Lightening the Cruel Strain – Mrs. Wilson’s Sewing Machine

P1050014Displayed proudly in the Manse’s front parlor looking out toward what was once the Valley Pike, a 1850s sewing machine stands – an example of formerly cutting edge home appliances and progressive marketing. The design for the sewing machine was patented in 1850 by creator Allen B. Wilson and sold by the Wilson & Wheeler Company out of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The treadle-powered sewing machine would revolutionize Allen Wilson’s company emerging from a small operation in 1850 to having over 1,000 employees by the 1900s.

P1050015The machine itself operates using a wooden foot pedals that when repeatedly pushed up and down would rotate the wheel atop the machine driving the pin through cloth. Revolutionary and state of the art for the time, purchasing the full set from a local business or traveling merchant would run in the range of $250 to $300; a price few in the area had the yearly salaries to afford.

P1050021Earning an annual salary of just over $1,000 dollars a year from the First Presbyterian Church of Staunton, Rev. Joseph Wilson certainly would not have had the finances to purchase such a luxury for his family. Instead, the Wilson’s could have been lucky enough to have had one given to them in exchange for free advertisement. Being a prominent member of the community with visitors passing through for church assemblies, the Wilson’s front parlor would be the ideal location to set up the newest model sewing machine for sale for all to admire. The First Presbyterian Church also could have likely purchased the sewing machine as a gift to their minister to reflect their prosperity through the luxuries of their minister. This practice was popularized during the 1800s and is the predecessor to modern day free sample marketing.

Post written by WWPL intern Brendan Dodson


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