female figure meant to represent America.  Columbia is usually portrayed as a classically-attired goddess, wearing a Liberty Cap (or Phrygian cap) and holding other U. S. symbols.  The booklet illustration was also copied from a silk tapestry embroidered with a Davis sewing machine.

Further reading:

Pictures of actual Davis Vertical Feed machines:

Columbian World Exposition of 1893:

Miss Columbia:


  1. What an informative post! I love these history lessons. Have you ever thought about giving programs on your trade cards? You are so knowledgeable about them and you have such a wonderful collection of them. It's really a treat to see and learn more about them. Thank you for sharing these with us.

  2. That was so fun to read. A friend of mine lives near Watertown NY and I've travelled through there to visit. I never knew a sewing machine company started there. Love the angel used in their ad. Thanks for providing a good read.