In 1933, when Isaac Singer first introduced the Featherweight model 221 sewing machine at the Chicago World’s Fair, he unveiled a machine who’s history stretched back over 80 years. The foundation of the Featherweight 221’s longevity can be traced back to 1850 when Allen Wilson received his patent for the rotary-hook stitch forming mechanism. Four years later in 1854 Wilson would receive another patent for his four-motion feed. These 2 inventions signaled the birth of the modern sewing machine. Today, all modern electric sewing machines still use both the rotary mechanism and four-motion feed.From 1850 to 1880, the Wheeler and Wilson Company manufactured more sewing machines than any other company, except Singer. Due to illness, Wilson left the business and later in 1905, Singer bought out Wheeler and Wilson Company.In 1900, Singer introduced the Model 66, which featured the innovative top loading bobbin. Singer would then introduce the Model 101 sewing machine in 1915. Although it was the first true electric machine it was unsuccessful, probably due to its incredible cost of $250! In the 1920’s Singer introduced the Model 99, and ¾ size version of their Model 66, but it was still much too heavy to be a portable machine. Finally, in 1933 Singer unveiled the Featherweight 221.The Singer Featherweight Model 221 was the first truly portable, self contained, electric sewing machine. Today, if properly cared for, the 221 will sew just as well as when it was first manufactured. In fact, today ~1% of all Featherweights are still in the hands of their original owners.Remaining in production until 1960 (except for a few years during WW II), with approximately 2.5 million units produced, the Featherweight 221 is one of the most recognizable machines of the 20th Century. It’s all metal, mostly aluminum construction, was critical in not only dropping its weight to a mere 11 lbs, but also made it highly durable. The full rotary mechanism also allowed it to operate very quietly and efficiently. When not in use, the machine could be placed in a special carrying case so it could be stored out of sight (in a closet). Prior to WW II, when Singer had to stop making the 221, creative salesmen informed prospective customers that if they purchased the Featherweight, they would give them the case for free!Although the 221 was only capable of a straight stitch, its reliability made it the preferred sewing machine of the American housewife for decades. The 221’s longevity may also be partly due to the fact that the self contained machine also came with 6 attachments. These were a ruffler, wide hemmer, narrow hemmer, edge stitcher, gathering foot and binder. Singer also included 2 screwdrivers, one for the machine and one to adjust the thread tension.With such versatility, in such a small package, it’s no wonder the 221 was typically the first, and last, sewing machine many would purchase. So it’s no wonder that close to 50 years after it was last produced, the Singer Featherweight 221 is still such a highly sought after sewing machine.
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